Over the last few months we have published a number of posts about our trip to China. All of a sudden we had a huge peak of interest and our page numbers went through the roof. Recently we got an explanation. One of our readers, Feiqi Jia, a Chinese student majoring in Electrical Engineering at the University of Florida, had translated our China posts and published them on a volunteer Chinese translation website that looks at outsiders views of China. The link is here, and our story is the first topic: http://www.ltaaa.com/culture/index_3.html
With over 75,000 hits it has been the number one topic on this website. We are quite flattered and amazed. We have readers in China! After this translation, a number of Chinese newspapers picked up the story about us and our trip. It was published in a number of Chinese newspapers:
(The funniest part is the photo they published of 'us'. We put up this photo as a bit of fun, it makes us laugh our heads off.)
We started to correspond with Feiqi who sent us a list of 10 questions that had been asked by the readers of the blog. She also mentioned that readers have offered us home stays, home cooked meals and guided tours if we ever go to their home town. How sweet!
The ten questions our Chinese readers asked and our answers:
Q1. Can you introduce us to some unique Australian dishes and street food? Kangaroo meat, vegemite, lamingtons. The classic Australian street food is a meat pie.
Q2. Do Australians eat kangaroo meat and koala meat? What do they taste like? Do you export those meats? (please understand that for the Chinese this is not a question of cruelty or anything like that, just that we have a special interest in exotic foods and meats).
We eat kangaroo meat a lot, it is sold in supermarkets and is common. It does not have very much fat so it is very healthy. It has a stronger flavour than beef. Koala is not eaten at all, however emu and crocodile is but these are usually harder to find.
Q3. Why do you like street food so much?
We like street food as it reflects what the everyday person eats and often is eaten anytime, breakfast lunch or dinner. There is nothing fancy about street food, you are not paying for white tablecloths, advertising and marketing, expensive rents and furniture, you are paying for good tasty food. You can be anyone and eat street food, you don’t need a fancy job or clothes or lots of money. The cooks of street food are often experts in what they cook and take great pride in their dishes, the heritage of the dish or the origin of the recipe. They can make the same dish all day everyday and it is still tasty.
Q4. Can you tell us about your favorite food in China?
Our favourite food in China was the vegetable dishes. There is an art in making a humble vegetable taste great, and Chinese cooks now how to take simple ingredients and give them lots of flavour. They were very cheap as well compared to Sydney, so we would often order a lot of vegetable dishes to try as much as possible.
Q5. Recently there are a series of news stories about Chinese food safety problems, like melamine in baby milk and reused oil. Do you know about these stories? In your blogs, it seems your opinions about Chinese food are always positive, but many street restaurants and food vendors in China are really dirty. What do you think about that?
We did hear about the baby milk story and we were sad that so many children died. There are problems even in Australia with the quality of food, when anything is manufactured and no longer in its natural state there are dangers to the safety and quality of the food. We try and eat fresh fruits, vegetables and meat as much as possible and Chinese food is a good example of using fresh ingredients in its cooking. We saw some places that looked dirty but the food was great, we make our judgment on the food not on the venue. And we wash our hands a lot before and after!
Q6. It seems that you are really attracted to Chinese vegetables. What kind of vegetables do you have in Australia? How do you cook them?
The way Chinese cook vegetables was one of the highlights of our trip. In Australia, when they are cooked in a Chinese style they are usually just stir fried in lots of oil but in China there seems to be more care taken and a wider variety. They were also very cheap so we ate them a lot.
Q7. What do you do for a living? Why do you have so much time for traveling around Asia?
Alison works at a university in administration. In Australia you get four weeks leave a year for holidays and we try and spread that out so we get to go to as many places as possible. It is only about 9 hours on a plane from Sydney so it doesn’t take long for us to get to Shanghai, Hong Kong or Singapore. Shawn has his own business selling books, mostly about travel and Australian history, so he can travel as much as his business allows. Airfares are considerably cheaper than a few years ago so we can afford to travel more often. The Australian dollar has also been very high which has helped us out. We are not rich, we save as much as we can to go travelling as it is what we love most, and we stay in cheap places and eat cheaply so we can afford to travel even more.
Q8. What were your impressions about China before and after you visited? Is the difference big?
Our impression of China before we visited was that it was a huge county filled with lots and lots of people, mostly in the cities. The difference when we arrived was underestimating just how big and how many people there were! Shanghai has 16.5 million people and Sydney only 3.5 million so it was a lot larger than we were used to. The amount of construction work that we saw on railways, apartment buildings and highways was impressive, we feel the country was changing at a fast pace and it would be very different in a few years time. Lot of the small markets and old areas of cities we visited might be gone next time.
Q9. Is there anything you find yourself unable to accept in China? How do you overcome the cultural differences/shock (if any)? Please be honest.
The biggest difference for us was the amount of people smoking everywhere. Smoking is not allowed in restaurants, buses and many public areas in Australia and it took some getting used to. We also found Chinese people speak loudly when they are excited, it sounds to us like they are having arguments but they are just being passionate and lively in their conversation.
Q10. Compared to other countries you have visited, what are the good and bad points about China? We know you are very positive people generally and about China specifically, but please give us some honest criticisms.
The good points: there were no aggressive salespeople trying to sell us tours or begging us to come to their hotel like in some tourist areas in south east Asia. We felt we could walk around freely and not be bothered. The public transport systems were excellent, especially the new fast trains. We wish we had them in Australia. The bad parts were people spitting in the street and the smoking, that’s not something we are used to.
We love China, and to all our Chinese readers: Xie Xie!