Coffee in China… or the Lack of

Back at home, I would drink at least 1 cup of coffee a day, just a small double double to get my daily dose of energy either in the form of instant coffee or from my two favorite places: Tim Horton’s or McDonalds. And in North America , people even at a fairly young age start to consume coffee like its their water due to availability and social influences. Many people have claimed that drinking coffee is more of a psychological effect, as in just the thought of drinking coffee can “wake up” an individual, rather than the caffeine contained the coffee itself. However, coming to China and with the lack of coffee or let’s say affordable coffee…. it’s been tough to stay awake at times for me. But recently, I bought a second hand kettle and am now able to make instant coffee that I purchased at the supermarket, I mean I’m still craving a cup of brewed coffee but this coffee will do for now.. At the supermarkets, I’ve barely found any beans to brew coffee or any sign of a coffee machine, the best I’ve seen is the instant coffee. So I’ve come to the conclusion that people here just don’t drink coffee… like it’s not a daily habit for them like it is for us Westerners I guess. They simply have other methods of energizing themselves… like taking afternoon naps or so I’ve heard. From several local Chinese students, they have told me that they typically take quick 30 minute naps after having lunch, our usual time for when we get sleepy and need our afternoon coffee. So basically, their naps is our coffee haha.

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Instant coffee I’ve been drinking recently that I got from the supermarket. It was about 10 RMB for 12 packets. Not too expensive I guess.

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NESCAFE! This has been a common brand I’ve seen here… They don’t have a variety of brands here but I’ve seen Nescafe literally everywhere here.

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Starbucks ! So one thing I need to mention is that there are many Starbucks and also coffee houses here… but they may be super expensive .. like 30 RMB for one cup of coffee especially if it’s in a coffee house. I feel like the concept of coffee here is to have a nice chat with friends for hours… rather than the quick grab and go concept in North America.

 

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What’s for Lunch?

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I had one at the school cafeteria, so obviously not nearly as delicious as the real thing from the actual province but it was really good and savory in my opinion. Price : 5 RMB ($1 CAD) for a filling pancake crepe thing haha. What’s inside: cucumbers, a crispy biscuit like thing ? (not sure what it’s called) , some type of seafood brown sauce maybe, egg and you can add more toppings such as potatoes, carrots, sausage, lettuce, and dried pork etc..

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Shandong Jian Bing 山东煎饼 , Jian Bing means “Pancake” and Shandong is one of the coastal provinces of China and is considered “eastern China” region. 

Tis the Season for Mosquitoes….

So currently it’s late June nearing the start of July and overall June has been a pretty rainy month. From my local sources, I have heard that July and August tend to be hot and humid here and temperatures can rise up to about 38 C. Not looking forward to those times… but what’s been unbearable alongside the heat is the companionship of our lovely friends, mosquitoes. Mosquito bites can be itchy, and but what has been bothering me the most is how they will buzz in your ear, disrupting my sleep and so just ignoring mosquitoes has been nearly impossible for me. In addition, I live on the first floor which doesn’t help much either. I’ve been trying to combat this problem ever since I arrived here.. so late May and so far I can’t say I’ve found a concrete solution just yet but I’ll be listing a few possible solutions that others have recommended to me.

1)  Turning on the fan/air conditioning- Any type of air current deters a mosquitoes ability to fly so close near you or your face, so most likely they will not be buzzing in your ear. I have tried turning on the fan and it has worked for me ! This can be a costly alternative if you are turning on the air conditioning so I try to only turn my fan on during the night. Note: the mosquitoes will not be rid of entirely, they are still hiding somewhere in your room but this method prevents them from destroying your beauty sleep at night.

2) Mosquito Repellant/Afterbite- Called 花露水 (Hua Lu Shui), translates to floral water, is a type of spray or liquid that you put on your bites to make them heal quicker????? I am not even quite sure, as I have not tried it myself and they usually come in huge bottles at all the supermarkets and pharmacies that I’ve been to so considering I only have 2 months left I’ll just stick to my fan…

3) Electric Mosquito Squatter-Haven’t tried this one out yet but at supermarkets, they are a common item… So apparently once you see a mosquito, you just squat the mosquito with this tennis racquet like item and the mosquito gets electrocuted and therefore dies…. But who knows? I haven’t tested it out, so can’t comment on the effectiveness.

4) Mosquito Plugs- You plug this into your wall and it emits some scent that may not be pleasant for mosquitoes. But every day, you must remove a strip as a strip only lasts for about 12 hours. I started using this method only recently and I think it’s been working okay actually. I bought a pack of 72 strips along with a mosquito plug for around 13 RMB which isn’t bad if it works effectively for me !

5) Mosquito Tents-This is probably for more sensitive individuals….

 

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My friend’s mosquito tent, he bought it off Taobao for 30 RMB ($6 CAD)

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Electric mosquito squatter at a local supermarket

 

 

Military Training for Chinese Students

Having grown up in Canada and not being too familiar with Chinese education and their curriculum. I was curious when I saw what looked like students in military uniforms, both females and males. I first saw them at the school cafeteria, and just speculated that these students may have been from a neighboring army school or what not. But then… I saw these students literally everyday for the past couple of days and so my Chinese local friend then explained to me that these were university students participating in mandatory military training. Although I’m probably not the best person to be explaining how the military training works, but from local sources and ahem “Wikipedia”, military training is mandatory and implemented starting from secondary school to university. Typically freshman university students complete their training prior to starting their academic semesters, but it is different and each university has their own standards. For this particular university, Jiangnan University, the no longer freshman students complete their training after the year of academic study. Training lasts for 15 days and uniforms must be worn during training. No academics are involved in training, it is more physical, endurance and teamwork building. The training first started back in 1955 and is expanding rapidly to more and more universities, colleges and high schools around the country. The purpose of training ****(info collected from Wikipedia) :

  • To promote the spirit of patriotism and improve the idea of defence
  • To develop good will and characters
  • To shape collectivism
  • To benefit later learning
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Jiangnan University students in their military training uniforms in Wuxi, China.

Sunday Funday

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Lunch in Downtown Wuxi! This was 15 RMB for 2 dishes and a bowl of rice.

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Wuxi is known for its big juicy peaches, the high quality does come with a steep price though… for 10 RMB for 1 peach !!!!!!

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High rise apartments in downtown Wuxi

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MUJI! I was super excited seeing a MUJI but then the prices are pretty similar to Toronto so I just slowly walked away from the store. MUJI , originally from Japan, specializes mainly in stationary, but actually sells small home goods, clothes, shoes , makeup and even snacks !

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Mall in downtown Wuxi (Taihu Square). Usually shopping centres have 5-7 floors but it is dependant on the mall itself and consist of clothing stores, cafes, fast food restaurants and the one I visited today had kids playgrounds and even education centres ! But pretty similar to malls back at home minus the several floors…

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PIZZA HUT 🍕 pretty popular chain here but it’s more of a sit down restaurant and less delivery vs North America.

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Fake MUJI pens that I got from Aiyaya House. It seems like they write pretty good but we’ll just have to see.

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Bipolar cloudy day as June is the season for constant rain.

Just Another Sunday

Back at home, Sundays are my lazy days of the week to do laundry, clean and catch up on errands. But with my time here, I try to use my weekends to go explore the city. Today I actually had to go downtown Wuxi (Taihu Square, Line 1 on Wuxi Metro) to get to my bank, which barely has any branches near the university. Note: If your moving here from overseas it may be good to get a bank account at a bank within close proximity to the university, the bank on university campus is ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China). Try to avoid Bank of Communications (my bank) since it was quite a mission After the bank, I spent a while just talking and walking around with my friend and after lunch, we split up so I could spend the rest of the day walking around in a shopping center. The shopping center I went to was pretty big and had a bunch of stores to keep me preoccupied, but from personal experience, I believe a few stops down, (SanYang Plaza, Line 1) is an even better place especially if you want to spend your time shopping!

 

Living Costs in China

I feel like the most commonly asked question when traveling abroad to another country is how much money should I bring with me ? And I would feel that’s a fair question as the currency rates and bank fees can start to accumulate… For the Canadian Dollar to the Chinese Yuan, the ratio is about 1:5, meaning that 1 Canadian Dollar equates to approximately 5 Chinese Yuan give or take, depending on a certain day and fluctuations with the market. Anyways, the question is probably, what can 5 Yuan get me ? Well it is hard to say as it definitely depends where you plan on living in China. Like any other country, living in a big city such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou comes with higher costs of living including rent, food, transportation, whereas, my current location, Wuxi, as mentioned before is considered a second tier city, so the living expenses are no doubt are lower than those in the big city. I’ll just list a few comparisons between typical expenses between my life in Wuxi versus back in Toronto.

Food (If your eating in the school cafeteria) : Since it is “discounted” for students, most places you cannot pay with cash, you load money onto a student card, like a meal plan system and keep loading money whenever you run out. A meal typically costs anywhere between 5-10 RMB. And so, with the three meals a day rule: max you could spend a day on food could be 30 RMB  ($6 CAD) if you just stick to eating at school. In Canada, any decent sized meal for lunch or dinner runs close to $10 CAD unless your down to eat at McDonalds Value Menu every meal haha.

Food (Outside of the school): Without a doubt, food outside of school is definitely more expensive and depending on where you go eat, the usual style is for each person to pick a dish and the final bill is split between the number of people in the group. Still, from the number of times I’ve been eating out, I’ve paid anywhere between 20-45 RMB for my portion of the bill ($4-$9 CAD), which is still significantly better than back at home where even a basic restaurant could be from $8 CAD to possibly $30 CAD ( I think maybe one of the more expensive meals, ie. all you can eat sushi )

Transportation: So far, I’ve only taken the subway and taxi so maybe I’ll further comment once I’ve experienced other transportation methods. For the subway, the amount you pay is dependent on which stop you get off at and which stop you got on, so basically overall distance traveled (prices can range anywhere between 2-6 RMB, so $0.40- $1.20) whereas in Toronto it does not matter the distance traveled, the fee is the same whether you are getting on for one stop or ten stops (about $3 CAD). As for the taxi… it will depend what time of day and where you are getting on/off so hard to make a comment on this one.

Living: For my time here, I am housed in the International Student Dorm which is typically 1500 RMB for 6 months, but since I am only here for 3 months, it’s 1500 RMB for 3 months…. ($300 CAD for 3 months) which is still incredible considering an average room for rent, not considering the heart of Toronto would be around $500-600 CAD a month. Although I do have to say the dorm is not ideal, we have to keep in mind it’s a dorm first of all and second I am in China so the room and washroom won’t be sparkly/shining clean but I am pretty blessed to not have a roommate and my own washroom/shower.

Entertainment: So far……my entertainment has consisted of eating food and going to a club/night bar twice and a movie once and eating with friends outside of the school. So in terms of watching a movie, average costs range between 20-30 RMB ($4-6 CAD) which is even cheaper than our half price movies on Tuesday which have raised their prices to $7 or $8 CAD in recent years. For going to clubs/nightbars, I’ll discuss those more in depth later but there is no cover/admission fee as there typically is in Canada and there’s no obligation to buy drinks if you don’t want.

 

 

 

OJS-Ontario Jiangsu Summer Programs

During my first three weeks (May 21-June 10), I took part in a Food, Language, Culture program offered by this University, Jiangnan University, located in Wuxi, China (just 120 km away from Shanghai) and would be considered a second tier city by Chinese standards. The program offered lectures and activities aiming to give participants a surface look into Chinese language, Chinese culture and Chinese food. Also, the program organized trips to nearby cities such as Nanjing (capital of the Jiangsu Province), Yangzhou, and Shanghai. I found the program through classmates and friends that had previously participated in the program the summer before, but it should be offered to many participating universities in Ontario. Our program group had 19 participants from various different universities including McMaster, Guelph, UOIT, Ryerson and Ottawa. Honestly speaking, I did not learn too much about Chinese culture and food that I do not already know from family influence, but I have to conclude on saying that I have met really nice and amazing friends that I strongly feel that I will stay in touch with even when the program ends. I guess it’s because I’ve never been on exchange before but what I’ve noticed is the speed of making friends/knowing people is so much quicker than back in Toronto. It may be due to the fact that we all saw each other everyday for three weeks so we were practically forced to interact and become friends with one another. Another note is that it definitely felt nice to be surrounded by a bunch of Canadians and it made the thought of being in a foreign country less intimidating. Program details: Program fees (including accommodation and most meals) : 1600 USD And Airfare is not covered, the sponsor of this program, Ontario Universities International gives participants $2000 CAD, however I was only given $1000 CAD due to my participation in two programs. As for the next two and a half months (June 10-Sept 1), I would be enrolled in another program, Summer Research Program, where I am currently just helping out a food science (my program!) masters student with her project. Having only been in this program for a little bit, I think it’s only fair to comment on the program afterwards. Program Cost: $0 CAD, but one must pay for their accommodation and meals.