The Year of the Dog and Dog Fried Rice

 SanGen Photo by @gatherthyme

SanGen Photo by @gatherthyme

We all know now that it is the year of the dog, but what’s going on in China? Insights from SanGen (@gatherthyme) on busting myths based on their life in a smallish city in China. Please note, as we all know, every country and region is different and may have different customs and beliefs. The following is based on living and working expats in Yangzhou.

*Please note, all photos by @gatherthyme. Follow them on Instagram to view their traveling adventures from around the world. 

 Photo by @gatherthyme

Photo by @gatherthyme

 Chinese New Year is being celebrated in every street, corner, crevice of China

The new year marks one of the peak travel periods in China as everyone is taking planes, trains and automobiles to unite with family and friends and celebrate together. Some pockets of towns will have areas where most of the festivities take place, so you won’t necessarily find block parties everywhere. I always imagined big dragon floats, dancers spitting fire and music taking over the entire country, but then again, perhaps it’s me imposing my experience at Rio’s Carnaval. However, where there is celebration it will be buzzing, busy and bustling.

Also, although fireworks are likely going off at all hours and days of the year in Yangzhou, they are forbidden during the new year celebrations. Why? Well, it’s already well-known that most cities have a contaminated air problem, therefore prohibiting the use of them during such an enormous celebration is wise from an environmental perspective.

For serious couples out there, this is also the time to consider bringing your significant other (SO) home to the family for a formal introduction. This is considered the beginning of the marriage process. If you’re not ready to tie the knot, then you’d better not bring them. Meeting the family of your SO seals your relationship as official and indicates you are ready to get married.

 Chinese lanterns photo by @gatherthyme

Chinese lanterns photo by @gatherthyme

Everyone wears masks to avoid breathing the polluted Chinese air

I generally don’t use a mask ever, just hold my breath and run to work.
— SanGen

Depending on where you go in China, you may witness varying levels of air pollution. Obviously, bigger cities during certain weather patterns will incur more pollution, than a country side village on a clear sunny day. In Yangzhou, the air isn’t as heavy and polluted like Beijing, but on some days, you really feel it. To measure air quality, SanGen look out to a distant building from their apartment window. “If we have a clear view, we feel free to take deep breaths and OM our way to work,” says SanGen. If there is no building in sight, they prepare for a contaminated air day. “Basically, it depends on your situation. If you have asthma or other health conditions, even a small bit of polluted air can make you more susceptible to symptoms and it can be uncomfortable. I generally don’t use a mask ever, just hold my breath and run to work,” jokes SanGen. The worst we’ve felt is a lingering headache, but that’s all, thankfully.”

One group that seem to always rock the air mask is e-bikers, those riding their electronic bikes to school and work in the mornings. “I suppose if you are physically exerting yourself, like say, doing exercise, you may opt to wear the mask in efforts to protect your lungs a bit,” says SanGen.

Everything is made in China

 Yangzhou shopping. Photo by @gatherthyme

Yangzhou shopping. Photo by @gatherthyme

Well, basically everything everywhere is made in China, so that leads me to believe that everything in China should be made there, right? Wrong. Although most products are made in China, you can still find items that have been imported. There are various levels of imports, ranging from high end luxury wear to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to a bottle of coconut milk from Thailand.

Made in China is also relevant to the industry that is thriving on electronics and technology. In China, you have access to the latest and greatest tech toys. According to a German cell phone company study, Chinese spend an average of three hours per day on their smart phones making China the second most ‘plugged-in’ country. You believe it when you see everyone walking down the street with their head buried in a device. Wait, isn’t that everywhere?

Chinese food is great, I’ve been eating it since I was a child

No, it’s not the same. Chinese food is found all over the world and most of us have tried some form of it without ever stepping foot in China. However, the actual ingredients and local food found in Yangzhou restaurants isn’t anything to write home about. Sure, there is a new wave of foodies and high-end authentic slow eating around the world, but the average eats in town are, unfortunately, disappointing. A lot of places have sub-par sanitary standards and food poisoning is common. “I’m betting most locals home cook their meals, and I’m sure they are more authentic and tasty than what we find in our town,” SanGen points out after recovering from a recent stomach bug.

Eating dog is not common, it’s a thing of the past.
— SanGen

Have no fear friends, La Mien is here. La Mien is halal Muslim Chinese cuisine. As China defined the end of the ancient silk road, it is clear to see how this food traveled from ‘west’ to east. Interested in trying it and not sure what to order? Try the Neuro La Mien, a beef noodle dish and the starter soup that is a smashing cup of cumin, cilantro and coziness.

Epic street fighting

Maybe it’s too many Jackie Chan movies, but I always imagined seeing a fight on the street with two cut men karate chop-kicking each other. No, again. Most fights are among the meek and are annoyances that have escalated into street altercations. When it comes to fights on the street, SanGen says, “it’s usually average people getting into it. Although, the one thing that we’ve noticed is attacking the hair. I wasn’t expecting that.” So, you won’t see any live Mortal Kombat street action, or anything too intense because as SanGen explains, “you really don’t want to get the police involved here, because it could get real ugly.”

Big Brother government control over your internet

It is true that the internet is regulated by the Chinese government, however, you can get around it with a VPN (virtual private network). It doesn’t work all the time, but it works sometimes. In general, there are different tiers of internet coverage that you can sign-up for your home. Additionally, everyone has their own mobile plan for their devices. This is like the set-up that we see all around the world. So, what’s different? The Chinese use WeChat which is an all-encompassing platform for connecting with friends and even allows you to pay for your fried rice and monthly water bill. If you’re lost, make sure you have downloaded Baidu maps, since Google maps won’t work. 

 Meal Photo by @gatherthyme

Meal Photo by @gatherthyme

Don’t they eat dog?

Not really. This is something that has been carried over from China’s past during a famine in the early 20th century when there were food shortages and dogs were used for food. Now you’ll find a packed-out KFC with locals chowing down on fried chicken rather than dog cuisine. SanGen notes, “Eating dog is not common, it’s a thing of the past.”

 Bike ride through Yangzhou Photo by @gatherthyme

Bike ride through Yangzhou Photo by @gatherthyme

Any other lingering questions about China? Have you lived or traveled to China, how was your  experience? Would love to hear from you.