The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Blogging around the globe

By Colleen Good

Tues., Feb. 10, 2009I’m sitting in the TBC lounge in a pair of exercise pants, listening to the skype conversations of others and music of my own. I’m wearing the exercise pants not because I actually did any exercise, but because I have no clean pants. I should and will do laundry, but with no driers, there’s a time-delay that makes it seem rather silly to bother doing it now.

This morning, my friend Sara and I went to the bakery out of West gate, and got some breakfast. I got a bacon and onion bread. It was delicious. One thing to get used to with Chinese pastries, however, is that all of them are sweet. The pigs-in-blanket are sweet. The croissant-enveloped deep-fried sandwiches are sweet. In fact, almost all China snack food seems to be sweet.

My school is, like all Chinese universities, surrounded by a fence. It has four gates: North, South, East and West. South gate has only been open one semester in the past ten years, and that was about five years ago. Because of the Spring Festival holiday, only West and North gates are open right now. West gate has many restaurants and convenience stores.

East gate, however, is food-Mecca. East gate is where the hole-in-the-walls are. The food stands (which are not actually stands out East, but are instead little rooms with cooking equipment, and open windows out the front for food-dispensing). The flat breads. The dumplings (jiaozi). The steamed meat buns (baozi). The fried rice (chao fan). The “Muslim burgers” (sold at a Muslim-run food stand, they are mini-pita-like and English muffin shaped bread, with constantly-roasted chicken and vegetables. They are served “la,” unless you tell them otherwise (“bu la”)-spicy and not spicy (to the un-initiated). Without access to East gate, we walk around the campus to get there. The low prices and hot food make it worth it.

The street food can get monotonous. This is where the restaurants come in. They all have lazy-susans in the middle. The food is always amazing. Chao fan and xihongshi jidan (tomato and egg) are staples, and cheap. The meat and vegetable dishes are usually relatively plain, but many vegetables not available in the U.S. are common on Chinese menus. Most dishes common in the U.S. are not common in Beijing, in part because many of the Chinese immigrants U.S.-side are Cantonese, and therefore from the south.

Western food is always significantly more expensive, and therefore avoided. Hot dogs (which I haven’t had) and egg are Chinese, and therefore cheap and widely available. Pizza (which I also have not had) and other fast-food staples are expensive, at 38-100 kuai a pop.

In China, it’s never a problem to bring outside drinks to a restaurant. Even if they offer the drink (like a Coke or bottled tea), because it’s normal to bring your own, no one complains.

In Yunnan province, we almost without exception did not have menus. Instead, we would go to the back of the restaurant, to the kitchen. There, all of the vegetables and meat would be spread out, and you would survey the ingredients, and they would make your dish to-order. Once, we ordered egg and tomato, and saw a server run to a nearby vegetable stand to buy tomatoes for our order.

In Beijing, it’s all menu ordering. Usually there are pictures, and sometimes English translation of the dishes (though they aren’t always helpful).

We also have kitchens on every floor of our dorm. Each floor has a room with four sinks, a hot water machine (because you can’t drink unboiled tap water in China), and three hot plates. These hot plates get significantly hotter significantly faster than hot plates in the US, but they’re still only hot plates. We have managed to make pasta and grilled cheese so far, however. We will do experiments with hot plate baking later, and probably also some more adventurous main dishes.

Speaking of which, it is now 11 a.m., so it’s time for a snack.

To read more of Colleen’s blog, visit:

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