Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, December 15 – I think these sleeve covers that the Chinese ladies use are a great idea! They are basically just tubes of fabric (or plastic) with elastic at either end. You pull them up over your sleeves, or bare arms, to protect your clothing or skin while you are cooking, cleaning, out riding your scooter or whatever. As you can see from the variety available, they are pretty much a fashion accessory like a scarf, but for your working hours! I’ve only seen women wearing these, but there is a pair for sale in this picture that says “Happy Father’s Day” so maybe they are for men too?
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, August 10 – Two Days ago, when I shared a picture of the Gongfu style tea, I mentioned “tea pets.” These are small clay figures that can be kept on a Gongfu tea tray. When preparing tea, you go through steps of washing the tea leaves and warming the cups, before actually serving the tea. This first liquid is given to your “tea pet” by pouring it over the “pet.” This is yet another custom that is supposed to bring you good luck. Tea pets, ornaments, or tea lover’s pets, don’t necessarily have to be animals, Buddha is popular, as well as other figurines, lotus pods, and some of the Chinese mythological creatures. On April 15, I wrote about lucky toads, these are probably the most popular tea pet! Another favorite is the “pee-pee boy” (lower center picture) or other spraying type figures; these are actually made using scientific principles so that you can tell if the water is hot enough to prepare the tea. Tea pets are usually made from the yixing clay which I wrote about back in March. Because of this, they absorb the tea poured on them and eventually change color, get a glossy look, and absorb a tea scent. Sometimes they have a glaze on part of them, which, with time and attention, will crack and allow a golden color to show through. You should pamper your tea pets just like a real life pet, and then it will look more attractive :-) I don’t have a tea pet yet, because I don’t have a wooden Gongfu tea tray to put it on, but one of these times I will find one that I just can’t resist adopting! The large picture is from a nearby tea store and you can see the lucky toads as well as Buddha and a water buffalo, the lower left pics are from tea markets, the center right picture shows a Buddha tea pet sitting on the corner of a Gongfu tea tray, the right side photos are from Taobao (like Ebay) just to show the variety, pigs are very popular, and a variety of animals including those of the Chinese zodiac.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, August 8 – As a little girl, I loved tea parties and I collected small teacups…. And here I am now, 50 years later, still doing the same thing! One of the biggest challenges for me in China is resisting buying tea sets! Especially here in Guangdong province, where Gongfu style (or “kung fu” in Cantonese) tea sets are common. These are small sized teapots and cups, and they are either beautiful or super cute! There is also a definite art to drinking tea Gongfu style! The tea set and experience are as important as the taste of the tea!
A basic tea set consists of: the tea tray, filter and filter shelf, the gaiwan (used to brew the tea), the tea pitcher or “fair cup,” cups, the tea pot, tongs and a towel. You can have many additional pieces, including a tea pet! I remember the first time I was served tea this way at someone’s home in China, I was going by the American custom of finishing what you are served, and the hostess just kept refilling my cup! I had way too much tea that day, but learned that you should leave some tea in your cup and they won’t serve you more! And, be sure to smell your tea before drinking it! This picture is my “cute” Gongfu style teapots and cups :-) If you are interested in seeing how Gongfu style tea is prepared and served, here’s a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtWVkv_dw_c
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 25 – It gets really hot and humid here in south China, and while we are blessed with air conditioning, (which we use every night and almost all day) many Chinese families with lower incomes must adjust to living in the heat. I think many also choose to not use AC. The people who don’t use AC use bamboo sleeping mats. They come in different sizes as well as chair cushions and small pillows. There are two types; One is a type of tile, which seems to be the coolest if you don’t mind the harder feel (Chinese beds are much harder to start with though!). The other is thin strips woven together, often in patterns. I can’t personally recommend them for sleeping but I’m tempted to try, I’m always “drawn” to them in the stores and they feel very cool to the touch. A Chinese friend said she prefers the tile type, that it is cooler than the other. You can also wipe them down with cold water before going to sleep. Photos show the different types of bed mats and pillows and a screen shot of the weather on my phone at 6:15 today; Actual temperature 91 degrees F, Real Feel of 104. A couple weeks ago, the real feel was up to 113 degrees. (The temperature is normally in Celsius here, but I keep my phone set to Fahrenheit!).
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 1 – One thing that is hard to avoid while living in China is the Asian style toilet, otherwise known as the “squatty potty.” Newer apartments, stores, restaurants, etc., that are in the bigger cities (at least in Eastern China, not sure about inland and Western) have Western toilets, or both available. But, many places don’t! So, as an expat or tourist in China, if you plan to go out, you need to get used to using the Asian toilets. You have to provide your own tissue in most public restrooms. Soap and a way to dry your hands are also often nonexistent. I’ve seen quite a bit of recent information that squatties are much better for your health, and in Western countries, you can now buy various products to convert your Western toilet to a squatty potty!
In China, it’s not recommended to drink the tap water. It’s a bit of an inconvenience, but you get used to it. I still always enjoy going to the USA and simply turning the tap water on for a quick drink! At home, we have a water dispenser that has hot or room temperature taps, which does make it convenient for a quick cup of tea :-). Since the company Jim works for makes Brita water pitchers, we keep a Brita in the refrigerator for cold water. Where we live now, we pay for 10 large bottles at a time, and call the office when we need one delivered. We started with two bottles, so when we empty one, we get it replaced with a full one, therefore never being without one. In our housing complex, the security guards deliver the water on motorbikes. Where we lived before, the housing didn’t handle the water, but a nearby store did. As long as food is going to be cooked, you can wash it in tap water, but if you are going to eat fruit or veggies raw, it’s best to wash them in boiled or bottled water. The Chinese like to drink hot water and I’ve often wondered if that developed because they needed to boil their water for it to be safe to drink? When you go to restaurants in China, you are served hot water, not ice water.
Well, I know laundry isn’t very exciting, but….it is one of those chores that never ends no matter where you live! I do it a little different here than in the USA because I have a tiny little washer and no “real” dryer. This is my laundry porch off my kitchen, with my washing machine and clothes hanging racks, and the dryer I talked about back on January 11th. I haven’t used the dryer for a while now though, although I’ve been tempted because it’s been so rainy that clothes take 3 or 4 days to dry, even though it’s been around 75-80 degrees, it’s very humid! The time we've been in China, I've gotten used to hanging the clothes to dry. When Jim is here, I do laundry every 2 or 3 days because I can only hang a certain amount at once.
The skill of using chopsticks is definitely necessary when living in China! In big cities, western restaurants, and many Chinese restaurants, will or are able to provide you with a fork, but if you are outside of a big city, you may have no choice but to use Kuaizi 筷子 or chopsticks. In the supermarket, you have an abundant selection of chopsticks made from all kinds of materials (bamboo, wood, metal, plastic, etc) but, you may only have one or two fork options (if you’re lucky!). You can see in the picture that there are even “training” chopsticks for small children :-) You can also buy travel chopsticks that break down into two pieces and you screw them together to use. Many Chinese fast food or take out restaurants will provide you with disposable wooden chopsticks joined together at the end. I recently learned that you don’t just pull them apart, you are supposed to snap the end piece off first and it becomes your chopstick rest! However, I tried this once and it wouldn’t work? Has anyone else done this? The most important etiquette to remember while using chopsticks in China is to never place them upright in your bowl as this looks like incense sticks burning for the deceased! If there isn’t a chopsticks rest, you should lay your chopsticks across your bowl or plate. You also don’t play with them or point them at anyone.
I bought Jim a new cup to take to work for his Luohanguo tea. This is a special type of earthenware known as Yixing pottery and is made from zisha 紫砂, literally “purple clay,“ found along the banks of Lake Tai in Jiangsu Province. It is named after Yixing, the city near where it has been mined since about the year 1000! The “clay” is actually made from a type of rock which is very high in mineral content. It is ground and mixed with water to form the purple clay. But…it isn’t always purple, it can be a range of colors from reddish purple, brown, buff yellow or green. Yixing pottery is especially popular for teapots. The teaware is not glazed, which results in it being very absorbent. Because of this, it is recommended that it only be used for one type of tea because it will absorb that flavor, and it should only be washed with water. Because of the high iron content, it also keeps the tea hot for longer than other types of teaware. The clay is rather rare and although this cup cost 130rmb/$20usd, and is advertised as “authentic,” it is most likely mixed with some other clay.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 24 - We are currently having extremely cold temperatures for our area. We have heat in our apartment, so we’re not bad, although apartments with thick concrete walls do get really cold! However, many people in south China have no heat at all and I KNOW they are freezing right now! Our normal low in winter is about 10°C/50°F, and today we had snow, sleet and hail, so you know it was MUCH colder! I think my most valuable possession on cold days, other than my teacup, is my electric hot water bottle, especially the one with the hand warmer pocket. In China, you can even get them with cute animal designs :-) I LOVE mine and even take it to bed with me on cold nights. If you decide to try one, be sure to purchase from a reputable shop, as there are some safety concerns.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 20 -I enjoy reading notebook covers in stores, there are always some that make me chuckle for one reason or another. Some are cute, some funny, some just don’t make sense, and some are just…. Different! Now, please don’t get me wrong, I don’t say this in a derogatory way, I’m sure that I would do MUCH worse translating something into Chinese! It’s just another part of daily life to enjoy here! Many a time, a stressful day can be relieved by a funny little translation, more commonly called “Chinglish”
Life in China: A picture a Day 2016, January 11 - My wonderful husband bought me a present yesterday…. I am now the proud owner of a Chinese electric clothes drying machine :-) I’ve never had a dryer for the 6 ½ years we’ve been here, never really needed one, the clothes always hang on the balcony to dry. But, now…what would have taken a couple days for jeans to dry in cool, rainy weather…was dry in 5-6 hours :-) This machine stands almost 5 feet tall, 2 feet in diameter, and has a heater and a fan in the bottom which fills the bag with hot air! All for about $20 usd ….I give it a thumbs up!