Chinese Life in Fuzhou

Our first Chinese hospitality exchange experience took us to Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province. It is not easy to find Chinese people among hosts and so we were very grateful to Lee and her roommate Barbara. They welcomed us wholeheartedly and took us to their family.

Lee came to meet us at the train station when we arrived. That was actually the first time in one and a half years that somebody did so. Imagine how great it feels when you arrive tired from a 20-hour train trip and somebody is greeting you happily like an old, long awaited friend. These things we have really grown to appreciate when travelling a long time in countries where most of the time we don’t know anyone.

Lee and Barbara are colleagues and they both had a very busy schedule. Their boss didn’t seem to care about working hours and called a few times the girls back to the office when they had just arrived at home to rest. We told Lee that in Finland their boss would be in jail for slavery, but Lee was happy that she got an opportunity to learn new things as she had just graduated from university. It’s not hard to imagine that this kind of attitude could be one thing attracting foreign companies to China.

Barbecuing and cooking

Lee was energetic and spared us time despite her long working hours. She organized a big barbecue party together with her friends. The event was in a park outside the city and it took the whole day. There was all kinds of activities: card playing, hide-and-seek games, barbecuing, and boat riding. We saw the other face of China that we would have never known about without Lee. Knowing Chinese people takes time, but after the Chinese wall of ice is crushed, they are overwhelmingly hospitable and nice people. One thing that seemed to be impossible is trying to share any costs. Chinese hosts just won’t allow you to do it no matter how hard you try. It almost seems to be an insult for them just like not sharing the costs is for us.

Language is obviously the biggest barrier between Chinese and foreigners, and probably the root cause of misunderstandings and prejudices. World looks different in Chinese eyes and it is shaped by the government controlled media and Internet, but people are curious and they have an obvious desire to explore the unknown and search for concealed realities. One funny thing we discovered during the games we had in the park was that Chinese embarrassment is related to public humiliation. In some games the loosed had to yell “I’m supergirl”, or kiss her boyfriend in front of others, or go to say someone that he is handsome or she is beautiful, the de facto compliments of Chinese people.

While Lee was at work we continued writing a book on customer service, played a new computer game called Neverwinter Nights 2, and cooked. Chinese love noodles, but we had had enough of them and enjoyed some more exotic, very hot food with which we also tortured our hostesses. They were patient with us although everything was not at all to their liking—too much spices, in general. It is just another myth of China that everybody likes spicy food. Just like the idea that there are a lot of Chinese restaurants and everyone of them offers fried bananas with ice cream for dessert. At least that is the European conception of a typical Chinese dessert.

Chinese cooking varies a lot between regions, of course, being a huge country. We were most into Sichuan-style cooking with lots of chili and other spices which many Chinese seem to dislike. There are two Carrefours in Fuzhou so we could also buy ingredients for European-style cooking such as cream for garlic potatoes, which were equally exotic for Chinese as dairy products or butter are not part of their normal diet. Lee liked ice-cream so we could share at least one liking, though Chinese ice-cream was not really made of cream. Most of the time our cookings proved to be too exotic.

We cleaned the house a few times as the girls were so busy every day. Also, it seems that Chinese girls are more relaxed with cleaning than their Finnish counterparts. They don’t stress much about other things either, which we found great. Or maybe one thing, though: finding the right husband, getting married, and making one baby to make their family happy.

Fuzhou is a non-touristy attraction

The city of Fuzhou itself is business-oriented and doesn’t offer much for tourists which was fine for us. There is one must-see sight, though, a statue of Mao. We tried to find it, but soon gave up as we forgot our map at home and the statue was quite well hidden. The photo would have been a nice addition to our collection of Lenin statue photos from all over Russia and Mongolia.

Fuzhou is quite modern and clean. New big apartments are being constructed and old ones demolished. There are still many typically Chinese neighbourhoods left like the one where we lived. We caused some curiosity especially when arriving and leaving with our huge backpacks. There were practically no Westerners unlike in Nanjing, excluding one blond woman we saw when we were walking to the bus station to leave Fuzhou. We felt privileged for the taste of Chinese life we had for a couple of weeks.


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