Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fine Dining: The Chinese Banquet or Business Dinner

When doing business in China, it’s advisable for one to be prepared for the all important business dinner.  Chinese folks put great value on guanxi, or personal connections, and many people believe that eating is one of the best ways to develop corporate relationships. 

One shouldn’t tread blindly into these meals, so here is my informal primer on attending the Chinese banquet.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending some dinners while on Chris' group outing to Qiandao Hu.  

Many times clients or companies will take you to the "most famous" restaurant in town.  This restaurant specialized in fish head soup.  Each fish used in the soup was so special that it came with its own barcode. 

Before Dinner

Punctuality is key.  Make sure to arrive to the meal on time.  The Chinese are usually on a schedule when eating, and don’t value fashionable tardiness.

You and your colleagues will more than likely eat in a private room called a baojian.  Dinners are usually held in baojians so diners can be noisy without disturbing other patrons.  A noisy dinner is a successful dinner.

Diners usually sit around large, round tables with even numbers of place settings.  (It is bad luck to have an odd number of people at the tables.)  When you arrive, don’t immediately sit down; wait to be shown where to sit.  The host or most important person usually sits facing the door, and the second most important or assistant will sit in the seat closest to the door so he or she can discreetly pay the bill. 

Our table was ready in our baojian. 
At the dinner, don't dig in until the host starts eating. 
When you arrive at the table, there will more than likely be some tea, a few cold plates, and some other beverages on a glass lazy Susan.  After you sit down, feel free to sip your tea, but wait until the host starts eating or drinking to dig in. 

During Dinner

The banquet dinner is not for the light of stomach.

When there are at least four dishes, the host will usually start the festivities by taking a bite.  Then dishes are shared by rotating the Lazy Susan. Each diner samples every dish using his or her respective chopsticks.  (At nicer restaurants, dishes will have serving chopsticks.  Don’t eat with the serving chopsticks!) After picking up a piece of food, set or tap it on your smaller plate then eat it.

When taking food, each person used his or her own chopsticks. 
When you take your food, don’t take too much food!  Many times, diners will be expected to sample upwards of a dozen different dishes.

During our dinners, the food kept coming!  When room on the lazy Susan ran out, the waitress simply stacked dishes of food. 
It’s also expected that diners sample EVERY dish.  If you are grossed out at first sight, it is completely appropriate to mention a food allergy.  If it looks edible, take a small bite.  If it’s yummy, take a few more bites.  If it’s not, leave it on the plate.  Food on your plate is good luck and the ultimate compliment to the chef.  (If you have food on your plate, the chef has done a good job of filling his or her diners.)

The fish head soup was yummy!  I actually avoided eating the head by taking broth and tomatoes. 
Some rules are meant to be broken.  I passed on the duck tongue.
Rice may be brought out at the end of the meal.  The rice is not the main course.  It is commonly used to fill the empty spaces of your stomach and absorb yummy sauces. 

If you need to take a rest between the courses, place your chopsticks on your plate or on the chopstick rest near your plate.  DON’T put them upright in the rice.  That is bad luck.

Most diners may notice that many of the foods are quite different than those found in the American Chinese Restaurants.  One big difference is the presence of bones and shells in the food.  If you happen to encounter a shell or bone when eating, quietly spit it on the plate.   It’s gross, but after a while you get used to it.

Many fish dishes are served with the head and bones.  Do not try to swallow the bone, you will choke.  
When eating shrimp, spit out the shells.  Don't peel the shrimp with your hands.
Don’t take the last piece of food on a plate. That is considered greedy.

I think everyone at the table wanted this last piece of pork. 
There are also drinking rules at these shindigs. 

Do not fill your own glass.  If you notice your dining partners need a refill, take the bottle and fill their glasses.  They will do the same for you.  If they don’t notice you need a beverage, feel free to top up their glass, then fill your own glass.  If you don't want more to drink, tap the table with two fingers. 

The host and other attendants will more than likely make many toasts.  Don’t drink your alcohol until people start making toasts. If the diners are lucky (like we were), the toasts will be beer toasts.  If you are not so lucky, the host or another guest will pull out a clear, grain alcohol like liquid called baijiu.  Baijiu is by far the worst drink I have ever tasted.

In my humble opinion baijiu is awful, but it is usually a staple of Chinese business dinners.
This clear, pungent liquid burns on the way down. 
If the host or guest makes a toast, hold your glass up, and then tap the Lazy Susan with your glass.  If the host says, “GANBEI!” drain your glass. 

Instead of clinking glasses, we tapped our glasses on the Lazy Susan.
Ladies, do not feel obligated to ganbei.  It is perfectly acceptable to play the “I’m a lady, I can’t ganbei” card and sip the drink.  If you aren’t a drinker, feel free to play the alcohol allergy card and ganbei with non-alcoholic beverages.  

Wrapping it Up

As dinner draws to a close, the waiter will bring plates of fruit for desert. 

Since the fruit is here, the end is near!
You may feel the need to pick your teeth at the end of the meal.  If you need to do so, pick your teeth with one hand and cover your mouth with the other.

If the dinner has an end time, diners will leave at that time.  People usually don’t linger at the table.  It is common to take the conversation elsewhere.   

Our dinner ended at 8:00.  We boarded the bus for the hotel at 7:57.  The mass exodus was hilarious.
After dinner, it is important to thank the host, and inform them how much you enjoyed the experience. 

The most important rule when attending a banquet is have fun!  The banquet experience has allowed me to sample some foods that I wouldn’t ordinarily order and has allowed me to bond with many colleagues.  Ganbei!

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Looking for a cheap, easy, fun getaway from Shanghai for the day?  Before last Monday, I was.  Since school is still out and Chris is working all day, I’m going a wee bit stir crazy.  When my friend Jume suggested we take a one-hour 12 RMB ($2 USD) bus trip to a water town called Zhujiajiao, I was in.

1700-year-old Zhujiajiao is a small village that once thrived on rice and clothing industries.  Now it is a tourist trap that contains restaurants, street food stalls, and PLENTY of stores that are perfect for junkin.   During our three-hour stay, we had a splendid time exploring.

While walking through the canal side streets, the smell of street food filled the air.  Treats like these pig trotters, zongzi, and pork ribs could be purchased for under 10 RMB ($1.50 USD)
Many of the stalls like the one pictured above had very cheap souvenirs.
Jume convinced me to get a 30rmb ($5 USD) fish pedicure.  After 25 minutes of these guys nibbling and tickling my feet, I was ready to roll.

I loved these cute shoes!
We had a great view during our scallion spaghetti lunch.
Chinese gondoliers transported tourists through the canals.  A ride ranged in price from 60-120 RMB ($10-$20 USD)

This animatronic statue welcomed visitors to what I assumed to be a haunted/ fun house.  I was too creeped out to ask.
Lots of four legged friends hung out on the streets. 
My time in Zhujiajiao was a great afternoon break from downtown Shanghai.  If you are in the mood for some street food and junkin, I would check it out.  If you would like more information on Zhujiajiao, click here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Junkin Down Dongtai Lu

The first time I met my Mother’s cousin Du, she introduced me to an amazing word: junkin.  Junkin is the act of meandering through gift shops, garage sales, malls, and other venues in search of tchotchkes, trinkets, and souvenirs that eventually end up collecting dust on a shelf.  In Shanghai, there are PLENTY of places to go junkin, one of which is the Dongtai Lu Antiques Market.   

When I hear the words antique market, I think of stalls that contain old furniture.  That is not the case on Dongtai Lu.  If you are looking for an eccentric souvenir for the friend that has everything, this street is the place for you.

Welcome to Dongtai Lu, home of many eccentric souvenirs. 
I had no idea that the Keebler Elves were avid sportsmen.   This clock is perfect for the anglers in your life. 
Can't find the perfect doll for your little princess?  This pair is looking for a good home!
I am embarrassed to admit I was intrigued by the fortune telling sticks.  These magic sticks will forecast your day.  
I picked the number 10.  I thought the set could be a great party game, but the vendor wouldn't meet my price.  
The plate was for sale, the dog wasn't.  I wondered if the dog was trained to draw attention to the platter.
Many times the stalls were cluttered, but some of the displays were visually stunning. 
Shopping for a doctor?  This acupuncture doll family is the perfect gift.

Shopping for a bird lover?  Perhaps one of these cages will do. 
These blade gloves are perfect for recreating the movie Edward Scissorhands.
For the empress...
When shopping on Dongtai Lu know that many items are mass-produced, so feel free to drive a hard bargain.  For directions to Dongtai Lu, click here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Great Things About Home Trips

I have loved about 95% of my time in China.  There are times, however, when I am little homesick and yearn for a trip back to the motherland.  Fortunately, as part of our expat package we get a three week whirlwind trip back to the states.  In July, I was able to visit home and realize why I miss America at times.

The Shopping
Home trip time is always time for me to stock up on clothes, shoes, and other goodies that are hard to find in Shanghai. 

My large feet make it difficult to find cute shoes in Shanghai. So this trip I purchased my annual shoe wardrobe. 

I also purchased a year's worth of Bath and Body Works products.

When entering stores like Target, Walmart, or any other grocery store it is very easy to get in hoarding mode.  We usually horde antiperspirant, over the counter drugs, ranch dressing mix, hygiene products, brown gravy mix, printer cartridges and other items that are difficult to find in or are expensive in Shanghai.

The Sites
After getting over jet lag, I love visiting some of our old hangouts. 

Chris and our niece, Annabelle, have a tea party at the Indianapolis Children's' museum

On the way back from Indy, I stopped by my old sorority house at Purdue University.

We also took a stroll by the fountain in the center of campus.

In St. Louis, we had a great time at the Cardinal game.
The next day, we visited the Cardinal hall of fame at Cardinal Nation in downtown St. Louis.  I had great time holding Willie McGee's bat.
On Tuesday, I had a great time riding a camel at Grant's Farm in St. Louis
Chris has a grand time nursing baby goats.  
The Food
When returning to the states, I usually have a list of restaurants to visit and foods to eat.  Unfortunately this usually leads to a ten-pound weight gain.

It was great to eat lots of barbecue!

In Charleston, I ate some yummy lamb chops at Peninsula Grill. 
We finished off the meal with Peninsula's 12 layer coconut cake. 

 No trip to Chicago is complete without an Italian Beef sandwich.
The Friends and Family (especially the kids!)
When in the states, many people ask me,
            “What two things do you miss most about home?”

My answer is always the same, family and friends.  The best part of the home trip is seeing family and friends for the first time in a year. 

Annabelle and I had fun playing dress up.

I miss having ordinary fun with my nieces. 
After the Children's Museum, we had a fun time at gymnastics class.

We had a great time hanging out with the Kosiors

Chris and I had a chance to catch up with an old college friend.

I finally got to see my parents for the first time in a year. 
We caught up with cousins.

Chris and my 95 year old Great Uncle Peter swap home brewing stories. 

I had the chance to catch up with my Charleston peeps.

I saw the musical Schoolhouse Rock with my niece, Amelia.

We had a great time having a photo shoot in her qipao. 

We also had many Frozen tea parties.

On Friday we had a great time at swimming lessons.

The highlight of lessons was sliding down the pool slide.  

As much fun as our trip was, I am very happy to continue our adventures in Shanghai.   I am excited to see what this next year has in store!