Week 5: Golden Week in Review

Last week, I got the week off from school on account of the Chinese holiday known as Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节/中秋節 – zhōng qiū jié). The week around the holiday is known as Golden Week, a period of time that is hectic with families traveling home or out of the country to avoid the crowded cities. Shanghai is especially known for being crowded during Golden Week. The nice thing about Golden Week, though, is that plenty of things are discounted on account of the holiday, making for tons of deals!

During my Golden Week, I took a trip a few hours south of Shanghai to Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province. In my mind, I compare Shanghai and other cities to those in the US and India, but Hangzhou was quite unlike any other city I’d been too.

It was very unique in that it was not a huge city, but still fairly busy, and definitely a center for tourism. It doesn’t have all the trappings of a westernized Asian city like Shanghai or Bangalore. 

The only city I can compare it (and only in principle), is Mangalore, a city in Karnataka not too far from Bangalore. Hangzhou is very much a Chinese city in the sense that it is steeped in its own culture but not to the extent that it’s obscure and inaccessible to foreign travelers (as some small towns might be). Mangalore is very similar in that respect, though aesthetically and experientially, is very different from Hangzhou.  Hangzhou’s street market felt very local, even though there were tourist stands selling trinkets that only tourists would buy. The street is lined with all sorts of Hangzhou specialties, including some vegetarian bread items (whose names I neglected to find out). Some stalls had very traditional Chinese sweet dishes, such as Eight Treasure Soup (八宝粥/八寶粥 – Bā băo zhōu) , a kind of sweet rice porridge.

Assortment of Chinese sweets at a stall in Hangzhou’s street market near Gaoyin Street

It’s called that because the eight items used to flavor the soup are purported to have potent medicinal and healing qualities. Popular ingredients include peanuts, lotus seeds, and red bean. In the picture to the right, there’s also a bowl of grass jelly (仙草 – xiān căo), another traditional Chinese sweet often consumed on its own, or more recently, in bubble tea.

Entrance to the temple grounds

About half an hour away by taxi, is the Lingyin Temple, one of the most famous and largest Buddhist temples in China. It’s known as 灵隐寺/靈隱寺 (língyĭn sì), translating as “The Temple of the Soul’s Retreat”. The temple is in a bit of a secluded area, being closer to some of the tea villages than Hangzhou itself.

The temple grounds are sprawling and really quite stunning with a large scenic area of forests and caves with statues of the Buddha. While you’re there, it’s absolutely necessary to see the Mahavīra Hall, where a huge Golden Buddha sits, waiting to hear the prayers of devotees.

The Golden Buddha inside Mahavira Hall

This temple is easily one of my favorite places that I’ve visited so far, and I’m really glad that I made the trip. I have a ton of photos, so I won’t be able to post all of them. They don’t do justice to this place anyway!

Food!

Food in Hangzhou was a little more difficult than in Shanghai, partly due to a lack of Western restaurants which might actually have things for me to eat. Fortunately, I was able to get some vegetarian mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐 – má pó dòufu), which often contains pork, beef, or chicken. You should always ask in restaurants whether they can make a dish without meat.

Some partially eaten mapo tofu
生菜 (shēng cài) (I’m not sure what vegetable this is to be honest)

 

 

 

 

 

I was able to order a vegetable dish as well, and with rice, it was more or less a complete meal.

At Lingyin Temple, I was able to eat a vegetarian meal made by the temple’s noodle restaurant, which is a common institution in Buddhist temples. These small eateries serve completely vegetarian (and often vegan) food, so if you’re in a temple town near a temple for an extended period of time, it’s a good place to get good-tasting and relatively cheap vegetarian food. The only catch about Lingyin Temple, is that you do have to pay 40 or 45 RMB to enter, and then meal itself will be around 15-20 kuai.

I hope that you all enjoyed this post, and I look forward to writing next week!

Week 1 in China: Food

Hello all! My first week in China is over, and I have a few pictures and stories to tell. This post will be about my vegetarian food findings, since I have a lot to share, and I’ll probably make another post later. Because I’m vegetarian, I will be talking exclusively about vegetarianism, and I can’t really vouch for the availability of vegan options (Sorry!). With that, here we go!

Number One: Knowing Mandarin makes your life infinitely easier in China.

I don’t care what other travel bloggers have said, but knowing Mandarin is strongly recommended if you go to China. This is mandatory if you’re a vegetarian, since there are only a handful of restaurants and eateries that are truly vegetarian. Knowing the following few phrases will help you if you’re vegetarian:

我吃素/斋(齋)*。- Wŏ chī sù/zhāi. – I am vegetarian
我不吃肉。- Wŏ bù chī ròu. – I don’t eat meat.
海鲜(鮮)不可以。- Hăixiān bū kĕyĭ. – Seafood is not okay/I can’t eat seafood.
請你別放肉。- Qĭng nĭ bié fàng ròu. – Please don’t put meat.
請問,這個有肉嗎?- Qĭng wèn, does this have meat? – Excuse me, does this meat?

*I haven’t used 我吃斋(齋) yet, but I’ve been told that it’s less vague than 我吃素, since it specifically relates to a Taoist/Chinese Buddhist vegetarian diet, which excludes eggs, milk, and many other animal derivatives that are not always considered meat in India.

萝卜糕和芋头糕/蘿蔔糕和芋頭糕 (Luóbo gāo hé yùtóu gāo) Fried radish and turnip cakes 

Being vegetarian in China is 100% possible and not very difficult, so long as you have a grasp of Mandarin and are willing to put a little more effort into find places beforehand, not to mention asking questions. Always, always ask. As someone who’s been vegetarian since birth, I can attest to the fact that you should never take anything for granted when it comes to food, and always ask the waiter or food providers if there are meat products in the food. If it means being that person at the table, so be it.

There are plenty of options at many restaurants; you need only ask or simply leaf through the menu. A lot traditional Chinese restaurants will have vegetable dishes with tofu or seitan (a gluten-based meat substitute), and you can order rice as well. For Western-style restaurants, such as Pizza Hut or Italian restaurants, it’s pretty hit and miss, and it is not uncommon for food items (including vegetarian ones) to actually sell out at relatively lower scale eateries. You can also find one or two things to eat at ramen restaurants, like this mushroom and vegetable ramen from Ajisen Ramen in Jinqiao Lifehub:

Generally speaking, food is pretty cheap in China right now, with 100 RMB going for about $15 USD. Items in upscale restaurants can be close to 100 RMB, which means that most items in other places are much less. This means a full bowl  bibimbap for around 25 RMB or a nice pasta dish for 60 RMB.

One of my favorite things in Shanghai so far is 蛋饼/蛋餅 (dàn bīng). . A 蛋饼/蛋餅 is kind of like a burrito, except that the filling is usually meat, vegetables, and sauce. For 7-8 RMB, it can serve as breakfast or a quick bite. The outer crepe part is similar to an Indian paratha, and I always get mine with an egg, ketchup, lettuce, and cheese. Because it’s on-the-go, I can go get my order from across the street, come back to my dorm room, and add stuff I have in my fridge (like fried mushrooms or Sriracha hot sauce).

After: with a little Sriracha sauce on top!
Before: a simple 蛋餅 with one egg, lettuce, cheese, and ketchup

The one downside (depending on how you look at it), is that you might be left a little hungry between meals since vegetables do have fewer calories. However, sweets are always vegetarian, and you can get ice cream, pastries, bubble tea, or other things that can satisfy a sweet tooth.

That’s all for this week, and I’ll hopefully have other interesting things to share with you all! Feel free to share this blog with your vegetarian friends who are thinking about a trip to China!

Guess Where I Am!

Hello everyone! I know that it’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve just been so busy this summer with an internship that I never really found the time to post again. I spent this summer doing a lot of vocabulary review in Mandarin (went up to HSK Level 3), Hindi, Kannada, Italian, and Spanish. Every day on the train back to and from work, or at my lunch break, I did Memrise sessions to improve my vocabulary retention.

And now, I’ve made an even bigger jump than simply going from my small hometown in California to New York City for college. I’m in Shanghai, China for an entire academic year to study abroad! In addition to studying Mandarin Chinese, I’m also taking two classes in comparative politics as well as a class in Chinese bamboo flute.

In the future, I will be trying to use this blog more often, but it will include more stuff about my studying abroad in China. The topics I cover will be mostly about traveling, learning Mandarin, as well as some other things that I see and do in China. Since I’m a vegetarian, I’ll definitely be making quite a few posts about my experiences in China relating to that as well.

Hope you all enjoy this new series of posts!

Language Learners’ 5 Least Favorite Moments

We language learners have all had those moments when we’re just like, “Ugh, I’m so tired and done with this!”. It happens to best of us and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. As someone who’s going to be learning langauges probably for the rest of his life (in spite of other things), I’ve had this moment several times. Some notable examples: understanding Cuban Spanish, practicing my Italian with natives, and the future subjunctive in Portuguese, just to name a few. Thankfully, there is nearly always a solution. Without further ado, here are five moments that language learners hate:

1. When there are no books on your language.

This can be due to either simply a lack of availability in the sense that you can’t afford it, it’s out on loan from the library, or no such books currently exist. It’s language learners’ worst nightmare. I’m really interested in minority languages like Tibetan and Brahui, all three for which resources can be fairly scarce. Catalan, one minority language that I know, at least has an online dictionary. Not to mention there are people who have written books on how to learn it. For Tibetan and Brahui I would have to do a lot more digging. The best way to deal with this is either the cheap-out way: give up, or to do some more searching with Google, or (gasp) go to the library*. Never fear because there’s always someone who has found info or written their own books on the subject, and you can always acquire it through various (and some of which are admittedly questionable) ways.

*Shout out to NYU Bobst Library for being a treasure trove of knowledge.

2. Feeling the tug of another language calling to you.

This is something that I see in the Tumblr community most often. All these language learners are like “Omg I’m so into Swedish rn” but then the next month (or perhaps the next week) they’re like “Why must I love German music so much”. Look, it’s not a terrible thing to feel this way, since so many languages have all sorts of cool things about them. You’re not in the minority. I feel this way about Tibetan and Brahui all the time, when I’m studying Mandarin or Korean. Just remember this: you won’t make progress if you don’t commit to your work. Jumping around is just going to make it worse, and you’ll feel like you’re not going anywhere. And then you will be that person who posts “I don’t know much, but I can eat, sleep, read, and say thank you in seven languages that I will never use”. The only thing I can tell you is keep at it. Remember why you started, what exactly it is that you want to do with that language. If you’re learning French, you could tell yourself this: “I want to go to Paris and be able to converse with French people” or “I want to able to read Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables in the original French”. Perhaps the last one is a bit lofty, but you get the point. It’s a million times easier to stay on the road if you know where you’re planning to go.

3. Feeling like you can say basically nothing.

languages, german, itchy feet, language learners
Everyone’s first time using the language with a native. *

*From Itchy Feet: the Language and Travel Comic. Disclaimer: I do not own this.

This happened for every single language that I have ever learned. Even in Kannada, my mother tongue, I messed up many times. There was one instance of which was cause for my own grandmother to break out into hysterics. Instead of beating yourself up for it, you should think positively. Benny Lewis’ article on the abundance mindset is a great read for motivating yourself. I know some people won’t read it, so I’ll summarize. 1: Capitalize on your current vocabulary and make use of it. 2: Keep track of your progress and be aware of what you know and don’t know. 3. Learn from your mistakes. 4. Don’t compare yourself to others.

The first three are important pieces of advice to take, but the last one is huge. I sometimes indulged a bad habit of comparing myself to Benny Lewis and Timothy Doner. People who had made careers out of their language prowess. Here I was, feeling bad that I couldn’t speak more than 10 languages as a senior in high school. Setting unrealistic expectations and thinking that you need to measure up to the pros from the very beginning is a master plan for low self-esteem. Look at the progress you have made rather than things that you don’t know. You’ll find yourself feeling better and also tackling your language with a much better attitude.

4. Being judged for incompetency.

Look, there’s no avoiding the fact that some people in world are insensitive and inconsiderate. There will be judgement, but you have to own up to it. Don’t fear these people. Think of them as the only people who will actually tell you that you’re wrong or that your speaking is off. To be perfectly honest, I don’t like it when people don’t tell me if something is wrong. Asking for constructive criticism is always good. If that person continues to trash-talk you and your language skills, that is a separate issue altogether. But have no fear! The vast majority of people that speak your target langauge appreciate language learners. They will often oblige and help you out. Like our good friend Cristiano Ronaldo:

language learners, Cristiano Ronaldo

5. Being told that languages are useless/stupid/boring etc.

There will be such people everywhere. This will even come from the mouths of native speakers themselves. That’s right. There are many people in the world who feel that their native language is not useful and don’t understand why someone else would want to learn it. Don’t feel discouraged because a native speaker told you that it’s useless. If you chose because you appreciate the culture and the beauty of that language, nothing should stop you. For the people who think that language learning is a dumb hobby, let the haters hate. Or you could convince them that they’re wrong. Your choice. The point is that if you are passionate about learning a language or you have a commitment to learning, there is nothing in this world that can stop you. Language learners can do so much in the world by expanding their ability to communicate with people.

I hope this article helps a lot of people who feel down during their studies! Cheer up and keep marching forward!