Chinese Crowd Behavior

chinese-crowd

Chinese group behavior can be fickle. In the case of confrontations, serious injuries or other unusual happenings, they will form a circle around the focus of attention. Similarly, local police will also form a circle around a confrontation, except they will almost all be smoking. I call this behavior “Chinese First Aid”.

I was standing on the third floor landing of a wholesale market on day when another foreigner called me over to see something. Looking over a building half a block away we saw a crowd circled. At first, I thought I saw someone administering CPR. I could see a head. shoulders, and arms pistoning up and down. The crowd shifted a little and I saw that it was a man punching an unmoving woman on the ground. The crowd did nothing.

I do not know how long the beating had been going on. but it ended about fifteen seconds after we first witnessed it. The man stood and walked away. After about fifteen paces. he stop and turned back. “Maybe he has some regrets and wants to help this woman.” I thought. She was still unmoving. He marched back to the woman, pick up his hat, put it on and strode off. The crowd neve spoke or moved.

In the case of fatalities, all the Chinese with whom I have shared viewing a traffic fatality studiously avoided uttering even a single word about it. It is incredibly odd, bloody bodies splayed across the road and not a single Chinese person on a bus that c r a w l  e  d past the accident scene remarked on it. Meanwhile every foreigner on the bus was aghast and buzzing about it.

It seems to me that this is a shared characteristic among nearly all Asians, to suppress unpleasant or traumatic events. A case in point is the infamous Unit 731 located in Harbin, A unit that conducted horrific human experimentation on mostly kidnapped Chinese nationals.  After WWII, parts of the facility were repurposed into a school. This is China’s Auschwitz! It would be hard to imagine Auschwitz being used as a school. But, I certainly do not judge them for it, culture and circumstances play an important part in how a people deal with such a situation.

As I mentioned in another post, it would be wise not to linger where crowds are gathered lest you turn the attention to yourself.  Remember the movie line, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Street Markets

street-market

 

I love Chinese street markets. There are plenty of modern supermarkets and shopping malls if you want to take the bar-coded and shrink-wrapped route. But something about a genuine street market has its own appeal.  Street markets are slowly dying off due to more modern alternatives.

Pretty much every area had its own street market – a one stop food shopping bazaar.  The food was quite fresh. Fish were sold live from aerated tanks on the ground. The farmers trucked in their fruit and vegetables each day.

We had an Uyghur family who had built an outdoor brick oven and baked the best round, crusted flatbread. Another fellow would carve off pieces of meat from a freshly butchered dog, if you were soi inclined. Dog meat, (gou rou) is a popular dish in Northeast due to the influx of nearby Koreans – although Chinese and Koreans alike enjoy the dish.

A street market is a good place to practice your beginning Chinese. One thing though, don’t negotiate prices with farmers. Farmers have a tough life. They might only clear a few thousand RMB for all their labors. So, please don’t ask them to take less. If you think the price is too high, just walk away.

Now, once in a while a vendor might take advantage of your foreign status and poor language skills. I had a vendor who would always charge me four RMB per half kilo for plums when  my wife was there and seven RMB when she wasn’t. Just an an experiment one day, I brought a stack of one RMB bills and bought four RMB worth of plums. She said nothing, just held out her palm and waited for me to place the money in it. I just laid down one bill after another. Four, seven. ten, fifteen, nineteen, stop.  She never said “enough”, just happily accepted all that I put down. I scooped up my money from her hand, left her and her plums behind, never to return. It’s rare, but it happens.

Sometimes you might encounter a scam. One day, my wife and I went to the market. I found a nut salesman with a crowd gathered around him all abuzz over his wares. I asked him how much for one half kilo, (one Jin). He quoted me a price that was low, but not ridiculously low.

My wife stopped by as he handed me the nuts. Only now the price had went up tenfold. I protested but my wife said to pay him and keep walking. Once clear of the crowd she told me this was a trick. The “crowd” was really other farmers and if you did not pay them the new price, (which they claim to have clearly stated) then they would loudly berate you and follow you through the market shouting insults.

 

In retrospect, the clues were there. The “crowd” was not dressed like the residents of the area, they dressed like farmers. The crowd gathered around the nuts were buzzing, showing approval, clawing through the nuts and making a scene. But not one of them was holding a bag filled with nuts nor did anyone buy any. Live and learn.

Not every market experience will be pleasant. But, it only happened once in nearly a decade.

 

 

 

Guo Bao Rou

guobaorou

Guo Bao Rou is an incredibly delicious sweet and sour pork dish that originated in Harbin, a DongBei *Northeast) China city.

In Changchun, where our school is located, no restaurant dinner is complete without a platter of guobaorou.

Zheng Xingwen (郑兴文), the private chef for the highest officials in the Harbin government, first whipped up the dish in the early 20th century. Zheng’s technique was simple. He quickly stir-fried the pork in a hot wok, then poured a salty and thick sauce onto the pork so the meat absorbed its flavors, giving the dish its original name – guobaorou (锅爆肉, stir-fried pork in the wok). At the time, the Harbin government often welcomed Russian guests, but the original recipe was a bit too heavy for their tastes, so Zheng remodeled the dish by introducing its now distinctive sweet and sour flavor. The Russians were delighted, and much like the Ye He kung fu students 100 years later, ordered the dish every time they visited. However, the foreign guests had problems when they tried to pronouce the dish in Chinese, leading its name to morph to its current form, guobaorou (锅包肉).

Before the Xi’an Incident (1936), the northeastern provinces were administrated by Zhang Xueliang’s (张学良) family, and dishes cooked up for top Harbin government officials were kept a closely guarded secret.

Guobaorou was unanimously voted one of the chef’s most delicious dishes, triggering the spread of its fame across the country and beyond. After Japan occupied Heilongjiang Province, Zhang Xueliang began to lose his grip on northeast China, and his government’s secret recipes gradually began to seep out of Harbin and into the wider world. During a process akin to Chinese whispers, guobaorou was slightly altered as it traveled, with cooks in Liaoning Province adding tomato sauce as the final step, and other regional flourishes emerging according to taste.

Attribution: The World of Chinese