So, as a part of another of the classes I am taking here (read: not the one about philosophies and religion), we had to write a paper on scene or picture we could take that we felt was “innately Chinese;” a situation or activity that would be difficult to find elsewhere. Now, I thought about using excerpts of my essay, but there would be a big problem with that. You see, the essay is in Chinese, so although it would look awesome resting on the front page of my blog, it would also be quite unnecessary, and possibly overkill. Nonetheless, I thought I would take this time to discuss a few things that I believe may be considered uniquely Chinese.
The first item on the uniquely Chinese agenda is mahjong. This game has been a staple throughout Chinese history, and although it has many varied origin stories, what cannot be contested is that it has been around for a very long time. Mahjong can be seen everywhere throughout China, its gameplay ubiquitous in the culture. Now, the game played here is very different than the most popular version in Western society. In the States, I thought of mahjong as a kind of Chinese matching game. Given an artfully stacked set of tiles, you would match pairs to remove them, hoping that it would be possible to remove all the tiles. Here, in China, the game is far more complicated (I’ve tried to learn, but it may just be too sophisticated for me). From what I’ve garnered, the game is played mostly by four players, and through an inscrutable web of suits, series, hands, and melds, a player can be determined as the winner. Anyway, what makes the game stand out is that you can see it being played everywhere, outside of temples, in a crowded market, late at night on the street. This game is inherently Chinese, a fact that becomes apparent the longer I spend here in Xi’an.
A second innately Chinese activity I’ve noticed is the aversion to cold drinks. Most Chinese people believe that a cold drink is unhealthy, an idea whose origins, once again, are very difficult to pinpoint. Nevertheless, this idea also appears in many Chinese philosophies, along with traditional Chinese medicinal practices. Now, this does have a few effects on the dining experience that differ from Western practice. First of all, there are cold drinks you can find, in markets and from street vendors, but the selection is sparse, and you’ll have to suffer through a strange look. In restaurants, either tea or hot water is served. I don’t really understand why, but one of the oddest things I’ve had to get used to is drinking a steaming cup of water with my meal. It’s quite interesting honestly, and I believe that the practice may be innately Chinese in use.