Familiar flavors: Hotpot

With the holidays right around the corner, food and dinner finally get the attention they deserve in the West. Not entirely coincidentally, that was what a big part of my daily life revolved around in China. And even though there is limited family gathering this year, there have been plans to do hotpot. Which will be great, but just not the same.

Hotpot

What is it?
Simply said, you boil raw veggies and meat in a soup. Does not sound too special or appealing, but it is great. You have many different kinds of soups, really the cornerstone of hotpot. Additionally, you have the fun of literally cooking your own food, and enjoying some nice soup on the side. Sitting around a big hot pot of soup really gives you warm fuzzy feelings (also because of the warm food entering your belly) and you can basically eat anything for hotpot. You combine hotpot with a dipping sauce most often sesame sauce (the best, one and only I will recognize) but especially in southern China everyone makes their own concoction out of different options.

When to eat it?
If we believe haidilao, a big chain, then 24/7. But normally, hotpot is eaten during winter, most often for dinner or as a very elaborate midnight snack (hence the 24/7 opening times). Rules are there to be broken of course so summer time makes for a nice hotpot opportunity as well. Nothing can rival winter hotpot inside and winter outside though.

Anything bad?
Some hotpot soups can be very spicy. I remember I went to Sichuan with a couple of friends and I literally could not taste anything I fished out because the soup made my whole mouth numb and tingle. Otherwise there are no real drawbacks to hotpot, you can avoid anything you do not like that others put in there. It can only be a shame if some things are overcooked and then only found after they have disintegrated.

Where to get it?
Haidilao and Xiabu xiabu are probably the 2 most well-known chains. Xiabu xiabu is more of a fastfood chain with rows of individual, 1-person hot pots. Haidilao is on the other end of the chain, not-quite-fine-dining hotpot but famous for its good, (slightly creepy but) very friendly service, long wait lines (but you can do your nails while waiting so…) and high quality products. And of course there are many other places to go to for hotpot as well, although your mileage may vary.

How much do I miss it?
About 8.5/10, especially now it is winter. There is hotpot in the Netherlands, but it is far from my home and probably quite expensive. And it is also about the convenience of hotpot, the fact all the veggies are pre-cut and served directly on a plate, then quickly going into your mouth. And lastly it is also about the company you share the table with. So here is to hoping 2021 will bring the real stuff!

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Tourists with Chinese characteristics: fanatic families

Having traveled a lot through South- and Southeast Asia, I have seen many different kinds of Chinese tourists. Being on the road this Chinese New Year, I was again reminded of their peculiarities. One of the most common types is the one described below\.

Who?
A mom, a dad, 1 or 2 kids (byebye one child policy) and often some extended family members like grandparents.

Where?
Most families obviously have a limited program. Chinese families often even more so since they focus on the main attractions.

Why?
This is probably the beginning of family life and they are just settling in. With the kids still being small they get in for free at most spots. Everyone can relax a little bit, see some different things and meet new people.

Their thoughts?
Mom: a combination of tired, worried and excited. One of the few holidays need to be spent happily with family. But it is hot, and there is so much to take care of. Luckily dad carries most of the snacks and drinks. Are the kids hungry? Are they not getting too tanned? Where is dad anyway? Will I be able to buy all the souvenirs I promised my co-workers to bring back? This bird is so pretty, I really need to take a photo of this. Our kids should really learn more about nature now that they have the chance. Which sightseeing spots have we not covered yet?

Dad: this is not entirely how I pictured life with a kid. A heavy photo camera dangles on my belly, which is also starting to accumulate some ‘baby fat’. God is it hot here. Wiping my forehead while looking for some shade. This garden is really nice and the kids are playing outside. Sitting down this suddenly feels eerily similar to any other time I go out with mom. Waiting, looking and obeying. Mom motions you to take photos of something. What will be for dinner tonight?

Kid(s): so many different things! I can jump from the tree to the stairs. I want to carve out my name in this tree! And in the stairs! And in the temple! Where is dad? I want food. Mom is so annoying taking her time. When are we going home?

Grandparent(s): I am getting too old for this. But it is really nice to see the kids play. Do they drink enough though? I can tell all my friends in the park once I return that my grandchildren already went abroad.

My thoughts?
Families rank about medium on my irritation/frustration scale. Of course it depends on the age of the kids. Babies are terrible when they cry or excrete bodily fluids. When they talk and walk, kids often do too much of both. Grandparents tend to walk too slow and skip lines since they can often get away with it. Moms often take pictures of everything all the time. Dads mostly just look sad. But for the average backpacker, Chinese families are quite avoidable. Also, it looks quite exhausting to be in a different country with a group that seems to have mixed goals. It really turns fun into a verb.

Quiet, please!

So, I already mentioned China is not the most quiet place ever. Another train trip, which are the best way to submerge yourself in a full Chinese experience for several hours, confirmed this again in another way.

I have talked in lengths already about being single in China and some expectations in general that we as societies seem to have about relationships. Moving past that, you obviously see many differences in child-rearing and education between countries.

Something that amazes me all the time when I see Chinese kids, is in how much they are allowed to do and actually encouraged to do. I have seen kids do things which actively inconvenience their parents, running around the table or stomping on the table for example, and them just somehow being totally cool about it.

Now in the good sense that I am a stranger and generally would have no wish in meddling with other’s affairs, I of course keep my mouth shut. However, in a closed-off space like a train, these kids are bound to also influence your personal experience.

Ignoring children crying, which though very annoying is also somewhat inevitable and impredictable, there is something that is sort of actively encouraged. And that is TALKING VERY LOUD.

Now that I think about it, I also experienced this in a Dutch train once before. In both cases, it was almost the same situation. A grandmother and a kid (boy) of about 5 years old (not accurate). The boy talking very excitedly like “I AM GOING TO SHOOT YOU BECAUSE I AM A COWBOY AND VERY COOL.” And the grandmother replying something like “YES YOU ARE MY YOU ARE SUCH A HANDSOME COWBOY!”

In the Chinese situation, there was also a grandfather who quickly cleared the premises, as did I. It could of course be that the grandmother is hard of hearing and needs to talk very loudly to the kid. And they are both immune to social cues. So now everyone else is also going to talk very loudly and no-one can hear each other anymore.

Well, if you think I am talking too loudly, then you know it is all the kids’ faults.

How to get old really quickly

No, not your Facebook timeline. Nothing happens on there anyway, especially when you are in China.

So, a while ago I had a talk with a friend of mine on relationships, age, marrying children and such a future that many people envision for themselves. We already both agreed it would not happen in our foreseeable future, you can read a previous Dutch post for more on that, but there are of course different views on the course of life. Specifically, in China where many people seem to be 5-10 years younger than they are. So this results in seeing women walking around your age with babies or children of age 4 or even older. And parents who would seem quite old with a little kid, but quite young again when they turn out to be the kid’s grandparents. It was not for nothing that I had the idea you could only become a grandmother or father once you were over 70 years old.

But not only do people tend to get kids a bit earlier here, there is more pressure earlier to get kids too. My friend and I based it off a timeline, in which people’s views change quite quickly and radically within a few years. It basically goes like this:

1.  18-21 years old

You are still young and innocent, studied long and hard to get into your university and need to focus whole-heartedly on your studies. Do not waste your time on such frivolous activities like dating or partying. You are still young. You will find love once you are ripe for it.

2.  22-24 years old

Okay, you are done with university, found a good or otherwise stable job. It is now time to actively think about the next steps. You cannot stay alone for the rest of your life of course. And your parents and family is also not getting younger as years pass by. Find that partner you want to stay with the rest of your life and make your life complete.

3.  25-27 years old

You have worked for a while now and probably saved up quite some money. What are you going to spend it on without spouse and a house? You are missing out and very quickly, your family will be too. Youth is fleeting and your parents’ worries will only increase. Is that what you want them to feel?

4. 28-30 years old

It is too late. You are old and need to settle down as soon as humanly possible. You might have a good job, a fun life and be an interesting person in general, but it just does not cut it. Do you not want your parents to know their grandchildren? Who is going to want you at this age? Who will take care of you once you are old? In short, you are a failure.