This post was first published on October 6, 2007, on my web development blog.
After 4 months of blogging, I had my first enforced break and have been away from my computer for 5 days. I didn’t really miss it much – a few pangs now and then, some minor guilt about people expecting replies to comments, but mostly I just really enjoyed being with my family.
In my last post, I said I wanted to get back to my stated topic, web development. However, before I do so, I am going to take the opportunity to write about our holiday and Chinese hospitality.
For those of you who don’t know, I live in China. There’s a lot I’d like to write about China, so I may come back to this topic in future. I may start a separate blog for my China writings, but for now I’ll include them here.
Chinese National Day Golden Week
October 1st is Chinese National Day and marks the start of a Golden Week holiday. We normally just stay at home during Golden Week holidays because travelling is a nightmare.
It is estimated that 120 million people travelled during this holiday. Trying to book flights / trains / hotels etc is difficult. If you’re successful, you’re in for an uncomfortable experience – people will be crammed into every available space. To top it off, the prices are two to three times higher than normal.
It’s not just travelling that’s a problem. Most of China’s 1.3 billion people are on holiday, so the shops / streets / tourist attractions are jam-packed with people. And I mean jam-packed. All in all, it’s normally better to relax at home and leave travel and tourism for a quieter period.
This holiday we decided to venture out and accept the invitation of a good friend. Fortunately, we weren’t travelling by public transport. We were travelling by private car and enjoying some famous Chinese hospitality.
Our friend invited us to spend the holiday with his family. When you receive an invitation such as this, you’ll learn that Chinese hospitality is fantastic, although at times it can be overbearing for Westerners.
They made us feel as though we were part of the family, provided us with accommodation and food, and tried to keep us entertained. One night they even gave up their own bed for us. Our friend’s family is quite well off, but I’ve found this kind of hospitality throughout China, regardless of wealth.
So what did we do? Mostly we just relaxed with his family and ate (more on that below). We also went on several outings, including a day in Tianjin.
One night we stayed in the Zhengan Palace Hotel in Grand Epoch City, which is a huge luxury resort. It is truly epic in scale and combines a modern facility with classic Chinese architecture. There’s a golf course and a variety of other sports and activities. Luxury resorts are not really my scene, but it was well worth the look.
For trivia buffs and soccer fans, Real Madrid stayed here in 2005. Michael Owen, David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane feature in the hotel’s pamphlet, in that order. We also saw a German camera crew setting up to shoot a movie, but I have no idea what it’s called.
Banquets, Banquets, Banquets
Everyday, for lunch and dinner, there was a banquet. The food was delicious! If you’ve never tried real Chinese food, I can assure you it is far superior to the food you get in Chinese restaurants in the West. For those not familiar with Chinese dining, each person does not have an individual meal. Instead, many dishes are placed in the centre of the table and you help yourself to a little of everything.
There is a strong drinking culture amongst the men, with toasting throughout the meal. Normally the drink is baijiu (a lethal spirit), although red wine or beer may be used instead. Often the toaster will say ganbei, which literally means dry glass. For some reason, most Chinese think Cheers means the same thing. Either way, you’re expected to drain your glass.
I’ve often heard people complaining about having to drink too much or eat dishes they didn’t like. I fell into this trap myself early on during my time in China. I’ve since learned it’s fine to say no, or that you don’t like something.
With food, the host may pressure you a little more (it’s considered polite for the host to offer), but they will normally accept this. However, there are right ways and wrong ways to say no. Sometimes, it is better to say yes, then just not eat it. Actually saying no can lead to a loss of face for your host. You may find that it’s harder to get the host to accept no when it comes to drinking, as it is considered a courtesy for the host to get you to drink.
For a Westerner being pressured to do something you don’t want to do can be very annoying. We expect that if we say we don’t like something, the host will respect our wishes and not raise it again. At times it takes all my patience to remember that I’m dealing with a different culture here and that the reason they keep asking is that they are being courteous by their standards. If they don’t ask, they don’t care about me.
I’ve lived in China for 3 years in total, but I’m still learning how to deal with this. I think I was a little rude to our hosts at times, but hopefully I made up for it with the arm wrestling competition!
The Final Word
We had a great holiday and enjoyed some great Chinese hospitality. Now, its back to everyday life… If you have had any experience with Chinese hospitality I’d like to hear about your experiences.