The North Star Project, Summer Report Number Three, Tianjin, China, Tianjin Update 2: Oreos and ‘ao-li-ao’; Food in Tianjin
Walking down the aisle in the local grocery store, Vanguard, is one of the most comforting things to do. I can’t read most of the product names around me, or fully comprehend what the cashier is saying, but as soon as I walk down the aisles I feel completely at ease with the routine familiarity of grocery shopping. In a city as big as Tianjin, one of the largest in China by population, there are only a few English signs here and there. Very few people I talk with in stores and on the street speak English which is helpful because it gives me more opportunities to practice my Chinese. I find it incredible how easy it is to recognize familiar American brands simply by the advertisement’s design such as Dove Chocolate, Chips Ahoy!, and Oreos–to name just a few. While these are what we might think of as American treats, there’s also something slightly different about the products. For example, in Vanguard there is half an aisle dedicated to Oreos (pronounced Ao-Li-Ao). There had to be more than a dozen flavors! Perhaps I never paid as much attention to the Oreo selection back in America, but I don’t believe there were such flavors as green tea ice cream or mango-orange. I just bought a pack of the green tea ice cream Oreos and I’ve got to admit, they’re delicious.
China has a large number of fast-food chains that have started in the U.S.A. and have since spread internationally. McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, and Pizza Hut are common fast-food restaurants in China that I can confidently say most Americans would recognize. Still, as with the Oreos, there are slight differences that allow the products to be more appealing to local consumers. I know for a fact that the McDonald’s back home doesn’t have a red bean pastry on the menu. The prices for the food served at McDonald’s are the equivalent price to the McDonald’s in America, but surprisingly, this dissuades me from eating there because McDonald’s prices are expensive relative to most other restaurants in the area. For a good solid dinner in Tianjin, I usually spend the equivalent of about $2. Spending $5 on a meal at McDonald’s might be one of the cheapest options for dining out at home, but in Tianjin, with quality food more accessible and far cheaper, I rarely eat at McDonald’s.
This past Tuesday, I went on a mini adventure to a fancy hot-pot restaurant with some friends. First, the seven of us were seated at a semi-circle booth. A waitress, dedicated solely to our table, handed us damp warm wash cloths to wipe our hands. I was wearing my glasses that day, so she handed me a cloth to wipe my glasses with that was printed with the name of the restaurant. We ordered various meats, such as lamb, beef, and eel, along with a multitude of vegetables. The waitress put hot broth in a pot that was set into the table. Using our chopsticks we plopped the food into the boiling broth to cook, and once it was ready, we used our chopsticks to take it out to eat. Our waitress was very attentive, never leaving the side of our table, and I ate so much delicious food that I skipped breakfast the next morning. Not to dwell too heavily on the prices of food in China, but for this dining experience I was shocked that I paid only about the equivalent of $10 once we split the bill. What shocks me most about dining in China is the affordable price and the fantastic quality of the food. It’s cheap, delicious, and a new experience every time.
*Erin received a reader’s question re: architecture after her first report:
Thanks for reading! As Tianjin modernizes and grows in population, the buildings under construction are skyscrapers, towering over everything downtown (I’ll make sure to post a picture at some point) with the apparent purpose to house as many people as possible. It’s efficiency over creative architecture, which makes it a treat to drive through the concessions that hold a bit of architecture from their respective countries with strong European influence. Unfortunately, I know very little about the technical side and terms of architecture–I’m just a big fan. From the bus, as I passed the Italian and Austria-Hungary concessions, I saw pillars stretching from the ground to the overhanging roof, extravagant stairs that fan out to the street, rounded roofs, tall rounded doorways, and great stone balconies. I appreciate that Tianjin has kept the beautiful architecture of the concessions in tact. I hope that as China grows from a developing country to a developed country, it will rediscover creative expression in its architecture. Of course, I understand the importance of efficiency when space is limited.
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The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see recent articles in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. We have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.
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