Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!

Here’s some “evil cult”-related translations from our daily life in Qingdao. Both sides — the local authorities and the “evil cults” — are attempting to influence public opinion through printed material. At least two locally active but unrelated groups are officially designated “evil cult” (邪教) in China. We’ve personally encountered three different cults here in Qingdao.

Evil Party!

First, here’s the juicy anti-Party tidbits from some altered currency that we’ve received in the past couple weeks (in addition to this, this, and this). I’ve got 72元 worth of this stuff now. Feel free to suggest better translations:

cultmore Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!Remember: Truth-Virtue-Tolerance is good!
FLDF is good!
When disaster comes your life is guaranteed!
The news broadcasts are all fabrications
Many common people have been deceived
FLDF saves the people of the world
You can only survive by sincerity and honesty

cult02cultmonetake2 Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
The Party plucks organs live from FLG practitioners
Sold off at a high price, the list of crimes reaches to heaven
Organ transplant matching is difficult
Outside China people have to wait two or three years
Inside China they only need one or two weeks
Where does this huge number of organs come from?
Irrefutable evidence of crime is like heaven’s blessing (?)

more cult Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Quit the Party Team sign your name:
The evil CCP harms all living things
Inciting the masses to fight the masses
Killing 80 million of my compatriots
Unjustified persecution of FLG
Every offense cannot be pardoned
Heaven’s fury and people’s enmity will extinguish the Party

cultfiver Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Peace to the Party-Quitting Team
Heaven will extinguish the Party
The Party-Quitting Team is the most intelligent
Heaven extinguishing the Party is an inexorably destined fate
Anyone wanting to save [the Party] is completely in vain
The Party is thoroughly finished

10cult Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Truth-Virtue-Tolerance is good
FLDF is good
The net of justice is extensive
[It will] settle accounts with Jiang Zemin

cult20 Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Truth-Virtue-Tolerance is good! FLDF is good!
Sincerity, respect and care get karmic reward (?)
Harmonious society is high-flown rhetoric
Persecution of DF, Heaven is unforgiving
Quickly find the real facts, quickly quit the Party
Choose a future that has karmic reward

20kuai Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
FLDF is good
Truth-Virture-Tolerance is good

cult01handwrittencultmoney Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Remember FLDF is good, Truth-Virture-Tolerance is good,
Good fortune bestowed by heaven, guarantee of wellness

Evil Cult!

Second, the latest from our neighbourhood’s “Anti Evil Cult Warning & Education Propaganda Board” (邪教警示教育宣传), courtesy of the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association (青岛邪教协会) and the Qingdao Office of Guarding Against and Dealing With the Evil Cult Problem (青岛防范处理邪教问题办公室). I feel safer already. As you can see, they really put their heart into these public education campaigns:

20131029 442 cult03board Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Anti Evil Cult Warning & Education Propaganda Board

I’d share what the second anti evil cult poster says (on the left), but it’s buried underneath vandalized neighbourhood committee election notices (apparently someone has issues; election-related stuff on every notice board got defaced).

Now here’s a picky but important detail: The posters below are not about the “evil cult” that stamps the money. However, the previous batch of evil cult posters was, as were the posters we had in Tianjin. The posters below, currently on display in our neighbourhood, are for the other “evil cult”: the Eastern Lightning/Almighty God cult.

Not all “evil cults” are created equal, and these two “evil cults” are not related. I’ve read from non-gov’t sources about the violence, deception, seduction and brainwashing of the group in the posters below. But that doesn’t apply (so far as I know) to the money-stamping group. So for the sake of fairness and accuracy, keep that in mind. Of these two groups, Eastern Lightning/Almighty God comes closer to earning its official “evil cult” designation. (There are links to info on each group at the bottom.)

Anyway, let’s see what we’ve got here…

20131029 436 cult04poster Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
See Through (discern, penetrate) the Evil Cult “Almighty God”

20131029 437 cult05detail Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Immorally Amass Wealth by Scamming People into “Becoming Believers”
This organization employs lies to dupe, violence to intimidate, money to bribe, eroticism to seduce, etc. to draw people into becoming believers, as well as the so-called “Leaving family, parents, wife, husband and children now is entering the start of the spiritual world,” conspiring with believers to abandoned family, cast off family and give up occupations to go out to “evangelize”. In the name of “sacrificial funds” they exploit their members’ wealth, even to the point of inciting believers to sell off family property and live in a collective so as to welcome the arrival of “Almighty God.” For this reason, some believers might go far from their hometowns, with no news of them at all for several years, or sell off family property and without exception dedicate it to the religious leader, causing the family’s elderly to have no one to support them, the children to have no one to look after them. The originally harmony-ful family is shattered.

20131029 438 cult06detail Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
From top, left to right: Lies to Deceive: “You must obey to get rebirth” / Violence to Intimidate / Immorally Amass Wealth: “sacrificial funds” / Money to Bribe: “First give you 200元” / Sexually Seduce: “Join our church and you can enjoy…”

20131029 439 cult08adetail Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
They will separate the believer from social life, disseminate “Doomsday” rumours. “Communicating with the outside world is forbidden! Await the coming ‘Doomsday’!”

20131029 441 cult07detail1 Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Promote “Doomsday Rumours” and Create Social Panic
The “Almighty God” cult organization makes an extreme effort to imprison believers’ thinking, isolating them from normal social life, disseminating “Doomsday” rumours, and creating panic in society. Their backwards and perverse way of doing things has caused the People’s mass livelihood and to receive severe interference, and the social stability and unity situation has suffered serious damage.

20131029 440 cult08bdetail Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Conscientiously Resist the Evil “Almighty God” Cult
The numerous People’s masses have a duty to recognize “Almighty God”-type evil cult organizations’ harm, earnestly strengthen wariness and consciousness, conscientiously resist “Almighty God” evil cult’s corrosion, achieve no listening, no believing, no propagating, if you discover or come across evil cult members disturbing and bewitching, distributing illegal publications or such other illegal activities, actively report and expose, without delay dial 110 and report to the police, safeguard our harmonious and stable happy livelihood.

On Chinese authorities’ actual methods for dealing with undesirable groups:

Required reading:

More about “Evil Cult” #1:

More about “Evil Cult” #2:

More “evil cult” money:

[Photo Gallery:] It’s Fú Time! Get ready for Chinese New Year 2014!

fu5 [Photo Gallery:] Its Fú Time! Get ready for Chinese New Year 2014!

Qingdao’s canal bed Licun Daji traditional market is epic on a normal day (see photos here). But on the last market day before Chinese New Year, it’s “here a , there a , everywhere a -” — like a ginormous red, yellow and black ant colony that some kid has just poked with a stick, all charged up and buzzing with Chinese New Year colour, food and traditions.

fu1 [Photo Gallery:] Its Fú Time! Get ready for Chinese New Year 2014!
Have a fu.

On locals’ advice, a coworker and I squeezed around back and forth through it during xiūxi time (aka after lunch siesta), when the crowds weren’t as lethal as in the morning. We weren’t aiming to document the whole thing, just look around and chat and take pictures of whatever caught our eye, and ended up with a lots of red and religious stuff (in which Chairman Mao makes an expected strong appearance), along with the usual things that make foreigners stop and take pictures.

gods1 [Photo Gallery:] Its Fú Time! Get ready for Chinese New Year 2014!
财神,the money god, for sale.

(Aside from one pile of pig heads, there aren’t any other photos of piles of animal parts, though it was interesting to see shoppers inspect piles of cold, shiny intestines the same way you would check over tomatoes — i.e. with your bare hands.)

apples [Photo Gallery:] Its Fú Time! Get ready for Chinese New Year 2014!
Apples grown with stickers to make the sun shine “riches” , “respect” , and “advance” into the peels.

Anyway, here you go!

More photos from this market: Licunji – Qingdao’s most epic market

Chinese New Year photo galleries:

Chinese New Year songs to learn:

Lucky Panties & Fu:

Now you know! Cold weather = dog season

One of the fun things about China is fresh fruit in season. That means good fruit and it gives a fun rhythm to the year. And due to traditional Chinese ideas about health, fruit is not the only thing that has a season:

20130925 030DOG1 Now you know! Cold weather = dog season
上市 “Dog meat is on the market!”

Our innocently unapologetic corner of Qingdao is so endearing. Why wouldn’t you put up a big “DOG MEAT” sign right outside your restaurant? This is about a 10-minute walk from our place. We regularly eat their 老醋花生 and 肉末云豆。 Have not tried their dog yet. This is one of several (as in, over ten) places within walking distance to get dog meat. That’s just how we roll in Licun ().

Dog meat is hard to find in the summer because dog meat, like donkey and mutton, makes you 上火 — it ups your internal “fire”. I’m not even going to attempt to explain what that means, but your fire being too low or too high (usually too high) is a bad thing, and results in acne and colds and stuff. But in the winter it’s cold, so your “fire” can stand a little reinforcement. Or something. I guess.

20131001 198DOG2 Now you know! Cold weather = dog season

For more about eating dogs:

For more about Chinese healthiness:

[Photo Gallery:] Licunji – Qingdao’s most epic market

We’re celebrating one whole year in Qingdao! So here’s a photo gallery from the most epic market I’ve ever seen anywhere (scroll down past the blahblahblah and click a thumbnail to begin). It just happens to be a 20-minute walk from our place.

post01viewmarketscape20131001 LicunDaji 003 [Photo Gallery:] Licunji   Qingdaos most epic market
The middle third of Lǐcūnjí.

李村集 has occupied a usually (but not always) dry canal bed for over 100 years, stretching between four bridges. You’d need a few hours to see everything. It’s a site to behold any day of the week, but “big market” days (大集) — lunar calendar days ending in 2 and 7 — bring breathtaking scale and variety (and near-apocalyptic traffic jams). For anyone who wants to learn about China, the amount of culture on display here — relating to food, medicine, religion, leisure, etc. — is just incredible. The streets immediately parallel to the canal are also packed. But two streets away you’ll find spanking new upscale malls, trendy shopping streets (步行街), and a forest of in-progress highrises. Lǐcūnjí is an old-school island in a sea of rapid development, and who knows how long they’ll let it stay.

post02people20130930 LindysLicunDaji 025 [Photo Gallery:] Licunji   Qingdaos most epic market
On one of the two middle bridges that stretch across Lǐcūnjí.

There are many ‘Chinas’Lǐcūnjí is one that foreigners encounter less often, and that perhaps represents (economically at least) a larger slice of China’s population than the university-educated urbanites foreigners are most likely to interact with. I couldn’t find anything online about it in English. So it’s almost like I get to play Marco Polo with this. If you’re a lǎowài and you visit, you’ll be the only one for miles. And chances are good you’ll see some things you’ve never seen before. Lǐcūnjí isn’t for tourists, domestic or foreign. It’s China unedited.

post03medicinepenisclaw20130930 LindysLicunDaji 052 [Photo Gallery:] Licunji   Qingdaos most epic market
Tiger paw, horns and assorted dried penises (tiger, deer & seal).

Photos are all by me or Lindy (a good friend from our Tianjin days), taken on her real camera and my point-and-shoot and iPhone. We spent most of a morning there, and I’ve accumulated some pictures over the months because I pass through there almost every week. This doesn’t come close to documenting or even summarizing the entire place. Still, it’s an eyeful (though not for the easily queasy!). Photos are loosely grouped by theme: marketscape (7), gods (10), pets (4), people (14), places (5), medicine (11), lunch (20), trinkets (3), meat (10), produce (9), and more marketscape (14).


When living in Tianjin we stumbled upon a different but similar sort of place:

lunch04bridgebbqIMG 2367crop [Photo Gallery:] Licunji   Qingdaos most epic market
At Lǐcūnjí’s under-the-bridge BBQ pits, they’ll prepare whatever meat & veggies you bring from the market.

post04viewbathhouse20131001 LicunDaji 043 [Photo Gallery:] Licunji   Qingdaos most epic market
The “Bridgehead Bathhouse”

post05viewmarketscape20130930 LindysLicunDaji 005 [Photo Gallery:] Licunji   Qingdaos most epic market
The south-west third of Lǐcūnjí.

Evil Chinese cult money in Qingdao

Anyone else received this stuff? Chinese paper notes stamped with anti-Party and pro-”evil cult” messages?

cultmoney03 Evil Chinese cult money in Qingdao

cultmoney02 Evil Chinese cult money in Qingdao

cultmoney01 Evil Chinese cult money in Qingdao

I’d translate the messages for you — because they are interesting — but this particular group is officially designated an “evil cult” and is still a sensitive topic as far as I know. Plus the anti-Party bits are definitely taboo.

More stuff about this particular “evil cult”:

Stuff about another locally active Chinese “evil cult”:

Chairman Mao the good luck god

Walked out to the street market at the entrance to our neighbourhood to get some bǐng before dinner yesterday. The late afternoon sun was sparkling brightly off the superstitious dashboard ornaments of the cars that clog our complex. First a Guānyīn,

IMG 6526guanyin Chairman Mao the good luck god

then a prayer wheel,

IMG 6527prayerwheel Chairman Mao the good luck god

and then a…

IMG 6531maobust Chairman Mao the good luck god

…Chairman Mao.

Mao as a part of Chinese folk beliefs isn’t anything new, of course. But I thought it was funny the way it just fell across my path today. For more about Mao’s current status in China’s popular spiritual imagination:

Cross-cultural food: the feeling’s mutual

applepiesmall Cross cultural food: the feelings mutualWe’re at a church lunch in Taipei. It’s Thanksgiving in America so Jessica’s baked an apple pie. They aren’t celebrating Thanksgiving but we figure an apple pie would be fun to share. Mrs. Xie’s around 50 years old and the first to take a bite. She chews twice, then suddenly yells, “Ròu guì!” as she reflexively spits out her mouthful of our quintessentially American potluck contribution into her hand.

I remember it clearly; she sort of jumps back a bit when she yells and catches the mouthful of pie. Heads turn. Everyone laughs, including us once we understand what’s just happened. Mrs. Xie was genuinely surprised and had reacted on reflex. We had no clue and never would have guessed that Chinese use cinnamon in traditional medicine but not sweets. And Mrs. Xie apparently never expected to find one of TCM‘s 50 fundamental herbs in a foreign dessert on the church potluck table. “We eat this in lots of stuff in North America, it’s really common…” You can imagine the impression this is making. So much for iconic American cuisine!

It’s Mutual

That wasn’t the first or the last time we’ve accidentally grossed-out Chinese acquaintances with our Western food. There’re more stories below, but first here’s an idea. Between any two cultures is a shared category called FOOD where individuals’ feelings range range from Yum! to Ok to No thanks to Yuck!. The preferences within one culture tend toward relative similarity. But the more different two cultures are, the greater the chance that each culture will also have stuff in their FOOD category that the other culture doesn’t — people from the other side categorize it as NOT FOOD and so have never considered eating it. Sometimes presenting NOT FOOD as FOOD triggers such visceral disgust that the very thought of eating it makes them physically uncomfortable. It’s not just NOT FOOD, it’s literally sickening.

This especially applies to China and Euro-America because of the extremes. Not only is there plenty of common food in each culture that people from the other culture typically find unappetizing, there’s quite a bit that’s entirely outside the other’s FOOD category. I think that’s funny. And interesting. It illustrates how strong and arbitrary our culturally-conditioned, visceral reactions and preferences can be.

It’s Arbitrary

dogfood2small Cross cultural food: the feelings mutualThink about it: Barbaric accurately expresses what the average Anglo-American feels inside when they think about Chinese eating dogs, even if they won’t say it out loud. But why should dog meat be any more disgusting than pig meat? Can you think of any even partially-objective reason? Are shrimp any cleaner than water roaches? Think about eating a crab: actually cracking open a shell, pulling legs off… Why are we unwilling to eat insects but pay big bucks to eat crustaceans — the relatively huge, exoskeletonned garbage-suckers of the ocean? We call one disgusting and the other delicacy.

But it doesn’t have to be “gross” to simply not be considered food. What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you see this:

starfish20130430 502embed Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual

Most North Americans, I’d wager, at first glance would think “souvenirs” (or “beach”, “tide pool”, etc.). We’ve seen starfish just like those in buckets just like that at seaside souvenir shops in Canada and the U.S. But (and you knew this was coming) it’s actually a seafood restaurant in Qingdao, waiting for you to order so they can do this:

starfish20130531 397embed Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual

Turns out that Chinese and Anglo-Americans tend to populate their respective FOOD / NOT FOOD categories with slightly (ha!) different things. And that’s where the fun comes in.

Fringe vs. Mainstream Food

One last thing before the examples: It’s easy to go to another country, search out the most exotic food you can find, something that most locals won’t even touch, and then go, “Holy cow! Look what they eat!” But it’s just not that interesting; it doesn’t well represent that culture or human diversity because it’s comparing one culture’s novelty food with another culture’s mainstream. For example, we could use prairie oysters and say,

Canadians eat bull testicles!
prairieoysters Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual

Technically that’s true, I guess, though it’s a safe bet that 99% of the Canadians I know think that’s sick and wrong. For China I’d call 3-squeak mice, urine eggs, and Taipei’s “snake alleynovelty food, along with exotic traditional Chinese medicine ingredients like tiger penis. So for our purposes here that stuff doesn’t count.

The novelty and shock value of fringe food wears off quickly. What’s more interesting, I think, is stuff that’s normal to most locals but not even within the category of “food” to most outsiders. So here’s some examples (finally!) from our own experiences that go both ways between China and North America.

Examples!

1. Pig feet 猪蹄 vs. perogies & sour cream 酸奶油

We lived with a Taiwanese family for two weeks while volunteering at a Hurricane Katrina shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Their favourite dish was pig feet 猪蹄, so that’s what we had our first night. And for lunch the next day. And several more times while we were there. Microwaved pig feet at work. I remember sucking the gelatinous flesh off bones and spitting out what I guess were the knuckles. It wasn’t anywhere near appetizing for us, though that wasn’t a problem because our education had drilled into us that when you’re someone’s guest, you eat it — period (our rural East Africa internships offered much greater mealtime challenges than some sticky pig feet). Plus, we got revenge.

Perogiesmall Cross cultural food: the feelings mutualOne night while we were with them we planned to share our own cultural food. My heritage is Ukrainian; every Christmas mom makes perogies and cabbage rolls. Since perogies (we figured) were more or less Western 饺子 they ought to go down well with our Taiwanese hosts. Now I don’t know about in Ukraine, but Canadians cover their perogies in tons of sour cream (or maybe that’s just my family). Anyway, I remember the mom as we opened the sour cream container in the middle of the table and plopped a huge shiny white blob on top of our perogies — her face said something like: “Wow. They can’t be serious…” It’s the exact same face I made countless times during our first two years in Taipei and Tianjin. They took a couple token licks before eating their perogies plain. I was like, hey, more sour cream for me!

2. Pig blood cake 猪血糕

Probably the best example from our own lives of how taste in food is in your head more than your tongue comes from our first week in Taipei. We’d arrived right in time for the start of Chinese New Year. That meant almost everything was closed. Every night for dinner we would just wander outside and eat whatever we could find, which usually came from random lonely street vendors. Some nights we had to search for several blocks.

On one such night we found a push cart vendor selling these rectangular things on sticks, which he coated in… crushed peanuts? With some cilantro? We had no clue what it was and not enough language to ask, but it was our only option so we ate some for dinner. And honestly, it tasted alright. A day or two later we found out what it was when we asked our English-speaking employers during a work dinner: “pig blood cake猪血糕. Then I felt sick to my stomach. Holy cow. Part of me didn’t believe them; I’d never imagined pig blood cake was in the realm of possible dinner options.

Turns out that blood, in various forms, is not uncommon in Chinese food.

3. Our Qingdao

scorpionIMG 4657small Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual

Literally down the street and around the corner from our place in Qingdao there’s a guy with buckets of live scorpions 蝎子, sorted by size, and a little pot to fry them in. He sits directly across from the “pig head meat猪头肉 seller (which means pig parts, not just head pieces). Within a 20 minute walk from our place I can get: dog meat 狗肉 (at over a dozen places), duck blood soup 鸭血汤, hair eggs 毛蛋, silk worm chrysalis 蚕蛹, starfish 海星, more scorpions, sheep heads 羊头, 3-penis liquor 三鞭酒, sea cucumber 海参, bullfrogs 牛蛙… Click the words for a picture! :)

This isn’t a list of all the most-gross-to-the-average-Anglo-American Chinese food that I’ve ever seen in China. It’s a representative sampling of a long list of edibles outside the typical Anglo-American’s “food” category that I routinely stumble upon within a half-hour walking radius of our apartment in Qingdao. None of it is considered terribly exotic and it’s not connected to tourism. It’s at regular, daily markets and average restaurants. Sure, it’d be easy to find some Chinese who don’t like to eat this stuff, but most of the locals around here don’t think anything of it.

maodan20130519 092small Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual

And if we remove the “routinely” clause: donkey heads 驴头, donkey penis 驴鞭, cow penis soup 牛鞭汤, dog penis 狗鞭 (hot pot) — yes, I’m going with a theme here — and snake penis 蛇鞭 (liquor tonic 补酒 ingredient) represent a long list of things I come across around here but don’t see every week.

scorpionIMG 4658small Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual

4. Cheese 奶酪

Chinese people not liking cheese 奶酪 is a cliché food anecdote, especially (but not only) for Chinese 50 years and older, but we still see it. It makes sense: think of all the Chinese food you like to eat, and then imagine melting cheese on it. Ew. When our daughter’s all-Chinese preschool has “pizza” for “Western food day”, it’s cheese-less. I forget which memoir it was, but one Chinese author I’ve read wrote of moving to New Zealand and her mom coming to visit. They had dinner at some local Kiwi’s where a fancy cheese plate was served. Her very polite mom dutifully at some… and barfed afterward.

5. Mexican food 墨西哥

Mexican food 墨西哥 is, according to our fully-bilingual, internationally-traveling former boss in Taipei, the strangest-tasting-to-him of all the foreign food he’s tried, on account of the spices. And as every American expat in Mainland China knows, the lack of Mexican food is at emergency levels. We’ve never lived in Beijing but we know the one place to get decent Tex-Mex — it’s practically a religious pilgrimage every time we have to visit the Capitol.

6. Stinky Tofu 臭豆腐

choudofukeelungschodofusmall Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual

People can have pretty strong feelings about their favourite food, of course, especially if it’s connected to their heritage. Our Taipei friends love stinky tofu 臭豆腐 and they joked about it being their national food. One of them told us how angry it made her when she saw a foreigner on a TV show say, “It tastes like sh–!” Their feelings are understandable but so are that foreigner’s, even if he was rude about it. The first time we encountered stinky tofu, we were far enough down the street from the vendor that we didn’t even know he was there. My throat was suddenly seized by this pungent cloud; I literally thought something must be dead nearby, some juicy and exceptionally spicy roadkill in the hot, humid Taiwan sun. A resident foreigner had told us about stinky tofu, but what I smelled was so strong I’d assumed it was something else. I couldn’t believe it when we eventually walked past the push cart. (Not all varieties of stinky tofu are this powerful.)

6. Silkworm chrysalis蚕蛹

canyong20130531 396small Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual

I used to think silk worm chrysalis 蚕蛹 were just for tourists and adventure eaters until I started seeing them in local restaurants and markets. Our friend Rob in Tianjin had dinner with a classmates’ family, and they served a big plate of them. He said their young daughter chowed down on them like nobody’s business. We’ve had them at local sidewalk BBQs (though I opted out of the sheep penis). The picture above is from a market I pass through twice a week.

7. Duck tongues 鸭舌

 Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual

During our first month in Taipei our new friends took us to the Shilin nightmarket. We made a deal: we’d eat everything they picked out so long as they didn’t tell us what it was first. Yay duck tongues 鸭舌! Maybe that counts as adventure eating, but they ate them just like any occasional snack.

8. Breakfast 早餐

Whether you’re Chinese or Anglo-American, breakfast is one of the hardest adjustments to make when crossing these two cultures. Maybe because people are cranky in the morning, I don’t know. In our home in China we eat with chopsticks at least one meal a day and often two (not intentionally, that’s just how it happens). But breakfast is always Western; no trace of China on table. We even have a cinnamon shaker for oatmeal and coffee. And we have Chinese friends who feel the same in reverse.

youtiaoIMG 6057small Cross cultural food: the feelings mutualOne Chinese friend from Tianjin married a Michigan girl and they recently moved to the States. In the past when he was just visiting, he made his own breakfasts (instant noodles) every morning. This time, realizing it was a move and not just a visit, he was psychologically preparing himself before they left, trying to work up the right attitude toward adjusting to, rather than avoiding, American-style breakfast. He knew what he was getting into and needed to psych himself up.

With Chinese breakfast there’s no mercifully gentle easing into the warm embrace of a consoling cup of coffee that says, “There there, I know getting out of bed is hard…” Our first Chinese breakfast surprise was when staying a weekend with friends in Beijing. We had hot, spicy noodles and pickled shredded vegetables. I promise it sounds a lot worse when you’ve just woken up. But a bowl of cereal is at least as unappetizing to the average Mainlander. If you’ve ever stayed at a Chinese hotel, you’ve maybe been surprised at how there can be so little you want to eat in such a big breakfast spread.

Adventure eating is for amateurs

I’ve done my share of made-for-clueless-tourists adventure eating — there’s a certain time in every almost-man’s life when you want to challenge yourself just for fun, to see what you can handle. But more interesting to me is the food that locals think is normal, or a special treat, that I wouldn’t even think of as food if they hadn’t identified it as such.

If there’s a point to this, I guess it’s that we can and should be honest about cultural differences, not just because it builds healthy communication and mutual understanding, but it’s also interesting and funny in its own right. Of course we should be sensitive about how we communicate — different levels of bluntness are appropriate to different contexts. At dinner in someone’s home we smile and nod and eat whatever we’re served (octopus heads, recently). But with friends out in the street, or on the blog? That’s different. Gagging on one another’s food can be fun and enlightening among cross-cultural friends.

P.S. — I’m sure there’s a better list to be made of common Western food that weirds out the average Mainlander. If you’ve got stories please share!

P.P.S. — Every image here is ours except for the American pie, the perogies and the prairie oysters (click for sources).

P.P.P.S — About cross-cultural negativity:

P.P.P.P.S - Was just walking to the school and found this huge caterpillar(?) on the way, so I brought it and asked the gate guard what it was and if it would bite my kids (they like to play with bugs). One of the teachers, my coworker, was leaving out the gate, glanced at it as she passed and said, “Oh, you can eat those!”

douchongsmall Cross cultural food: the feelings mutual