Chinese New Year is widely considered to be the most important holiday in China. Known in Mandarin as Chūnjié｜春节 or Guònián｜过年, it is a period symbolized by family reunion (tuánjù|团聚), and represented by various customs that Chinese people across the world take part in over a span of several weeks leading up to and following the start of the new year. This month, as we get ready to say goodbye to the Monkey and welcome in the Fire Rooster, remember, just as so many people around the world celebrate Christmas regardless of culture and ethnicity, you don’t have to be Chinese or living in China to celebrate Chinese New Year. This special holiday is really about family, a fresh start, and good wishes for you and your loved ones. True to the essence of Chinese New Year, here are 6 simple things you can do this year to join in on the festivities and bring happiness to those around you, wherever you may be in the world.
Chinese New Year is here! Also known as the Spring Festival | 春节 ｜Chūnjié), it is the New Year celebrated by a huge portion of the Eastern part of the world. Lets look at the top ten traditions that are honored every year.
Learning Chinese, with its 10,000+ characters may sound daunting. But add a whole different system of sounds and tones in that may not be in our native language and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one difficult language.
Chinese pinyin helps both foreigners and native Chinese speakers learn and understand the language, and also aids with reading and writing skills. It is essential for everyday life for Chinese people, as much as it is for foreigners.
So, let’s talk pinyin.
What is Chinese Pinyin?
Chinese Pinyin is the romanization of Chinese characters. It is a tool used to write the Chinese characters in the Latin alphabet. This aids both with reading Chinese and the pronunciation of it.
Where did Chinese Pinyin come from?
Many attempts had been made over years and years to create a standard romanized version of Chinese characters, but none were standardized and approved until the 1950s, where Zhou Youguang, also known as the ‘Father of Pinyin’ came into play. He and his team spent 3 years developing the Chinese pinyin system used today.
Without this, many of the Chinese population would still be deemed illiterate, and many people trying to learn the Chinese language would be left entirely lost…!
How to read Chinese Pinyin?
Firstly, it is important to be aware that although the letters used will be familiar to an English reader, it doesn’t mean they sound the same. Chinese Pinyin includes sounds in English that we may not exist in other languages, so the closest possible romanization has been made. This means that you need to learn how to correctly pronounce the sounds first in Chinese pinyin, then you can correctly pronounce them when reading characters.
The consonants are much more simple to read since they are largely the same or similar in pronunciation.
zh/ch/sh/z/c/s/j/q/x and r.The sounds you should watch out for, however, are:
The next thing you have to remember when reading Chinese pinyin is that it’s not just new sounds you have to learn. You also have to read which tone mark the character has.
Tones are a pain, but extremely important. Saying a word with the wrong tone can result in some serious miscommunications since many words have the same pinyin spelling, but use different tones and have different written Chinese characters.
So, when you’re learning a new word, it’s vital that you learn the correct tone with it too.
There are 4 tones in Chinese and one neutral tone. Some people say there are 5 tones.
1st tone: ˉ e.g. mā 妈 (mother)
High pitch, naturally prolonged level sound.
2nd tone: ˊ e.g. má 嘛 (hemp)
Pitch from low to high, like when asking a question at the end of a sentence.
3rd tone: ˇ e.g. mǎ 马 (horse)
Pitch falls, then goes back up again
4th tone: ˋ e.g. mà 骂 (scold)
Sharp and strong fall of the tone
5th tone: no marker, e.g. ma 吗 (q. marker)
Neutral and short
Learning the correct pronunciation of Chinese pinyin, including the tones, is the key to learning the language well and making sure you sound like a native.
Don’t move on before you’re ready!
Chinese food has proven to be one of the most adaptable and widespread cuisines on earth. As Chinese people immigrated and travelled abroad they often opened restaurants. Over time, these restaurants had a tendency to tailor the cooking techniques and flavors of home to suit the new cultures and society that they served.
Americans for example are very fond of ‘egg rolls’ which are not found in China. Australians on the other hand serve ‘chiko rolls’ which also bear little resemblance to the spring rolls which inspired them. These localized interpretations of Chinese cuisine hardly do justice to the many different regional flavors of the foods which inspired them.
There are actually 8 very different types of Chinese foods, and they are as different from each other as Cajun cooking is from Californian nouvelle cuisine.
Americans are probably most familiar with Cantonese and Hunan style dishes—in very Americanized forms.
Let’s look at these different Great Cuisines. First up: Canton.
- Guangdong/Cantonese Cuisine
Chinese: 粤菜 Yuècài
Cantonese food tends to be sweeter, and the braising and stewing, accentuated by mild and often subtle sauces.
Cantonese food is the most popular style internationally.
Guangdong Province and Hong Kong are noted for fine seafood dishes and rice dishes.
They eat a very wide variety of foods. The dishes they serve don’t have strong flavors since it is lightly seasoned, and they often tend to be a little sweet.
The wide variety of things that are found in Cantonese dishes led directly to the saying “They eat everything with four legs except tables and everything that flies except airplanes”.
Dishes might feature snakes, cats, dogs and all kinds of seafood that are simply not familiar to most foreigners.
Keep that in mind when you are ordering something off the menu with strange Cantonese names so be sure to ask first, or you might be very surprised (and dismayed) by what shows up at the table.
In Cantonese cooking, the goal is to preserve the food’s original flavor. This makes it very different from other Chinese regional cuisines—notably Sichuan which features food prepared with a lot of strongly flavored spices and savory oils, In Cantonese food the aim is to highlight the simple flavor of the food itself. Very little spice or sugar is used generally.
This produces food dishes that are mostly for developed palates. The flavors can be so subtle that they can seem bland to foreigners used to foreign adapted version of Chinese food. It takes some time to appreciate the mild and distinct flavors of the meat, vegetables and fruit.
Also, very unlike overseas versions and some regional styles, Cantonese tends to be much lower calorie. Much of that is because of the sparseness of oil or grease in food prep. Cantonese chefs also do not use dairy products.
This makes it much healthier than the concocted “crab rangoon” fried cheese wontons or oil laden sweet and sour pork fried rice meal deal at a Chinese fast food restaurant. There are not a lot of calories in the dishes. It makes for fine well balanced meals.
Other notes on Cantonese Cuisine
Spices used: Chives, coriander leaves, anise, touches of black pepper, and slivers of ginger are the most common.
Rice vinegar and a pinch of salt is often used to enhance vegetables. The extra flavor that really gives Cantonese food its distinction is a pinch of sugar and a tiny bit of sesame oil.
But again, restraint is the key principle when it comes to spicing. For example, fresh seafood is treated very delicately. The Cantonese steam it and will only add just a little soy sauce, ginger or perhaps bits of chives.
The sauces tend to be a little heartier in flavor in Guangdong cuisine. Stout sauces like hoisin, oyster, plum, sweet and sour, and of course soy sauce are offered at the table or upon request.
Common Cantonese Dishes
Steamed Eggs are made by beating eggs to a creamy consistency and then steaming.
Variations might include other mild ingredients like spring onion and soy sauce.
Although deep fried dishes are not the main stream of Guangdong dishes, there are quite a number of them which are popular around the region.
A youtiao (油条 /yoh-tyaow/ ‘oil strip’) is a long, golden-brown deep-fried strip of dough. Youtiaos are usually eaten for breakfast with soy milk.
Zhaliang (/jaa-lyaang/ ‘fried two’) is made by tightly wrapping a rice sheet around a youtiao (deep-fried dough stick). Zhaliang is widely eaten in Guangdong and Hong Kong. It is usually eaten with soy milk.
Shahe noodles (shahefen /shaa-her-fnn/) are a kind of rice noodles which probably originated from the town of Shahe that is now a part of Guangzhou. They are broad and white in color. Their texture is elastic and a little chewy. They do not freeze or dry well and are thus generally (where available) purchased fresh in strips or sheets that may be cut to the desired width. Shahefen is popular in Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan in southern China.
White cut chicken is made by boiling salt-marinated chicken in water or chicken broth. When it is done, the chicken looks golden in color and tastes fresh and light, preserving the best of the original taste of chicken.
That about sums up Cantonese cuisine. To sum it up, Mild. Very mild, with sparing use of subtle spices. Lots of steamed food of a shocking variety that is prepared in such a way that other flavors do not overpower its natural flavors.
In our next article we will be considering the Chinese cuisine that many people would consider to be the polar opposite of Cantonese:
Chinese: 川菜 Chuāncài
Sichuan cuisine, is also known or spelled as Szechwan cuisine, or Szechuan cuisine (/ˈsɛʃwɒn/ or /ˈsɛtʃwɒn/) and it is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan Province.
If you like this blog post please check out “5 Great Wall Hikes For Every Beijing Tourist”
Traveling or moving to China is bound to cause significant changes in the way you feel and behave as a foreigner. On entering the country for the first time, you feel excited and enthusiastic about exploring many beautiful places in China. But this euphoria is soon cut short when you realize that the local customs and language of the Chinese people are starkly different from those of your home country. If you are reading this write-up, it is most likely that you are facing this common problem of culture shock, which a lot of immigrants experience when relating with natives in the world’s most populous country.
The information presented herein will help you integrate better in China. This country is full of history, of rich culture with a lot of things you can learn about. To ease your integration into the Chinese society, we have recommended 5 apps and tips to make your acclimatization in the country a swift one. Learn the language: Learning Mandarin is simply the best way to get rid of the culture shock you may be facing in your new environment. If you explore easier ways of learning Chinese, communicating with the locals and understanding the Chinese culture will be a walk in the park over time.
- Don’t engage in public displays of affection (PDA): If PDA is the norm in your home country, you should note that such practice is frowned at in China. So if you just met a Chinese friend and tried hugging and kissing them; don’t be embarrassed to see that people in your surroundings would gape at your action and find it awkward. The Chinese typical reserve such show of affection to people close to them.
- Treat elders with respect: The importance of this piece of advice is great. Try and be courteous when relating with older people and avoid referring to them by their first name. Use their title instead.
Having said that, let’s proceed to discuss the nitty-gritty of this article: 5 apps to help you with better integration in China.
In China, Facebook and Twitter are banned, along with a host of other apps and domain names. Hence, you will find WeChat an indispensable communication tool in the country. With the software, you can connect with friends, chat with your gaffer (as emails are not allowed also), seal business deals, and do a lot more. But one major thorn in the flesh is that there is little privacy for WeChat messages with the use of metadata. Metadata reveals a lot about the users habits and this information can be shared with Chinese authorities.
Also, the App has a robust wallet feature, WeChat Pay, which is literally everywhere in China, leading to speculations that the country could become 100% cashless. It even allows you to pay a bus fare while taking a trip overseas.
Our next picks are Baidu Waimai and Ele.me. Not only is food delivery tech-driven in China but also remarkably dynamic. This gives you a variety of choices when you need to order food. Also, the two apps provide supermarket delivery, making sure that you do not see the need to step outside your house.
Moving about in big cities within China could be a tad difficult for a new immigrant. This is where Mobike comes in: It is an amazing app that makes transportation within the country stress-free for you. In every nook and cranny of Chinese cities, you will find these radiant orange bikes containing QR codes displayed on their handlebars, and Mobike is all you need to rent one of the bikes. Available in English, it has an easy-to-use interface, making it straightforward even to use the Chinese version. Simply scan the QR code shown on your chosen bike, hop on, and then enjoy an exciting riding activity – at a fee of course.
Do note that some communities will not allow you to come with your Mobike into their parking lots or neighborhoods. Once your riding is completed, you can lock your bike at any curb that is closest to you so another rider can use it.
Though the best way to facilitate your integration in China is learning the Chinese language, in the meantime before mastering the language, you will need to find a way to get by in the country, knowing only English. This is why you need a good alternative to Google Translate, another banned app in China. Pleco is a handy tool to help you translate Chinese words and terms into English.
It is among the best Chinese-English dictionary software available on the Chinese market. It has an outstanding set of translation tools such as Screen Reader, which helps you translate text in any program that is launched on your smartphone. It also offers paid add-ons that you can download and install into the software such as OCR (Optical Character Reader), used to point a camera at the characters you are viewing, after which Pleco will have them automatically translated for you.
This list will not be complete without mentioning Alipay wallet. It has a wide array of features such as bill payments, international monetary transfer, hospital registration, among others. Apart from these, it provides integrated services such as Airbnb, Taobao, and Uber. This program has some similarities with WeChat, its major rival. But the latter is not a standalone app like the former. To make use of this software, simply download and install it, and then set up your wallet. The international money transfer option is restricted to Chinese citizens only or expats that hold a Chinese green card.
In conclusion, you can overcome culture shock, understand the Chinese culture better to ease your integration in the country by adopting the other measures mentioned above. You can also download the 5 apps highlighted in the heart of this article to make your stay in China a rewarding one.