Category Archives: price of living

My Favorite Things: Noodles From the Basement


“Why it’s cheaper to eat out”

There are many fast and easy options for eating out here in China. My particular favorite take-out dish is pictured above. For a scant 6RMB (less than a dollar), you can get a generous portion of ramen like noodles, freshly juliened cucumber, and a deliciously light peanut sauce.  One of the charms of this dish is how refreshing it is. I prefer it cold.

In the beginning it was a trick to figure out how to get them to make the sauce. The grocery store puts out these little KFC style buckets with the noodles and cucumber, and then often has a plastic tub with small plastic bags of sauce next to them. You can pick up a noodle, and grab a sauce and you’re off. If, say, you get off work late and all the sauce is gone, but you still want the noodles, you have to ask the little guy behind the counter to make you more.

A trick.

If you are unfortunate enough to mis-convey the message to him, he might plop the noodles with some other vegetables in a water bath and cook them again – adding some other random sauce. Cooked cucumber isn’t very good, and it’s rather sad to watch it meet its end in a boiling bath.  Lately, I have been more successful and often get what I need. The little old man behind the counter is starting to predict what I’ll ask him.

Someday, perhaps when I leave China, I might try my hand at making the sauce myself. From what I gather it’s a mixture of peanut puree, vinegar, a touch of red pepper oil, a touch of soy sauce, and fresh crushed peanuts to top it off.

The simple truth is, usually it’s cheaper to eat out, or ‘take-out’, than it is to cook at home.  The majority of dishes in my arsenal are western, and thus need western type ingredients, which are naturally more expensive to buy here and are not always worth the price. I got cottage cheese once to make lasagna, and although it tasted okay in the finished dish, it was nothing I’d choose to eat fresh. That lasagna was probably the most expensive pasta dish I’ve ever made in my life!

If you can get a delicious meal-in-one dish in the basement for under a dollar, why spend a fortune on cooking? And when you’re tired of the noodles, you can always opt for a sit down dinner in a restaurant. Two people will set you back a whole $16. For a very nice meal, at an even fancier place, you might even pay $25!


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Filed under food, out and about, price of living

Translating Your Money’s Worth

If you wish to save money, I’d suggest a job in China (one with a salary paid at western rates).  Expenses in China are relatively low – if you know where to buy and how to manage things.

You can get lodging for about 100-200 euros a month (I think that these places must not have western style toilets and the like… but if you WANT to live cheap… ).  Transportation is also quite cheap – 20 cents on the subway will get you wherever you want, except the airport, which is a comparatively extravagant at 2.50.  And if you aren’t above native fair, a tasty all-in-one dinner of noodles and vegetables can be found for an easy dollar(or less).  (All prices rounded and converted, for the readers convenience).

There are, of course ways to make life more expensive, but even if you frequent Starbucks the prices are cheaper than the same drink in Europe. But if you know where to shop, a months worth of food can be financed on 100 kuai – or 10 euros.  (Again, I round a little, for convenience. The above prices are generally given in euros, as it is about a 10/1 conversion. Add 20% for a USD).

If you want to buy western products and live off western style food, it will be more expensive, naturally, but not necessarily that much more than a typical allowance in the states.  Western products can often be twice the price as the same item found in europe or the US, but if you can use a local brand, life turns out to be quite cheap – and those indulgences that make life sweeter. You can eat dinner at a nice restaurant for $20, where the same meal could easily be 50 bucks back home.

Price Difference:

If you hand a 100 Kuai (~10 euro) note over at a grocery store, the cashier will sometimes check up to 3 marks of qualification to make sure of its legitimacy.  The note won’t even be excepted, but with some grumbling, by a taxi driver in the later hours of the evening (the 100 RMB note is the most commonly counterfeit bill).

An interesting situation arises when you start to become more familiar with the currency. As a merchant one would never look twice at a $20 note in the US – it’s too small for counterfeiters to make a meaningful profit on, and is relatively safe from that perspective. Twenty bucks is still a small enough currency to be quite missed, but not mourned, were it to be lost (depending, of course, one one’s own salary).  Comparatively, a 100 RMB is 1/10th the yearly salary of a well positioned professional Chinese, in a western company.

When I think about this, I begin to feel a bit differently about the note than just its immediate conversion value. I value a 20 dollar bill, and am sorry when it’s gone, but this is a larger amount of money than a 100 Kuai, and the 100 Kuai seems even more important.

It’s similar to when you learn a second language – at a certain point you stop translating words literally, and begin to have a feel for them in their own right. You stop using equivalence in your head, (“Ein bisschien = a little”) but start to feel the meaning of the word in its own language. I no doubt have a deflated sense of worth for the RMB than most Chinese, but I have started to notice a valuation of the money in it’s own right, separate from that of its USD equivalency.

Before I leave this note, I realize I should be more specific in the words I use for Chinese currency.  Kuai is the local Chinese measure word for ‘a dollar’ (“Ni you liang kuai ma” = “Do you have 2 RMB”), however the official term is the Yuan, and the more ‘financial’ term is the RMB (short for Renmenbi). Kaui = dollar, mao = dime, etc.

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Filed under life in china, money, price of living