Things for Chinese visitors to do while in one of the Flyover States?
March 19, 2008 2:45 PM   Subscribe

It's kind of the opposite of questions that have been asked in the past: What activities can you recommend for an American host to arrange for some Chinese Visitors?

I work for a fairly large company with offices around the world. Some of the technicians that work in our sister lab in China have come to our facility in the US for training/face time with the rest of the team.

What kind of activities would we, as Americans, not even think about showing them, that they might not get to experience back home?

Were talking about the Corn Wastes of Iowa here, so "Go to the beach!" or "The Smithsonian!" are pretty much non-starters.
posted by ArgentCorvid to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
Response by poster: one thing that did come to mind, is some impromptu "gun safety training". It's something that has gone over well in the past for visitors from more gun-restrictive parts of the world.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:47 PM on March 19, 2008

Take them to a sports event (or even to participate in a sports event): football, baseball, softball, basketball, or whatever is in season at the time of their visit.
posted by MegoSteve at 3:04 PM on March 19, 2008

A really good steak would probably go over pretty well.
posted by Craig at 3:22 PM on March 19, 2008

If they're still around in August, you could take them to the Meskwaki Pow Wow. Doesn't get much more American than that.

Another late summer thing if they're still around is the State Fair. That's almost in the "it's so big you miss it" category.

Maybe a riverboat excursion (casino or otherwise) if it's not too far to get to from where you are?

(Love the gun range idea, btw.)
posted by gimonca at 3:27 PM on March 19, 2008

Maybe show them freedom of speech? They might think it's novel that we have newspapers that are critical of the government.

Other thoughts are: a rock concert, a bluesgrass concert, a barbecue, a fish fry, a baseball game, a riverboat cruise, a dinner in a Cracker Barrell restaurant or a square dance.

Many people I have met from China and Japan seem to love country music and think we all love it too.
posted by amfea at 3:29 PM on March 19, 2008

posted by silkygreenbelly at 3:38 PM on March 19, 2008

Ya gotta know the territory!!

There's tons of cool things to see in Iowa, from Spillville (where the New World Symphony was inspired/written, and the Bily clocks were carved) to the Meredith Wilson museum in Mason City; from the Corn Palace to the Grant Wood Gallery; from the Meskwaki Pow Wow and the Little Brown Church in the Vale to the Amana Colonies. Oh, and the Hawkeyes.
posted by mimi at 4:38 PM on March 19, 2008

In the corn wastes of Iowa, it would be pretty darn American to show them the version of Chinese food you have there. When I was in Tokyo I had a grand old time going to some restaurant and ordering American food. Possibly a slight waste of money if they don't wind up eating much, but it will give them a great story to tell when they get back.
posted by rhizome at 4:48 PM on March 19, 2008

Seconding a barbecue or some other kind of cookout. If you can get some friends or coworkers together, even hamburgers and hot dogs - if home-cooked - will be a blast if the company is good and the weather fine. If there's a pick-up softball game, that might be awesome too.

Ask them what they like to do. You might find you're in the presence of bowlers or poker players, something where you can create a common experience with American style.

I would be careful with the Chinese food, unless you have somewhere you can take them where, in the presence of Chinese patrons, they will pull out all the stops. The Chinese take their food quite seriously, and they don't do crap food and would never take a visiting work colleague to anything less than the best they could offer. American chain food is often huge and horrifying, in most cases, so tread carefully unless you find them in the spirit for the hokey atmosphere, and even then stick to a couple of appetizers and some drinks and then move on to your best local pizza or fish or steak, etc.

Offer to take them shopping, especially if you have some kind of local stretch of handmade items, but just offer and leave it open-ended as to where they would like to go. Returning home empty-handed is kind of uncool, so give them the opportunity to get that taken care of without someone needing to ask.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:38 PM on March 19, 2008

I fully agree on the food count. You will be expected to provide good food and at least one banquet, usually the farewell. Multiple dishes or tastes is usually preferred giving a wide eating experience; think tapas. Do not give them bad Chinese food, they will be polite but it will be painful for them to consume. As a personal story, my father got my mother Chinese take away when she first arrived in the States; she thought he was trying to poison her intentionally. But love conquered all; sort of.

Get to know your guests whether they have small kids or what are their hobbies and get a gift that is appropriate to show that you have personal interest in them as people. A unique Iowa centric gift would be great. The State Fair would be great or RAGBRAI bicycle race which showcase the best of Iowa in a concentrated manner, if possible.

As suggested upthread, provide them chances to buy gifts for back home. It is considered rude not to bring things home for friends or family.

It is always impressive to know some Chinese history or literature, the provinces they come from so you have a context for conversation and know what they are proud of and will be pleased to hear praised.
posted by jadepearl at 7:42 PM on March 19, 2008

A single malt Scotch or Bourbon bar. They'll thank you.

gimonca, wicked idea, I attend them in Ontario, except they are alcohol free...great food though and the drums.///
posted by alicesshoe at 8:08 PM on March 19, 2008

A really good steak would probably go over pretty well.

Dear god, no. A steak is about as far away from Chinese cuisine as you can get. Long cooking time, the fact that you don't chop up the meat means that the meat isn't evenly cooked, the lack of color, the blandness of a cuisine concentrated on just meat. Yeah, I love steak, but it just doesn't work as chinese food.

Here's a way I would bridge the two cultures: go with BBQ skewers with vegetables. Smaller chunks of meat are better. Call it Chuan food (串吃的) Put some hot BBQ sauce (like that Hot version of Bull's eye - Bull's-Eye HOT SOUTHERN CAJUN) on some of them or marinate the meat with this, but don't tell them it‘s a western condiment. Do not drench or slather the meat with the sauce; it's a flavor enhancer and you should taste both meat and sauce in the end. Have variety -- green peppers, red peppers, cauliflower, small chunks of chicken. Source out some flavored salt -- I forget if this is a Canadian thing, but use Montreal steak pepper or Hy's salt. Make sure there's beer and /or whiskey like Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker. Chivas Regal would also work. Beer is necessary, I'd say. Is the corn in season in Iowa at this time? Roasted corn cobs are a good bet. Smokies that aren't cheese flavored (Another Canadian thing?? They're just big hot dogs) would also be good for both Americans and Chinese. The Americans need desert and soda; make sure there is sprite and coke. Oh, and put some hot salsa next to a bowl of chips. I had some great homemade salsa when I was down there, but I don't know if it indicative of Iowa or of the person making the salsa. If it was the same as I tasted, it should be successful.

I don't know where in Iowa you are, but there is a an area near Council Bluffs where the landscape is exactly like an area in China... I'll do some reseach. Ah... The Loess Hills have geography similar to an area in Shanxi province.

Some sort of sports activity is good; baseball maybe. A common thing I saw in China was two people playing badminton without a net. Basketball is hugely popular.
posted by sleslie at 10:31 PM on March 19, 2008

"Dear god, no. A steak is about as far away from Chinese cuisine as you can get. Long cooking time, the fact that you don't chop up the meat means that the meat isn't evenly cooked, the lack of color, the blandness of a cuisine concentrated on just meat. Yeah, I love steak, but it just doesn't work as Chinese food."

It doesn't matter if it's not exactly like Chinese food, unless all they want to do is work and cook their own food, the visitors will want to experience new food. I assume that since they got Visas to the come to the U.S., this is a fairly cosmopolitan group of Chinese people, and most of them have probably eaten (shitty) steak in China. Taking them out to a good steak dinner is a great idea because it would show them some good American cooking and since steak is usually expensive, and a typical thing American's do for important business clients, it would give everybody face.

The gun range is an awesome idea, especially if the group has a lot of younger men in it. All the 20 - 35 year old Chinese guys are totally obsessed with guns. They would be able to brag about it for years after they got back home.
posted by afu at 1:18 AM on March 20, 2008

Corn on the Cob is big in China too
posted by afu at 1:23 AM on March 20, 2008

I was looking for some common ground to the two cultures, so I would still go with my idea.

I think my problem with the steak thing is that I have yet to meet anyone from China who is cosmopolitan enough to eat something as far removed from typical chinese food as steak. I'd compare it to an westerner willing to eat braised tofu with fermented bamboo or something; a food very far removed from the original culture so as to be repellent beyond cosmopolitanism. The opening scene from "Ravenous" comes to mind with regards to why steak could be repellant.

I worked at a multi-cult place back in Canada, and the issue that frequently came up was how stupid it was to cook large amounts of meat (chicken breast, steaks, roast beef) at once. I've heard complaints about bacon. Bacon!

Most likely, I just haven't met anyone like that yet, and you have.
posted by sleslie at 4:26 AM on March 20, 2008

I don't know much about much about Chinese culture, but I'm sure that taking them to some sort of cruddy americanized Chinese restaurant would give them a story to tell people back home. As someone who is sometimes subjected to the "we must now all go eat at this place that has food that superficially resembles the wonderful food that your region is known for" routine, and the subsequent "praise this awful food that your host insists is the best [region] food in the [non-region] area" routine, while privately feeling just a bit sad that I can't get any really wonderfully delicious [misunderstood outside of region seasoning] until I get home -- don't do this.

The story this gives to tell is all about how as a guest you felt like you had to fake enthusiasm for something, how you felt just a little embarrassed for your host but had to hide it to save face, had a really terrible meal, and wish you could have tried something that the area you were visiting was known for instead.
posted by yohko at 12:06 PM on March 20, 2008

Which is why I recommended the BBQ thing. There are BBQ pits in every street corner of the Han Chinese empire, and grilling meat on a BBQ isn't exactly foreign to mid western Americans.

I was looking for some common ground between the two cultures.

I'll retreat a little bit here, and recommend eating at those Cracker Barrel restaurants. The porch and the wood paneling and the pioneer kitsch would be interesting to see and would best represent the local food culture.

Guns, corn, 串, and whiskey would be my recommendation. Sounds like fun.
posted by sleslie at 7:55 PM on March 20, 2008

By activities, do you mean touristy activities or goofin' around, time-killing activities?

What time of year? Do you have to stay close to Marshalltown?

Isn't there a Farmer's Market in Marshalltown?

The Iowa State Fair is in Des Moines, in August.

Winnebago Industries is about 90 minutes north of Marshalltown.

The Templeton Rye distillery is about 65 miles west of Des Moines.

The Waverly Horse Sale is in March and October.

The campus of the University of Iowa on a football game day would give them something to tell the folks back home.
posted by jaronson at 9:04 PM on March 20, 2008

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