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The World’s Biggest Bike Share Scheme

News and Travel Editor

China is known as the ‘Kingdom of the Bicycle’ and so it came as no surprise to us that it also hosts the biggest bike-sharing scheme in the world, according to figures by the Earth Policy Institute.

But can you guess which city? Nope, not Beijing or Shanghai….

Enter Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province in East China, and home to 9 million people. In Chinese terms, it’s a small city and perfect for cycling! Research shows that three bikes are hired every second, with the bikes rented out around 114 million times in total in 2015.

Known as Hangzhou’s ‘little red bikes’, you can take your pick from around 84,000 of them, all of which are free for the first hour. By 2020 the total number of bikes is set to grow to 175,000.

To find out more, we joined bike mechanic Qiu Shaohua as he went about his work fixing and maintaining bikes. He got the job in 2010, when Hangzhou had a mere 30,000 bikes and in the last six years he’s seen that number almost triple.

Qiu mends around 30 bikes a day but it hasn’t damped his passion for cycling – he still spends his weekends riding to iconic places like the UNESCO listed West Lake.

Have you cycled in China, the ‘Kingdom of the Bicycles’? Let us know how you found it in the comments below.

 

Mooncakes and Mid-Autumn Festival

News and Travel Editor

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! You may have also heard it referred to as the ‘Moon’ Festival, or maybe even the Lantern Festival. So what is it, and how is it celebrated?

Mid-Autumn Festival

  • Mid-Autumn Festival is always celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, when the moon is farthest from the earth and appears bright and completely round. 
  • This festival has been celebrated for over 3,500 years – and in China, people take a holiday to spend it with their families.
  • Some Chinese people believe that the Mid-Autumn Festival is the perfect time to find a partner, as the moon acts as matchmaker!
  • Some couples wanting to have children bathe in the moonlight in the hope that the moon will bring them a “good harvest”.
  • Traditionally, people usually give Moon cakes as gifts. Find out more below:

    Mooncake

  • Mooncakes are round as the shape symbolises eternity.
  • Mooncakes represent long life and happiness, to receive one is to be sent wishes for your success and good health.
  • They have different fillings depending on where in China you are. This can include: lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, nuts and seeds, egg yolks and jujube paste
  • Usually, the Chinese character on the top of the Mooncake explains what type of filling is inside.
  • Mooncakes should always be served with a strong cup of hot tea. Enjoy! (Want to make your own at home? Check out this recipe from Omnivore’s Kitchen)

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    Photo from The World of Chinese

 

 

Origins of Mooncakes

There are many different stories that explain the significance of Mooncakes to the Mid-Autumn festival. One story goes that secret letters were hid inside Mooncakes telling the Han Chinese to rebel against Mongol Rule on the day of Mid-Autumn festival. Another popular belief is that Mooncakes are made and consumed as an offering to the Moon Goddess Chang’e. But, who is Chang’e? Time to settle in for a story.

The Legend of Chang’e and Houyi

The legend of Chang’e dates back even further than the Yuan dynasty, with early versions of the story being having been found as early as the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046BC) 

There are several versions of the story of Chang’e. In this version, Chang’e lived in heaven with her archer husband, Houyi. They were both immortal. Heaven was ruled by the Jade Emperor who had 10 sons.

The story goes that one day, the Jade Emperor’s sons transformed into ten suns, scorching the Earth and killing all the plants and wildlife.

The Jade Emperor summoned Houyi, the archer, to stop his sons and save the Earth.  Houyi shot down nine of the Jade Emperor’s sons, leaving just one as the sun.

The Jade Emperor wanted to punish Houyi for killing nine of his sons, so banished Houyi and Chang’e to live as mortals on Earth.

Chang’e was devastated to have lost her immortality. As a result, Houyi set out on a quest to find something to restore it called the Elixir of Immortality. He succeeded!

In one version of the story, Chang’e consumes the elixir to prevent Houyi’s evil apprentice Feng Meng from getting hold of it. In another version, she finds the elixir and consumes it by accident.

The stories end the same way. Chang’e becomes immortal and flies to the moon where she lives alone except for a jade rabbit, Tuye.

She and Houyi are separated forever across the galaxy in the ultimate long distance

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Chang’e flying to the Moon

relationship. Happily, in some versions of the story, Houyi can cross the milky way and get closer to Chang’e at Mid-Autumn festival. Eat your heart out, Romeo and Juliet, these two are the literal star-crossed lovers.

To celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, we sent out Mooncakes to some of our favourite bloggers.

Check out Amanda Bootes insightful and entertaining take on the festival on her blog!

Tea Making-Masterclass (FT. KATE HUMBLE)

News and Travel Editor

If your brew is never quite how you like it, then you’re not alone.

It takes FIVE WHOLE YEARS to learn the art of drinking and serving tea in China.

So spare a thought for British TV presenter Kate Humble who China Icons challenged to learn the basics of the Chinese tea ceremony in just one day in Beijing!

See what Kate learnt about making and tasting Chinese tea – and how you too can produce a better cup at home.

Kate’s top tips include warming up all the vessels you need to make the tea and using more leaves than you think you need.

Are you a fan of Kate Humble? Check out her exclusive interview with China Icons about travelling around China during Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival.

Want to know more about different types of Chinese tea and how they are produced? Our content from Fujian shows you how the leaves make it from plantation to tea cup, or check out this guide.
Planning to to visit some tea plantations on your travels? Our tea lovers guide to Fujian tells you where to go and what to see.

What’s your favourite type of Chinese Tea? Let us know in the comments below!

Top 5 Reasons Why You Have to Visit Chengdu

 

News and Travel Editor

When you’re visiting China, there’s a lot more to see beyond (the admittedly fascinating) Beijing and Shanghai. Chengdu is the vibrant and visually stunning capital of Sichuan, the Chinese province known for its relaxed vibe.

Here are 5 reasons why Chengdu should be bumped to the top of your list when you’re travelling in China.

1. Food

One of the first things to try in Chengdu is the famous fiery Sichuan food. Be sure to try the local classic dish, Chengdu Hotpot, and sample the street food on Wide and Narrow Alley. Sichuan peppercorn, or huajiao, is a Chinese peppercorn with a spicy flavour so powerful it will make your mouth go numb! Cool down after all that heat with a spot of Kung Fu tea, another local tradition.

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2. Pandas

An irresistible reason to visit Chengdu is to get close and cuddly with Pandas at Chengdu Panda Research Base. The base is the only research centre that focuses entirely on the critically endangered Giant Panda. Get there around 8:30am if you want to catch feeding time before the Pandas spend the day indulging in their favourite activity – sleeping! Giant Panda in China literally translates to ‘big-bear-cat’, and a visit to the base contributes to the conservation of these adorable bears. If you have a couple of days, you could make the trip to Wolong National Nature Reserve to observe the Pandas in the Qionglai Mountains.

more gruel plz

3. Natural Beauty

As well the bustling city, the area surrounding Chengdu is home to stunning natural beauty. A must-see is Qingcheng Mountain, one of the most important centres of Taoism in China. Emeishan (Mount Emei) is the tallest of the four sacred Buddhist mountains, and you can choose to stay over on the mountain and watch the sunrise as part of your hike!

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Photo by Mikael Haggstrom via Wiki Commons

4. Traditional architecture

Another reason to make time to explore Chengdu is to explore the traditional architecture. The stunning Wenshu Temple is the best-preserved Buddhist temple in Chengdu, dating from the Tang dynasty. Luodai Ancient Town dates all the way back to 220-280AD. The most breathtaking architecture comes from the four guildhalls, built during the Qing Dynasty. If you can, visit on 26th – 27th July to take part in the Water Dragon Festival, where locals celebrate by splashing water all over each other in the streets.

Water-dragon-Festival
Photo via China Discovery

5. Culture

Make time to catch an opera. Sichuan Opera originated around 400 years ago, and incorporates circus elements, illusionists, and the unbelievable art of face changing! For a less explosive dose of culture, you can also explore Jinsha Museum, or marvel up at the Giant Buddha of Leshan.13240678_971322872975278_6858857117462572707_n

To explore Chengdu for yourself, head here:

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The Etiquette of Eating in China

News and Travel Editor

In this week’s upload, Coco is reunited with blogger Hyper Trypsy (also known as Shiv) for a final collaboration. This time, it’s all about the etiquette of eating and how to throw the perfect Chinese dinner party.

Feeling hungry? Let’s get started.

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….And usually with their back to a wall. The next highest ranking person, such as an important guest, sits to the right of the host. At this dinner party, Shiv is the host and Coco is his esteemed guest. Okay, so we’re seated…now what?

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Once everyone is settled, it’s time to let the waiter know you’re ready for the menu. Hold up your hand and say Fu Wu Yuan, which means simply ‘waiter’. If you want, you can add ‘caidan’, which means ‘menu’. The waiter will bring you over a menu and it’s time to order.

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It’s important to remember that the host orders for everyone to share. Menus in Chinese restaurants come complete with pictures, so it’s easy to understand what’s on offer even if your Chinese isn’t up to scratch. A good Chinese meal has to be balanced. The dishes should offer a variety of ingredients, cooking methods, flavors, colours and textures.

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Another big responsibility you’ll have as host is leading the first toast. The toast in China is Gan bei, meaning “drain the glass.” Usually, this toast will be made with Baijiu (a strong spirit often made from rice) or  beer. Often, the ‘honoured guest’ is expected to make a toast too, either straight after the host of at the end of the meal.

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Don’t panic when you see multiple pairs of chopsticks set out for you. Use the pale coloured pair to take food from the communal dishes onto your plate. Use the dark pair to eat with. Easy!

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For Westerners, this may take some getting used to, but in China you NEVER split the bill. One person pays for the whole thing each time. Usually, the person who invited you is most likely to pay. Thanks for that, Coco!

Do you have any top tips for eating out at a Chinese restaurant? Were you surprised by any of mine? Let me know in the comments below!

PS, Thanks to our friends at China Bloggers for adding us to their website. Check it out for more from China Icons and other great bloggers exploring all things China.