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Europe on fifteen hundred yuan a day.
July 28, 2011 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Evan Osnos joins a tour group from China as they traverse Europe. In the front row of the bus, Li stood facing the group with a microphone in hand, a posture he would retain for most of our waking hours in the days ahead. In the life of a Chinese tourist, guides play an especially prominent role—translator, raconteur, and field marshal—and Li projected a calm, seasoned air. He often referred to himself in the third person—Guide Li—and he prided himself on efficiency. “Everyone, our watches should be synchronized,” he said. “It is now 7:16 P.M.” He implored us to be five minutes early for every departure. “We flew all the way here,” he said. “Let’s make the most of it.”

We settled into coach on an Air China non-stop flight to Frankfurt, and I opened a Chinese packet of “Outbound Group Advice,” which we’d been urged to read carefully. The specificity of the instructions suggested a history of unpleasant surprises: “Don’t travel with knockoffs of European goods, because customs inspectors will seize them and penalize you.” There was an intense focus on staying safe in Europe. “You will see Gypsies begging beside the road, but do not give them any money. If they crowd around and ask to see your purse, yell for the guide.” Conversing with strangers was discouraged. “If someone asks you to help take a photo of him, watch out: this is a prime opportunity for thieves.” I’d been in and out of Europe over the years, but the instructions put it in a new light, and I was oddly reassured to be travelling with three dozen others and a guide. The notes concluded with a piece of Confucius-style advice that framed our trip as a test of character: “He who can bear hardship should carry on.”
posted by WalterMitty (71 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hm. Interesting how its similar but not the same as the ethnic Chinese guide we had in a primarily Chinese group tour through Japan and Korea (from a Malaysia based tour company). Where language and script can be so different, the guide is a godsend.
posted by infini at 8:41 AM on July 28, 2011


We were approaching the hotel—a Best Western in Luxembourg—but first Li briefed us on breakfast. A typical Chinese breakfast consists of a rich bowl of congee (a rice porridge), a deep-fried cruller, and, perhaps, a basket of pork buns. In Europe, he warned, tactfully, “Throughout our trip, breakfast will rarely be more than bread, cold ham, milk, and coffee.” The bus was silent for a moment

Then there was that time I went down for breakfast with Northern Europeans in Shanghai... we ended up in McDonalds.
posted by infini at 8:47 AM on July 28, 2011


Ah yes. This was a good one. Really fascinating stuff!
posted by limeonaire at 8:48 AM on July 28, 2011


“Throughout our trip, breakfast will rarely be more than bread, cold ham, milk, and coffee.” The bus was silent for a moment.

I don't get it. They were expecting caviar? "Bread, cold ham, milk and coffee" is like 100x more nutritious and filling than my typical breakfasts: Peanuts, toast and maybe some Mt Dew.
posted by DU at 8:50 AM on July 28, 2011


We were approaching the hotel—a Best Western in Luxembourg

I've never really thought about it before, but imagine the name "Best Western" from the perspective of a tourist from the East. This is the best hospitality the West has to offer?
posted by zachlipton at 8:51 AM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


“Throughout our trip, breakfast will rarely be more than bread, cold ham, milk, and coffee.”

Dunno about you but that sounds just fine to me.

On preview: jinx!
posted by WalterMitty at 8:52 AM on July 28, 2011


Mmm, zhou with you tiao. Though, I don't know about "typical". When I was a kid breakfast was more likely warm milk and a poached egg. Maybe it's different in Shanghai.

(The best zhou, however, has century egg bits in it too. Yumm-o.)
posted by kmz at 8:52 AM on July 28, 2011


Ah, DU: the "typical Chinese breakfast consists of a rich bowl of congee (a rice porridge), a deep-fried cruller, and, perhaps, a basket of pork buns" can actually be pretty good. Maybe they really like their cruller. (I believe the Chinese name for the cruller is 'oil stick'. It is pretty great.) Perhaps they were disappointed at the prospect of cold ham.
posted by WalterMitty at 8:54 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


In addition, every Chinese member of the tour was required to put up a bond amounting to seventy-six hundred dollars—more than two years’ salary for the average worker—to prevent anyone from disappearing before the flight home.

Creepy. How does this work exactly? Is this part of guaranteeing their visa for the EU authorities or strictly on the Chinese side to prevent emigration?
posted by zachlipton at 8:57 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The different ideas of what can be good for breakfast can be disconcerting. My breakfasts in China were always an exploration of what crazy pickled thing would end up spoiling my rice porridge that morning.
posted by garlic at 8:58 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Never been a fan of the continental breakfast, always seemed like a way for cheap hotels to advertise "free breakfast" while sounding posh but actually delivering stale buns, marginal fruit and coffee.
posted by stbalbach at 8:59 AM on July 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Honestly I don't think I've ever heard of

Of course the problem with saying "typical Chinese [blah]", especially when talking about something as regional as cuisine, is that there is very rarely anything "typical Chinese" unless you get more specific. Bejing is not Shanghai is not Lanzhou is not Shenzhen.

Honestly I can't even imagine people having pork buns for breakfast all the time. That'd be a damn big and rich breakfast.
posted by kmz at 9:00 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ah crap, my kingdom for an edit window...
posted by kmz at 9:00 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


When my mom goes on these guided tours, the biggest challenge is to find hot water/tea to drink. The Chinese stomach is unaccustomed to cold liquid first thing in the morning, and even after years living abroad, I still try to avoid that if possible. (I did grow up drinking milk, but it was always warmed.)
posted by of strange foe at 9:01 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


My breakfasts in China were always an exploration of what crazy pickled thing would end up spoiling my rice porridge that morning.
posted by garlic


Pickled garlic is in fact pretty awesome.

Though I'm not sure I'd have it for breakfast.
posted by kmz at 9:02 AM on July 28, 2011


Dammit, now I want some congee. In Europe.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:04 AM on July 28, 2011


In 2000, more Chinese tourists visited tiny Macao than visited all the countries of Europe combined. But gradually Chinese visitors began staking out a grand tour of their own design. Just as apparatchiks once flocked to Marx’s house, Chinese literature lovers began trooping to a muddy riverbank on the campus of Cambridge University to glimpse a specific stand of willow trees. Xu Zhimo, an adored early-twentieth-century poet who studied in the West, described the willows as “young brides in the setting sun.” When I passed through Cambridge not long ago, Chinese visitors were posing for pictures beside the river while other tourists streamed by.

omg!

As Confucius never would have said, even if he had seen this completely mystifying behavior for himself because he used to own a tiny house near the center of modern tourist Cambridge: "So that's what the fuck all the tree-posing Chinese tourists were up to!"

*Though Cambridge is not actually a "campus...University"
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:05 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


When my mom goes on these guided tours, the biggest challenge is to find hot water/tea to drink.

Either its just moms or its an Asian thing. My mom packs a two cup travellers electric kettle and readymade tea and coffee packets.

I highly recommend after finally listening to her. I need my hot beverage before I'm ready to go down dressed for breakfast
posted by infini at 9:07 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Throughout our trip, breakfast will rarely be more than bread, cold ham, milk, and coffee.” The bus was silent for a moment.

I don't get it. They were expecting caviar? "Bread, cold ham, milk and coffee" is like 100x more nutritious and filling than my typical breakfasts: Peanuts, toast and maybe some Mt Dew.

No, DU, they were expecting a "typical Chinese breakfast consists of a rich bowl of congee (a rice porridge), a deep-fried cruller, and, perhaps, a basket of pork buns". Just like American tourists expect iced water along with their meals, even if they order a drink.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:13 AM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh wow, this is really fascinating. The perspective of Europe through the eyes of a Chinese outsider, but also steeped a bit in propaganda.
Li had something else to say about the schedule: “In China, we think of bus drivers as superhumans who can work twenty-four hours straight, no matter how late we want them to drive. But in Europe, unless there’s weather or traffic, they’re only allowed to drive for twelve hours!”

He explained that every driver carries a card that must be inserted into a slot in the dashboard; too many hours and the driver could be punished. “We might think you could just make a fake card or manipulate the records—no big deal,” Li said. “But, if you get caught, the fine starts at eighty-eight hundred euros, and they take away your license! That’s the way Europe is. On the surface, it appears to rely on everyone’s self-discipline, but behind it all there are strict laws.”
and
Li wanted to add an important exception to his demands for efficiency. “We have to get used to the fact that Europeans sometimes move slowly,” he said. When shopping in China, he went on, “we’re accustomed to three of us putting our items on the counter at the same time, and then the old lady gives change to three people without making a mistake. Europeans don’t do that.” He continued, “I’m not saying that they’re stupid. If they were, they wouldn’t have developed all this technology, which requires very subtle calculations. They just deal with math in a different way.”

He ended with some advice: “Let them do things their way, because if we’re rushing then they’ll feel rushed, and that will put them in a bad mood, and then we’ll think that they’re discriminating against us, which is not necessarily the case.”

At times, he marvelled at Europe’s high standard of living—bombarding us with statistics on the price of Bordeaux wines or the average height of a well-fed Dutchman—but, if there was ever a time when Chinese visitors marvelled at Europe’s economy, this was not that time. Li made a great show of acting out a Mediterranean life style: “Wake up slowly, brush teeth, make a cup of espresso, take in the aroma.” The crowd laughed. “With a pace like that, how can their economies keep growing? It’s impossible.” He added, “In this world, only when you have diligent, hardworking people will the nation’s economy grow.”

I dozed off, and awoke on the outskirts of Paris. We followed the Seine west and passed the Musée d’Orsay just as the sun bore through the clouds. Li shouted, “Feel the openness of the city!” Cameras whirred, and he pointed out that central Paris had no skyscrapers. “In Shanghai, unless you’re standing right next to the Huangpu River, you can’t get any sense of the city, because there are too many tall buildings.” Europeans, he added, “preserve anything old and valuable.”
Thanks so much for posting this.
posted by zarq at 9:15 AM on July 28, 2011


This chinese guide describes the west in much more generous terms than similar differences would have been described by a western guide.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 9:25 AM on July 28, 2011


Just like American tourists expect iced water along with their meals, even if they order a drink.

You seem to be arguing that the Chinese breakfast is some sort of objective marker of being civilized, because the American approach to ice water certainly is.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:30 AM on July 28, 2011


Up through high school, my typical breakfast was oatmeal, half a pound of bacon, three sunnyside up eggs, French toast, milk and orange juice.

I have, in fact, been pretty disappointed throughout the rest of my tour.
posted by jamjam at 9:31 AM on July 28, 2011


Canadian journalist Jan Wong did the same thing back in 2004, reprinted not-so-legally here:

Local Chinese newspapers keep printing ads for cheap Canadian package tours. The ads promise five cities in three days. I'd seen dozens of Chinese from these tours lined up at McDonald's bathrooms on the highway. I'd just seen China through Canadian eyes. It was time to see Canada through Chinese eyes.
posted by GuyZero at 9:32 AM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've seen these busloads of Chinese tourists around Victoria, all wearing sunglasses behind darkly-tinted windows and looking a little frightened of the rabble outside. But I've never seen them actually get off the buses, and I figured they just drove around like that for a while and went home.
posted by klanawa at 9:43 AM on July 28, 2011


Mefi: they just drove around like that for a while and went home.
posted by storybored at 9:48 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


“Wake up slowly, brush teeth, make a cup of espresso, take in the aroma.”

Eh, you know what, you can keep your fast-growing economy, I want to take in the aroma, thank you very much.
posted by WalterMitty at 9:51 AM on July 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


As Confucius never would have said, even if he had seen this completely mystifying behavior for himself because he used to own a tiny house near the center of modern tourist Cambridge... :

Jody Tresidder, to me it doesn't seem so very different from people visiting Thoreau's hut on Walden Pond.. (Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 is a beloved poet who tragically died young, and his "Farewell to Cambridge" (再别康桥) quoted briefly in the article is probably his best known work.)
posted by of strange foe at 9:51 AM on July 28, 2011


People eat pork buns for breakfast? This sounds like an awesome idea.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:12 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was never a big fan of congee, but when I was in China I had hot spicy noodle soup for breakfast on more than one occasion and it was completely awesome.

OTOH, after about four days I would have sold off my left kidney for a decent cup of coffee.

And we will not discuss the toilets.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:13 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Never been a fan of the continental breakfast, always seemed like a way for cheap hotels to advertise "free breakfast" while sounding posh but actually delivering stale buns, marginal fruit and coffee.

The best part of free breakfast is not that it's free but that it's at your hotel. This way you don't have to figure out where to get breakfast in an unfamiliar town, because figuring things out is hard early in the morning.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:14 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


This article is great. I'm American, travel to Europe sometimes, and I see these Chinese tour groups and always wonder what it's like. It seems awful, and the pace and uniformity described in the article confirms my fears. But then American bus tours of China sound awful too.

And whenever I start feeling smug about these silly Chinese rubes eating crappy Chinese food in Paris I'm reminded; they are in Paris. They travelled all the way and are seeing Paris. Maybe not all of Paris, maybe limited, but they spent a lot of money and time and came a long way to a very foreign place. That's a hell of a lot better than most of my American friends will ever do.

(Breakfast is a special, tender moment at a hotel. At 7am when you're jet-lagged you want something familiar, comforting. I've stayed at a couple of hotels in Japan that only had Japanese style breakfast, and as delicious as salted plums are sometimes you just want some fucking bacon and coffee, you know?)
posted by Nelson at 10:17 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the article: In general, one should steer clear of the local food, the Chinese tour guide advised his charges"

This is true. I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that some Mainland Chinese just aren't used to Western palates. This is why on Chinese tour groups they have a lot of set meals where they don't have to deal with eating any of it. And one may think it's limited to older generations, but this is not the case.

A few years back our company was expanding into Mainland China and had a few of our new Chinese sales representatives over. Most of these sales reps were young 20- or 30-somethings, mostly from Beijing or Northern China. The execs wanted to impress the new employees (just like any newly hired reps) with nice buses, and company tours, presentations, and meals. I got to hang out with them since I was maybe one of the only half dozen people in the company that could speak Mandarin. Me and a co-worker got to choose the restaurant location where they would have their last dinner before going home. I wanted a really nice steak place and she chose the Rainforest Cafe. We had our own disagreements on it, but that quickly evaporated when we got word the Chinese sales reps were pretty much sick of eating Western foods like cheeseburgers, eggs benedict, salad, fettuccine Alfredo, and yes, steak.

So we had to scramble and finally found an Islamic Chinese Restaurant. We chose that one because it had Northern Chinese dishes (hand cut noodles, shao bin, and lamb). They ate like kings & queens (or emperors & empresses) and pretty much said it was the best meal they had on the trip.
posted by FJT at 10:19 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you like Evan Osnos' stuff in The New Yorker, his Letter from China blog (hosted by the same) is not to be missed. Between Peter Hessler and Evan, the New Yorker has had a fantastic China-from-inside coverage for over a decade now.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 10:26 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


When my mom goes on these guided tours, the biggest challenge is to find hot water/tea to drink.
Either its just moms or its an Asian thing. My mom packs a two cup travellers electric kettle and readymade tea and coffee packets.


My (English) mother has a travel kettle as well. One of my college admissions essays was actually about the impossibility of finding a decent cup of tea while on a road trip in the US. The tea's better everywhere else I've been, I think.
posted by hoyland at 10:29 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fascinating. And so much of it sadly familiar from western tour groups in various parts of the world that I've had the dubious pleasure of having joined for one reason on another.

The rushing around, the concentration on shopping, the fear of crime, absence of local food, awkward attempts at the local dialect, interest in the strangest little things for random cultural reasons - whether it's a bunch of American retirees in Morocco or a Chinese tour group in Paris, there doesn't really seem to be that much difference.
posted by balberth at 10:39 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Industrialized travel is, more or less, basically the same thing everywhere. That's why it's industrialized.
posted by aramaic at 10:41 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Never been a fan of the continental breakfast, always seemed like a way for cheap hotels to advertise "free breakfast" while sounding posh but actually delivering stale buns, marginal fruit and coffee.

This is, in my experience, the gawdawful North American chain hotel misinterpretation of the delectable buffet that is a real "continental" breakfast, the best of which are in Germany. Even budget hotels usually have a half dozen kinds of magnificent fresh-baked Brötchen (small crusty rolls), croissants and sliced bread, several kinds of cheese, an array of coldcuts, plus müsli, granola, American cereal, hardboiled eggs, perhaps a tomato salad, a range of fresh fruits, and as much excellent coffee as you'd like.

What you do is you get a couple of those Brötchen, you slice 'em in half and put a big pat of butter on the bottom. Plop a couple pieces of deli sausage (Jagdwurst) or salami on one, a couple slices of good German ham on the other. Then a slice or two of Swiss cheese on one, a slice of Butterkäse on the other. Scoop a little fruit salad next to it on the plate for show. Grab a coffee, take a seat. Dig in.

If you find yourself with any remaining affection for the Egg McMuffin style of breakfast sandwich after this meal, let me know where you are and I will come take any remaining Brötchen off your hands and horde them in my specially constructed German breakfast roll preservation chamber.

On a related note, the only breakfast that's ever come close to the German one for addictiveness for me is in Vietnam - noodle soup (pho) with a bit of sausage and lots of veggies and herbs at a little roadside stall. The noodles and broth they use, at least in Hanoi, are fundamentally different from the ones most North American Vietnamese restaurants use in their lunch/dinner pho. I've gone close to madness trying to find it here in Canada, but they just can't get the spices right!

(Really didn't expect to find a big digression on continental breakfast when I clicked through to this thread, but c'est la vie.)
posted by gompa at 10:51 AM on July 28, 2011 [21 favorites]


One of the most lavish breakfast buffets I've ever had came with the low ( by Western standards, at least ) room rate at a hotel in Nanjing ... and would definitely have made a cold continental breakfast look pretty depressing by comparison.

On the other hand, you have to admit that though they may not be much in terms of culinary excellence, cheap US hotel breakfasts do have their charms. I mean, where else are you going to get significant time alone with an Automatic Pancake Machine?
posted by balberth at 11:21 AM on July 28, 2011


Yeah pork buns are pretty good.
posted by dibblda at 11:26 AM on July 28, 2011


I've stayed at a couple of hotels in Japan that only had Japanese style breakfast

For me, a Japanese style breakfast is anything from Mr. Donut, along with a (hot) can of Boss Coffee from the station vending machine.
posted by bashos_frog at 11:32 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


People eat pork buns for breakfast? This sounds like an awesome idea.

They are indeed awesome for breakfast. My usual breakfast these days are frozen XLBs (bought from 99 Ranch) steamed using my rice cooker. It's quick, easy, and very tasty.
posted by gyc at 11:34 AM on July 28, 2011


"As Confucius never would have said, even if he had seen this completely mystifying behavior for himself because he used to own a tiny house near the center of modern tourist Cambridge... "

Jody Tresidder, to me it doesn't seem so very different from people visiting Thoreau's hut on Walden Pond.. (Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 is a beloved poet who tragically died young, and his "Farewell to Cambridge" (再别康桥) quoted briefly in the article is probably his best known work.)

of strange foe,

Thanks for the extra info about the poet, but I think you have misread what confused me?

The casual passer-by had no clue WHY serial groups of Chinese tourists were bothering to take photos of these particular, fairly ordinary-looking trees in central Cambridge, instead of all the other photogenic riches surrounding them in one of the most picture-pretty, historic, college-studded, tourist-swamped cities in all of southern England.

If you stumble unaware on people taking pix of Thoreau's replica hut, on the other hand, you've almost certainly already stumbled past the parking lot (for visiting the hut & pond), past the statue of Henry (near the hut), the gift shop (selling mementos related to the hut & the pond) and if you're still puzzled what the big deal might be, you can check out the handy "Guide to Thoreau's replica hut - which is what you are looking at right now" visitor information board.

(I always dimly thought the Chinese tourists must have just liked the shape of the Cambridge willow trees - because they looked like the ones often painted Chinese art!).

Excellent news for the unwary from wiki: "To commemorate Xu Zhimo, in July, 2008, a white marble stone has been installed at the back of King's College, University of Cambridge, on which is inscribed a verse from Xu's best-known poem, 'Saying Goodbye to Cambridge Again'.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:34 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah pork buns are pretty good.

Oh hell yes. I can't speak for breakfast in particular, but I can't imagine a bad time to eat pork buns. And the pork buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar represent the final unassailable proof for the existence of God that Aquinas was waiting for. Because nothing on earth can explain Momofuku's pork buns, there must be a divine.
posted by gompa at 11:36 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is, in my experience, the gawdawful North American chain hotel misinterpretation of the delectable buffet that is a real "continental" breakfast, the best of which are in Germany.

Yep, I've stayed at a number of fairly small, mostly modest hotels in Europe, any one of which had a more lavish breakfast than the typical American chain. Hell, even the little backpacker hotel in Italy had a halfway-decent breakfast (and a well-made espresso). In the US, you're lucky to get a basket of week-old muffins or some out-of-date Little Debbies and a carafe of lousy coffee.

What you do is you get a couple of those Brötchen, you slice 'em in half and put a big pat of butter on the bottom. Plop a couple pieces of deli sausage (Jagdwurst) or salami on one, a couple slices of good German ham on the other. Then a slice or two of Swiss cheese on one, a slice of Butterkäse on the other. Scoop a little fruit salad next to it on the plate for show. Grab a coffee, take a seat. Dig in.

And this is exactly what I did when first confronted with the German breakfast at a little six-room hotel in Berchtesgaden. It was a revelation.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:44 AM on July 28, 2011


I remember breakfast in a nice German hotel. There were about six different kinds of smoked fish. I had walrus belches for the rest of the day, but it was worth it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:50 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The casual passer-by had no clue WHY serial groups of Chinese tourists were bothering to take photos of these particular, fairly ordinary-looking trees in central Cambridge,"

Ah, I see your confusion now... I have been trying to think of other foreign locations special to a Chinese person in a similar way, but have come up short. (There's the Japanese city Sendai, now probably better known as the epicenter of the Japanese tsunami disaster since this March, but before that, the Chinese mostly know it as the city where the famous essayist Lu Xun attended medical school...)
posted by of strange foe at 12:01 PM on July 28, 2011


Fascinating. And so much of it sadly familiar from western tour groups in various parts of the world that I've had the dubious pleasure of having joined for one reason on another.

Yeah, the thing that most stuck out is how much like English-language tours this sounds. Even the little cultural quips are just we-dance-like-this, they-dance-like-this.

I suppose the biggest difference is that it sounds like most Chinese wouldn't be able to afford to travel Europe outside the context of one of these groups, whereas many Americans have the choice and choose packages.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:29 PM on July 28, 2011


“Does the American Constitution prevent companies from receiving government support?” Promise asked.

If only.
posted by reductiondesign at 12:57 PM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of the best pieces on China recently- says so much about both the West and China. Osnos is excellent!
posted by gen at 1:22 PM on July 28, 2011


Cheap European bus tours are pretty much the same, although you are a little less helpless since you can read the signs. And instead of Chinese food, you get the hotel version of local food.
posted by smackfu at 1:31 PM on July 28, 2011




The absolute finest inclusive breakfast on the planet can be found at the Hotel Galeon in Sitges, Catalonia. I have never seen anything like it and don't expect to in my lifetime.
posted by Tennyson D'San at 1:46 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds like my dad on vacations.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 2:03 PM on July 28, 2011


Just like American tourists expect iced water along with their meals, even if they order a drink.
You seem to be arguing that the Chinese breakfast is some sort of objective marker of being civilized, because the American approach to ice water certainly is.


Meh, that's what the drink you just ordered is for, if you also need water you can ask for water {/}

On the subject of objective markers of civilization, i kept expecting my meals in the netherlands to come with a napkin. I had a conversation with a dutch co-worker later in life, where he tried to convince me that they didn't need napkins because they ate "properly". I lol'd.
posted by palbo at 2:07 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The casual passer-by had no clue WHY serial groups of Chinese tourists were bothering to take photos of these particular, fairly ordinary-looking trees in central Cambridge, instead of all the other photogenic riches surrounding them in one of the most picture-pretty, historic, college-studded, tourist-swamped cities in all of southern England.

I have definitely seen Chinese tourists taking pictures at random places in Cambridge. The other Cambridge, though.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:37 PM on July 28, 2011


It's interesting the way this article and the ensuing discussion portray the availability of specific hot and cold drinks as being such a comfort when traveling.

What a weird scene it was when my wife and I wandered into an Uncle Fast Food in Shanghai last winter. We had just gotten in from the airport, it was late at night, we were hungry, and I had insisted upon taking the maglev train instead of hiring a car. The cartoonish, otherworldly cheeriness of UFF called to us as we walked from the subway to the hotel.

We ordered with the numbers found on the menu, which went smoothly -- until I requested a Pepsi, and communications broke down. I knew they carried it -- the machine was sitting right there. Suddenly, discussions ground to a halt. I pointed at the machine, and the countergirl looked embarrassed and shrugged. Maybe they were out of Pepsi? I pointed to the Mountain Dew instead. A certain number of incomprehensible gestures between us later, she went over to talk to the manager, who clearly didn't want to be any part of our order.

Thankfully, soon after, a pair of college students came in, saw the confusion, and let us know they spoke some English. I let them know I was trying to order a soda, and they let me know what had been so difficult to express in gestures. Because it was winter, Uncle Fast Food only served hot drinks.

Now, to my logical mind, this made perfect sense. Why would someone drink cold drinks in the winter, anyway? But my American conditioning came into play: I drink cold drinks year round, and find them more refreshing (especially after a long flight) than hot ones. I asked the students what Uncle Fast Food had available. They named the tea drinks, the coffee drinks, and at the end, mentioned they also had orange juice.

Orange juice! That sounded perfect. I asked if they'd let the counterperson know I'd have an orange juice. My wife looked at me with the kind of expression that I know means "You have no idea what you just got yourself into, and this will be hilarious, like the that time you accidentally ordered chicken feet at dinner."

Sure enough, when our meal came, there it was: piping hot orange juice with steam coming off the top. Not what I was expecting. Such a trivial but completely foreign difference.
I had never even considered that orange juice could be served hot.

Taking a minute to let the shackles of American culture on my brain loosen, I took a sip.

It was delicious.

These simple discoveries are so much more fun outside of the confines of a tour bus or schedule. That said, I did find myself strangely relieved when we moved on from Shanghai, where diet soda could not be easily found, and I was reunited with my beloved Coke Zero. Even if it was the middle of winter.
posted by eschatfische at 3:23 PM on July 28, 2011 [20 favorites]


Alright, then. Breakfast tomorrow will be hot orange juice and pork buns.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:20 PM on July 28, 2011


Hey, don't knock the chicken feet. I just ate some of those yesterday, and I live in Los Angeles.

(to be fair, I was eating at a Chinese restaurant)
posted by czyz at 4:35 PM on July 28, 2011


The immense breakfast buffet at the Sheraton Taipei Hotel (which is otherwise unremarkable) is completely amazing. I had a delicious Western-style breakfast with astonishingly fresh fruit, and then I found the Japanese section, and then I found the Chinese section. I think I was at breakfast for 2 hours.
posted by nev at 4:35 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Regarding the notes above about the difficulty for Westerners at finding cold drinks in China, or the difficulty for Chinese folk seeking warm or hot drinks outside China, I'd add that many Chinese believe it is unhealthy to drink cold beverages as it can upset the balance of the five elements (or at least many Chinese people expressed to me their belief, couched in such terms of Chinese medicine, that drinking cold liquid was unhealthy).

This is why it's important to either consign this bit of traditional Chinese medicine to the same category as humorism, or to keep a kettle on hand.
posted by czyz at 5:10 PM on July 28, 2011


Oh, god pork buns! So good. Had them at some random bakery near the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, and haven't been able to find them since. Even the ones at 99 Ranch are good, but not the same. These were bao, but with pork floss instead of bbq pork.

And I can't get to dim sum until at least Sunday, damn it.
posted by Space Kitty at 10:40 PM on July 28, 2011


I'm convinced. As soon as I've had my hot drink I'm walking down to the nearest foodstall for some bao - char siew bao to be exact. I will come back and type with sticky fingers...
posted by infini at 12:16 AM on July 29, 2011


humorism

Laughter IS the best medicine.
posted by WalterMitty at 12:47 AM on July 29, 2011


[Me:] Just like American tourists expect iced water along with their meals, even if they order a drink.

You seem to be arguing that the Chinese breakfast is some sort of objective marker of being civilized, because the American approach to ice water certainly is.

No, Bulgaroktonos, I do not seem to be arguing that - except perhaps to you, who has supplied additional meaning to the phrase "expect iced water". I actually seem to be saying the words I wrote.

People expect things to be ordinary. If you aren't used to world travel, when you arrive in a foreign country you are bombarded by surprise at all the differences - road signs, language/dialect, fashion, advertising, drinks on the table at dinner, and breakfast foods.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:37 PM on July 29, 2011


Re: Pork buns for breakfast

Is dim sum a strictly regional thing in the US (although IME it is a brunchy meal)? Pork buns is a staple of dim sum.
posted by muddgirl at 2:00 PM on July 29, 2011


As far as I know there is dim sum only where there are Chinese people.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:35 PM on July 29, 2011


I can assure you that there are Chinese people in the Bay Area. :) Here in San Antonio, we have really terrible Chinese food, except for one or two great dim sum places.

Pork buns (and all dim sum dishes, really) are indeed rich. I'm not surprised that the Chinese middle class has the same trajectory towards rich, fattening foods as we see in the US.
posted by muddgirl at 3:51 PM on July 29, 2011


I can assure you that there are Chinese people in the Bay Area.

Seeing how I have been outside, I am aware of this.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:53 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I didn't mean to come off as flippant - I'm honestly curious if dim sum is less popular (among non-Chinese residents) in the Bay Area than it is in the metro centers I'm more familiar with (Los Angeles).

Or maybe I just hung out with a lot of white people who were uniquely into dim sum.
posted by muddgirl at 8:29 PM on July 29, 2011


Veering away from the international breakfast discussion, was I the only one struck by how often the tour guide used the phrase "grow the economy"? I know China's been booming lately, but that seems to be the only way he was able to view things - and this is in Europe, so I don't think there was any question of toeing an official line.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:53 PM on July 30, 2011


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