Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Shenzhen: Chinese Chopsticks

The act of consuming food in a Chinese restaurant.


The act of consuming food in a Chinese restaurant. With chopsticks. During a business meeting.

Visiting a local restaurant in China is always an eventful and interesting occasion. Besides the challenge of chewing a slimy/bony entity not intended for human consumption, the mere act of getting the questionable object into your mouth is a tremendous task.

In China it is not uncommon to receive a big bowl of noodles or soup with a side of two, thin chopsticks. After numerous sideways glances to the locals occupying the surrounding tables, I have decided that there are three ways to overcome the problem of balancing unruly strings of noodles, flaky grans of rice or liquid on an area the size a pinkie nail.

  1. Lift the bowl from the table and bow your head until your nose touches the noodles/rice/soup. Slurp, smack and suck down the contents of your bowl by making plenty of loud noises. Use the chopsticks to enhance the speed and volume of said act.
  2. Ask for a spoon. Repeat step 1.
  3. Do not eat at all. Keep yourself entertained by observing everyone else's slurping.
There is no other way. I have tried the subtle, non-slurping option by sticking both my chopsticks into the bowl at a right-angle to the table and rubbing them between my hands, not unlike the way in which we were taught to make fire in the Voortrekkers. My hope was to twirl the noodles into a meaningful bite, but the chances of concocting a fire in my soup-bowl was probably better. After drenching myself with splatters of soupy liquid I decided to call it a day and surrendered to the slurping. Even using the spoon did not help and I was starting to suspect that Chinese spoons were especially designed to further enhance your spluttering. 

Slurp-Enhancing Spoon

Although these unappetizing eating noises would've resulted in a hiding during your childhood years or being sent to bed without food (in your childhood or any subsequent years), no one in China will even take notice of your slurping. Because they will be too busy conducting noises of their own. In fact, in China, you should slurp your noodles to indicate your enjoyment of the food!

When going for lunch at a Chinese restaurant, many dishes will be ordered for the table and everyone will share the food. Usually you will be presented with two sets of chopsticks as well as a chopstick stand. One set for transferring the food from the table onto a small plate in front of you, the other for eating.

As one dish after another was brought out to our table during a business lunch, I felt the panic rise in my throat: I hadn't even mastered the art of using chopsticks to get the food into my mouth. How on earth was I going to transfer it from the middle of the table, to my plate, to my mouth by using two sets of chopsticks, whilst managing to converse in an intelligent and cheerful manner? Oh, and apparently you should refrain from resting either set of chopsticks vertically on your plate as it is a harbinger of death.
Death by chopsticks vs. lasting humiliation by chopsticks.

Balancing Act

In a few minutes our table was sufficiently stacked with sweet-and-sour fish, bean curd, miniature ribs, fried rice, and other bizarre dishes - an even number, so as to avoid death yet again. Just as I was strongly contemplating to play it safe and only touch my Chinese tea throughout lunch (perhaps I could keep myself occupied by refilling everyone else's tea cups, as this is an indication of gratitude and much less ominous than death), one of the locals reached for a dish and lo and behold! sent a lobster-ball of sorts flying. The slippery ball landed with thud in another colleague's teacup, spraying him with hot tea. For a second everyone stared in silent horror and then we all burst out laughing, even the tea-splattered colleague.


With the ice adequately broken by the flying lobster-ball, I dug in for a happy meal, splattering, slurping and all.

Chopsticks for Dummies


  1. Very funny post, I really enjoyed reading it. I imagine there are not many Chinese restaurants in South Africa so this must have been a particularly daunting situation for a business lunch! Glad it worked out well.

  2. Thanks Jessica :)
    Chinese, Japanese and Thai restaurants are becoming more and more popular in South Africa, but when it comes to eating with chopsticks, most of us still have a long way to go.
    Luckily practice makes perfect, right?

  3. I must say this is a very entertaining post!
    Having struggled with Chinese chopsticks myself, I think "training chopsticks" or "chopsticks for dummies" are godsend.


    1. Thanks David,
      I'll be sure to continue training my soon-to-be-fast fingers!

  4. An interesting blog!

    Shenzhen is one of the most dynamic cities in China, Asia Pacific and also in the world. There are tons of people form all over the world, mainly Europeans and North Americans, working and living in Shenzhen. Ask your colleagues for a VPN to get around of the Great Firewall of China so you can access Youtube. The following 2 guys have fantastic channels in Youtube on living and working in Shenzhen, detailing all facets of Shenzhen's dailylife that you'll definitely encouter. It may save you many troubles & time:

    1. Serpentza (a South African IT freelancer living and working in Shenzhen for 8 years)


    2. Suedwester (a German engineer working for Siemens there for 5 years)


    ~ KC

    1. Thanks for the info, KC!
      I definitely have lots more exploring to do in Shenzhen - there is much more to see and enjoy & I'm hoping to get to it all one step at a time

  5. Shenzhen intro - shot by a Russian guy living there:


    This is China (TIC) - a typical Shenzhen Dim Sum / Zao Cha - "Early tea":



  6. More info:

    1. What does it feel like to be a foreigner in China? The take from a long term expat Serpertza, who also comes from J’borg originally:


    2. Shenzhen city is divided into many districts, each of them being further divided into many urban villages / neighbourhoods consistent of a mix of numerous of residential highrises and lowrises. Exploring by motorcycle at 11pm on a working day of one of common residential villages at outskirt border area of Shenzhen, packed with young migrant workers (motorcycles are forbidden in Shenzhen City):


    3. A common Shenzhen supermarket that you’ll find in most residential areas:


    4. Shenzhen has a world class public transport rivalling places like Hong Kong and Tokyo. Its modern, convenient, super safe, and super cheap metro system put London and New York to shame. Watch how foreigner residents go round it:


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWKXoS8Mj0g (ENG SUBS)