Dealing with Culture Shock in China: Part 1

China travel adventures can seem to many as an exotic cultural mix of opposites to what they are used to at home. From all the new varieties of food to the unusual language and the hustle and bustle of the big cities, there is a range of new experiences to conjure up thoughts of excitement […]

China travel adventures can seem to many as an exotic cultural mix of opposites to what they are used to at home. From all the new varieties of food to the unusual language and the hustle and bustle of the big cities, there is a range of new experiences to conjure up thoughts of excitement and adventure. However many first time visitors are unaware of the culture shock they will face when their China flight touches down at the airport.

This post will discuss a few factors to be aware of before you arrive, so things don’t come as such a surprise when you exit the airport feeling jet lagged and nervous.

 

One of the first things, and something that is impossible not to notice or find difficult to adjust to (unless you already know Mandarin) is the language. Signs, sounds and everyday objects which were once commonplace become replaced by complex looking characters, hard to decipher sounds and items you can’t tell the function or contents of.

An essential item for making this easier is a Mandarin Phrasebook. Ensure you have one that displays words in both Pinyin and Chinese characters and it will make adjusting to China much easier.

 

Another factor to consider is the local food. Chinese food is far different from the dishes available in western countries which have been adapted to suit the western palette. There is a huge choice available and it varies dependant on the cuisine or province the food originates from. For example Sichuan food tends to use a lot of spice and chilli, whereas Beijing food tends to feature noodles and heavy buns due to the harsh climate in winter.

Although in the large cities there is western food available, it is often ‘Chinese Western’ and not fully authentic. Many staple ingredients back home are difficult to source and overpriced out in China especially Cheese, Wine and Steak. Breakfast is far different as well and often consists of savoury rice porridge and dumplings or something similar.

Often different parts of meat are used which can be difficult to get used to, and it helps to know the Chinese view chicken breasts as the most ‘tasteless’ part of the meat so it is less often used. Chicken feet on the other hand are a delicacy and found in many different varieties, including dried, fried and boiled!

 

Once you have got your head around the new cuisine choices, there is the method of eating it! Generally unless you are in a tourist frequented restaurant or a Western place there will not be a knife and fork available. Your utensils of choice will be chopsticks and occasionally a spoon! Chopsticks aren’t too tricky to use after a few tries, and you gain a sense of satisfaction from finishing a meal using them (it also impresses the Chinese locals).

If the thought of this terrifies you, your China Hotel may well have western restaurants or buffets which will provide cutlery. In addition street food and fast food outlets such as KFC, Mcdonalds and Pizza Hut are everywhere if you wish to avoid utensils completely!

 

 

The Challenge of Learning Mandarin in Beijing!

On September 9, 2011, in Activities, China Travel Gossip, Cultural Experience, by Jack Li

When you travel to Beijing, especially if you plan to get good deals in the markets or take a few taxis it may be a good idea to learn some Mandarin phrases. Although staff in the higher end China hotels may speak some English, not much is spoken in many others which can be a […]

When you travel to Beijing, especially if you plan to get good deals in the markets or take a few taxis it may be a good idea to learn some Mandarin phrases. Although staff in the higher end China hotels may speak some English, not much is spoken in many others which can be a problem should you have an issue with your room.

 

The term ‘Mandarin’ is technically the name of the Beijing dialect group within the Chinese language as opposed to the actual language name. Officially the correct name for the language itself is ‘Modern Standard Chinese’, known locally as ‘Pǔtōnghuà’ (meaning the common dialect’), however most western countries refer to it simply as ‘Mandarin’.

 

There are over 800 million speakers of Mandarin throughout the world and it is one of the six official languages for the United Nations. It is not the easiest of languages to learn, mostly due to its tonal structure and use of characters rather than a standard alphabet.

 

Mandarin has four tones and these are what differentiate words that otherwise appear to have the same pronunciation. For example, the word ‘ma’ can mean mother, horse, hemp and scold dependant on the tone used to pronounce it, and in addition it is also used to make a statement into a question, for example:

Nǐ jiào Ceri (You are called Ceri)

Nǐ jiào Ceri ma? (Are you called Ceri?)

 

Tones in Mandarin

The four tones are known as:

  • 1st (high tone)
  • 2nd (high rising tone)
  • 3rd (low falling-rising tone)
  • 4th (high falling tone)

 

Understanding Pinyin

Pinyin was introduced in 1958 as a method of writing Chinese with the common Roman alphabet and is a helpful tool in learning how to pronounce Mandarin. Pinyin is used throughout most urban areas on signs and shops, however it is less common outside of the big cities and many native Chinese can’t understand it. Pinyin is a simple system to use providing you understand the rules of pronouncing letters, for example ‘c’ is pronounced like the ‘ts’ in ‘boats’ and ‘x’ like the ‘sh’ in ‘shoulder’.

 

It is still wise to carry a phrasebook around with you as a guide, and also they commonly have Chinese character definitions which is ideal if you plan to visit more rural locations. If you intend to stay in Beijing longer than a few days, there are also language schools located throughout the city, such as ‘That’s Mandarin’ which has locations in the main expat area of ‘Dongzhimen’ and the student district of ‘Wudaokou’.

 

There are also applications for the iphone and blackberry which you can download to help you with the language further, including a Chinese to English dictionary (for more information check out this page).

 

Here are some common phrases to get you started for when you travel to Beijing:

Hello Nǐ hǎo

Goodbye Zài Jiàn

Thanks Xiè xiè

Yes Shì

No Bùshì

Do you speak English? Nǐ huìshuō Yīngwén ma?

How much? Duō Shǎo?

One

Two Er

Too expensive Tàiguì le!

 

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