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Dos and Don'ts
2005-07-25 17:00:14

Table Manners

Of course, the main difference on the Chinese dinner table is chopsticks instead of a knife and fork, but that¡¯s only superficial. Besides, in the more upscale restaurants, you can always ask for a knife and fork, if you find the chopsticks unmanageable. The real difference is that in the West, you have your own plate of food, while in China the dishes are placed on the table and everyone shares. If you are being treated to a formal dinner and particularly if the host thinks you¡¯re in the country for the first time, he will do the best to give you a taste of as many different types of dishes as possible.

The meal usually begins with a set of at least four cold dishes, to be followed by the main courses of hot meat and vegetable dishes. Soup then will be served (unless in Guangdong style restaurants) to be followed by a staple food usually rice, noodles or sometimes dumplings. If you wish to have your rice to go with other dishes, you should say so beforehand, as most of the Chinese prefer to have the staple food at the end of the meal or have none of at all.

Perhaps one of the things that surprises Western visitors most is that some of the Chinese hosts like to put food onto the plates of their guests. At formal dinners, there are always ¡°serving¡± chopsticks and spoons for this purpose, but some hosts may use their own chopsticks. This should be taken as a sign of genuine friendship and politeness.
It is always polite to eat the food. If you do not want to eat it, just leave the food on the plate. People in China tend to over-order food, as it is embarrassing to the host if all the food is consumed. When you have had enough, just say so. Or you will find yourself always overeating!

How to Use Chopsticks

You really ought to master the art of using chopsticks if you visit China. In every restaurant, you will be provided with a pair of chopsticks instead of forks and knives. Don't be frightened. They are relatively easy to use.

Here's How:
1. If possible, use wood or bamboo chopsticks. Plastic chopsticks are more slippery and harder to hold.
2. Always grab the chopsticks in the middle, making sure that the ends are even and do not cross.
3. Hold the top chopstick firmly between your thumb and index finger, with the middle finger positioned firmly on the bottom chopstick. Your thumb and index finger should be curled.
4. When eating, always keep the bottom chopstick stationary and use the top chopstick to maneuver and pick up food.
5. To pick up food, straighten your index finger and move the top chopstick outward. Grab the food, then bring the chopsticks together by curling your index finger. The basic idea is to use the chopstick as a pivot, with the thumb being the axle.
6. Lift the food up to your mouth, leaning over if necessary.
7. For foods containing bones (such as chicken), hold the food with the chopsticks and eat around the bone.

Children often find it easier to hold chopsticks nearer the bottom instead of in the middle.
After practicing a while, you will be able to pick up the pieces of food with ease. If you are able to pick up a bean with chopsticks, this means that you have "graduated". If you still find it difficult to use them, you can always ask for a fork and knife at better restaurants. But in more ordinary restaurants, you may be told that they do not have them. If you are truly worried about it, take your own small folk with you. (advice from


Saving Money on Travel

When you are planning independent travel, working out your budget can be depressing. We all know the ideal vacation will let you have the most fun for the least money, so here are some tips to help you save money on your travels and still have a great time:

1. In general, transportation expenses will take up a big chunk of your budget. Travel by train if you have enough time. It can save you a lot. For example, a round-trip flight from Chongqing to Beijing, costs about 2,800 yuan (US$340), while a round-trip train ticket costs only 800 yuan (US$ 97). That's 2,000 yuan (US$243) you can save on the journey and spend when you get there.

2. When you get to your destination, it's also important to select the most economical mode of transportation to get around. Choose city buses or shuttle buses to get to scenic spots. It will also be worthwhile to buy yourself a map to plan the best transportation routes in advance.

3. Hotel expenses can also cost a lot if you don't do your homework. It's important to bargain over the rate at each hotel, as the prices posted at the desks are almost never final. This can often save you hundreds. If your bargaining skills are that great or you just want to avoid the headache, another good way to get cheap prices is to book your room in advance through a travel agent or on the Internet before you go. Travel agents often have special deals and prior arrangements with hotels in other cities, netting you a reasonable worry-free price.


Common Misconceptions

Lots of Westerners have misconceptions about China in general, and specifically about Beijing. Americans especially are known to think of China as a sort of unstable, militaristic police state. Actually, Beijing is a pretty safe place, and you can enjoy a pleasant and secure time here.

In fact, as a foreigner, you will often be treated with special consideration and a certain amount of leniency. Of course, you have to abide by the law and show respect China¡¯s culture and customs, but don't be afraid of this city. It's a friendly place and Beijing people are cosmopolitan and well aware of the outside world.

Sometimes you may get stared at, but this is usually out of curiosity. Hostility toward foreigners is very rare. Most people are friendly and willing to help you out if they can.


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