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Wednesday 7 Jun 2006
Beijing, China

Chinese hospitality

The company my Dad works for has a factory in Beijing. They knew we were visiting and laid on the works so we had the best that Chinese hospitality had to offer at our disposal for the week. We were chauffeured around all the sites from the ' Forbidden City', to 'The Summer Palace' and 'The Great Wall'.

Generally, we've found the Chinese incredibly friendly and also quite inquisitive. It's not unusual for us to be approached by English language students eager to practice their linguistic skills, or Chinese tourists wanting us to be in their photographs. At The Great Wall my Dad was accosted by four Chinese blokes keen for him to be part of their photo opportunity in front of the 'Hero Stone.' Mao once said, (and I'm paraphrasing here) 'a man isn't a hero until he's climbed The Great Wall,' and The Wall is swarming with Chinese tourists of all ages staggering up the steep steps and inclines to reach the highest point. Being in the midst of hoards of Chinese tourists is as much an experience as visiting The Great Wall itself.

One of the advantages of being guests of Chinese hosts was that we were able to get a bit more insight in to the Chinese culture. One of the things they seemed to find unusual about Western culture was how independent the children are in comparison to Chinese kids, and found it amazing Rob and I were travelling by ourselves. We did try and explain we were actually 30 year old adults, but they said Chinese children were dependent on their parents until well in to their 30s and even early 40s. It's not unusual for married Chinese couples to live with their folks.

'Kurt,' the factory manager (see previous blog) also explained that he thought the one child policy was breeding a generation the Chinese call 'the little Emperors,' and as the father of a young boy he was feeling the full force of the over demanding only child. We've also met a few pregnant women whilst we've been here all of whom claim to be having boys, and it is unusual to see little girls under the age of four on the streets in China. We have only been here a couple weeks but it is raising a few questions.

One of the highlights of our stay in Beijing was being taken out for a Chinese banquet at the Dadong Duck restaurant, the most exclusive duck restaurant in Beijing. Rob and I were particularly looking forward to it as our previous attempt at ordering Beijing duck failed miserably and we were served pickled cabbage instead! Ordering food in China can be a bit hit and miss, and more like a lucky dip so we were relieved when our hosts ordered for us.

The dishes kept on arriving, I've never seen so much food. There must have been about 30 dishes between the seven of us eating. It was delicious and the duck was incredible. Each duck is cut in to exactly 54 pieces at the restaurant (something to do with Buddhism), and every dish was a work of art. There was one uncomfortable moment when we were served 'Tiger shark's fin soup with crab's roe and saffron,' which is probably the most disgustingly decadent food I've ever seen. We'd have offended our hosts if we'd refused. My uneasiness at eating rare animals was only compounded by the fact that the soup was absolutely delicious.

In total we were taken out for three Chinese banquets during our stay in Beijing. Interestingly we were never served rice with any course, obviously that's just an English Chinese take away thing. I don't think I could ever get used to the amount of waste. When the Chinese go out to eat they order a ridiculous amount of food and leave most of it. Some of the restaurants had full on aquariums at the front and I lived in fear of being served turtle. Fortunately this never happened, but by the time we left Beijing we'd eaten shark's fin, sturgeon, sea cucumber and sea algae. Our initiation in to Chinese food is complete.

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