First of all, as a food scientist, I want to talk about the food. I tried so many different things in China. A lot of it was great, some of it was ok, and some of it I didn’t care for. I got to try so many exotic things, including duck tongue, chicken paws, squid (I’ve had it fried before, but not this time!), octopus ovary, duck heart, rabbit head, quail eggs, lotus roots, different lamb dishes, fresh bamboo shoots, pickled turnips, tripe, eel, jellyfish, and of course, Chinese KFC (apparently the Chinese love KFC, and they were all over the place. Who would have thought!).
One of the toughest parts of the trip was the language barrier. I think that a lot of Chinese people learn how to read and write English in school, but many don’t know how to or aren’t comfortable speaking English. It was definitely hard to communicate with people when trying to order food or get around. I realize that this is mainly my fault though. I usually try to learn more of the language before I travel to a country, but I just ran out of time before going to China. Many Americans feel inconvenienced when they go to another country and people don’t speak English, but it should really be our job to know their language, not their job to accommodate us. After all, when people visit the U.S., we expect them to know English and have little patience with people who don’t.
It was also very hard for me to pick up any Chinese there. I went knowing like two words and probably knew like seven by the time I left. I don’t have a gift for learning languages and it is Chinese is so different! Its not similar to English one bit (unlike Spanish, French, and Italian) and you can’t even read things to even try to make sense of them. We took a two hour Chinese crash course to try to learn some, but it didn’t help me much. The teacher went too fast for me; I need to learn languages very slowly and practice a lot.
One shock when I got to China was the bathroom situation. I was warned before I went that most public bathrooms wouldn’t have toilet paper. No big deal, I brought lots of those little travel tissue pouches. But what I didn’t realize is that most of the public bathrooms are not toilets, but holes in the floor! Like I said, I am an adaptable person and this didn’t phase me too much and our hotel bathrooms were all regular toilets, so I was ok. In my opinion, the worst part about the public restrooms was that they don’t flush their toilet paper, they just throw it in the trash, so most of them smelled like urine. The worst ones smelled like urine that had been sitting in the heat for days! I don’t handle smells very well, so this was rough for me. Usually, I would take out a tissue to hold over my mouth and nose the whole time I was in there to block the smell as much as possible!
Overall, I did very well with the Chinese food and culture. I was open to try new things and experience all that China had to offer for me!