Anthony Bourdain traveling through Chinese food

Given how much Anthony Bourdain traveled in the world, it comes as no surprise that he made it to China. Though his death is still shocking, I’d just like to take a moment to talk about his brief encounters with China and Chinese food.

“The one thing I know for sure about China is, I will never know China. It’s too big, too old, too diverse, too deep. There’s simply not enough time.” (Bourdain’s words from On Parts Unknown). Of course he’s right: China is huge, both culturally and geographically.  There are 1.3 billion people living in China, and just about as much geographical area  as the United States (depending on how you divide borders). There’s an immense impenetrability often associated with it, and because of this, fear. But Bourdain wasn’t afraid to explore China or to really grapple with its intricacies, much like his ventures in other parts of the globe.

It’s true that Bourdain suffered from depression, which is something very few could possibly glean from his energetic pursuits. Not too long before he committed suicide earlier this month, Bourdain was in Hong Kong, learning jiu-jitsu with tenacity like a pro.  His sparring partners would likely have no idea that before long, the man would be gone. Instead, there was a man throwing himself into the ring and really engaging with a culture face-to-face. Though he did not live as long as it seems fair for him to have lived, it’s clear from his adventures that he was always fully present when he was around.

Bourdain didn’t shy away from spicy Sichuan food, either, and instead found the humor in spices that sear the tears right out of one’s eyes, quoted as saying “If you imagine Ilsa, she-wolf of the SS tormenting you with nipple clamps as the la, the ma, provided by the pleasantly deranging peppercorns, would be like the naughty nurse with the ice cubes,” when talking about Sichuan’s mala spices.  He was a fan of whatever took him furthest away from what he knew, staying forever curious in a way that can sometimes baffle even me, someone who has lived in China for so many years. Familiar places have their strangeness, and strange places can be familiar. But even if a strange place is unfamiliar, it is still worth stopping by.

There is something poignant and pressing that we as travelers and citizens of the world can take from Bourdain’s experiences. It is that nothing is truly impenetrable, not even China and its Great Wall. No place is deserving of knee-jerk fear and aversion; other cultures deserve our very best, on-the-ground-efforts to engage with the world. China is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our daily lives, and so we would do well to make the effort to greet it with curiosity and stamina.

Bourdain’s end came as a shock, and so in tandem with the lessons he has taught us, we must learn leverage with what we are doing and what we feel we ought to do. Reach out when we feel alone. Listen when someone is upset and needs attention. Recognize when professional help is needed — and feel no shame when it is.

And when it comes to China, order some hot pot, brew some tea, and eat some dumplings. Who knows? China might just be what you should order from the menu.

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Travel Tip #3: Bring a Thermos/带上自己的保温杯

(下面有中文版)

It may seem like a no-brainer to bring along a water bottle when traveling, but when traveling in China, you should make that a thermos. You know, the hot water container. It’s not that China doesn’t have cool water (that would be pretty weird, huh?) but that the culture is accustomed to drinking hot water. “You mean tea?” you might say. No, I’m talking about plain hot water. Tea is an entirely different matter altogether.

Why bring this up? Because if you’re from outside of China, you might be expecting to find drinking fountains everywhere. You won’t find them in China, and if you do, I wouldn’t recommend drinking the water. That’s where a thermos comes in handy! See, in lieu of drinking fountains, there are hot water machines. EVERYWHERE. All trains, major transportation hubs, hotels, schools, and other places have them. Some are pretty basic, and some look like rejected robots from the Jetsons. The point is: if you bring a thermos with, you can drink lots of free water (and pop in some tea bags or instant coffee, too!)

What about hot summer days? Or, what if I just don’t want to drink a bunch of hot water? Well, the other alternative is honestly just buying water bottles from convenienve stores (usually 2 rmb, depending on the brand, but personally I can’t taste much of a difference so…no need to get super fancy). If you don’t like the idea of buying water bottles, then you can consider boiling water in your hotel, putting it in the fridge, and then drinking it. Or, best case scenario: if you’re staying in a nice-ish hotel, they often supply free water bottles in each room. You can just take them! But…make sure they’re actually free first.

If you’re going on a longer trip, and especially for train rides, though, I definitely recommend the handy dandy thermos. It doubles as a hand-warmer for cold weather, and it’s just an all-around staple in China.

Some useful Chinese:
保温杯 (bao wen bei) = Thermos (hot water bottle)
白开水 OR 热水 (bai kai shui OR re shui) = Boiled/hot water
矿泉水 (kuang quan shui) = Mineral spring water
我还是要喝冰水 (wo hai shi yao he bing shui) = I still want to drink cold water.

当然旅行者应该自己带一个杯子,但是在中国这个“杯子”应该换成“保温杯”就是为了喝热水。不是因为中国没有冰水(太奇怪了吧)就是因为这个文化习惯喝热水。(“你应该说‘茶’吧!”你说。不,我的意思就是白开水。茶就是完全另一件事情。

为什么要提呢?因为如果你不来自中国,你可能习惯看到公共饮水机,但是中国很少有。(而且说实话我不那么相信它们的卫生)。所以呢,保温杯会给你很大的帮助!中国可能没有饮水机,但是到处都有热水器,包括在火车上,交通核心,学校等等。有些热水器比较简单的,有的有点像《杰森一家人》被拒绝的机器人。主要是你带上保温杯,你随处都可以喝免费的水(也可以泡一杯茶,咖啡等)。

那如果是夏天呢?或者你就不愿意喝热水呢?其实你只能去超市买一瓶矿泉水(基本上两块钱,有些品牌比较贵,但是味道其实都差不多了)。如果你不那么喜欢买很多瓶水,你也可以在宾馆里烧水,然后把烧开的水放在冰箱里,然后放在你的杯子里。或者,如果你在稍微好点的宾馆,有可能你的房间里已经有几瓶水,免费的!就可以把它们拿走……但是你要先确定是否是免费的。

如果你的路线比较长的话,尤其是如果你要坐火车,我还是建议你带上自己的保温杯。它也可以当做你的热水袋,也是中国旅行路上的必需品。

Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal/京杭大运河

(下面有中文版!)

Hangzhou may be best known for West Lake, but one of its lesser-known attractions for non-Chinese travelers is the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Most Chinese travelers of course know about it, since it’s long been a part of Chinese history. In total it’s almost 1,200 miles long connecting Hangzhou and Beijing, and is the oldest functioning canal in the world.

You can’t ride it all the way to Beijing, though you’ll be able to watch barges begin their journeys to the capital. Instead, take a boat from the Wulin Port (武林码头) and get off at an old neighborhood. The boats count as public transit, costing less than 10RMB for a ride on the canal.

Once off the boat, you can enjoy small canal-side walking paths, or take a trip to see the Knives, Scissors and Sword Museum, the Fan Museum, and the Umbrella Museum. (I personally enjoyed the Sword Museum, which had a robotic arm demonstrating sword techniques at the time I visited. For all museums: prepare yourself for hordes of wax figurines!). The cluster of small old-time buildings has a good selection of restaurants, coffee shops, and art stores to peruse. In the spring, the canal is especially beautiful, with green willows lining the water.

Probably most travelers would put West Lake, Longjing Tea Village, or Lingying Temple higher on their To-Do lists (and for good reason!), but the Grand Canal is still one of my favorite spots in Hangzhou.

杭州最著名的景点就是西湖,但是从外国游客看来不那么著名的景点就是京杭大运河。大部分中国游客当然已经认识京杭大运河,因为在中国有永久历史。一共1200多英里长,也把杭州与北京连了起来。它是世界最长可用的大运河。

你现在不可以从杭州坐到北京,但是在运河上你可以看到去往北京走的船。但是你可以在武林码头坐船到拱墅区。这种船算是一种便利的交通,坐到那儿不到10块钱。

下船时,你可以在运河边的小路走走,也可以去观看刀剪剑博物馆,扇博物馆,和伞博物馆。(我个人更喜欢刀剪剑博物馆,因为里面有一个耍剑的自动的手臂。所有的博物馆,要做好心理准备有太多的蜡状物!)仿古的楼有饭店,咖啡馆,艺术作品店等地方逛逛。春天运河边更好看,因为有绿绿的聊树。

应该大部分的游客会把西湖,龙井村,或者灵隐寺排在前面(而且很有道理的!)但是京杭大运河也是我最喜欢的杭州景点之一。