Archive | January, 2012

Dragon feasting

31 Jan

This year I was lucky enough to spend my lunar new year eve with Li and his parents.  His mother cooked up a storm – literally steamed up the windows- to deliver an amazing spread of classic Chinese dishes.  Li told me that some of these things were very familiar from his childhood, including a full array of organ meats that I have seen only a couple of times, one of which was two years ago when we also celebrated with his family.

There are cold dishes and hot dishes and if you look carefully at the following pictures you will not see any rice.  Rice tends to be what is offered at the end of the meal to fill you up if you haven’t had enough.  Since the food here was prepared for just the four of us to eat, the chance of that was nil and the rice stayed in the cupboard for the post new year’s detox that I will begin right after my holiday.  Every single one of my plates and bowls were used – there was literally nothing left in the cupboard that had not been used in prep or serving.  When we counted – there were eleven different kinds of meat used – including two types of shrimp, two types of fish and four types of poultry (chicken, pigeon, goose and duck).

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When I have asked friends and colleagues if there are special dishes that you must prepare, they came up remarkably short.  Several people mentioned that eating fish is good luck – fish is a symbol of prosperity and you can see it in the door decorations I posted several days ago.  I pressed – what kind of fish – how should it be served – no one really had the same answer.  For New Year’s morning it is tradition to serve dumplings (jiaozi), but for the big feast itself, relatively little guidance.  I’d say about half of my friends eat at home and the other half will book a table at a restaurant and let someone else do the prep.

The second part of the evening consisted of CCTV 1 annual new year’s television program.  You can bet that as everyone waits for the stroke of midnight, nearly 99% of the Chinese population is turned to this show to watch the comedians, singers and production numbers.  The following weeks the jokes will be parsed in day to day conversation and it can make someone’s career to get a place on the show.  The singing and production numbers aside, the comedy is still sometimes hard for me to follow.  The funniest tends to take place using Beijing dialect which is one strike against me and secondly it uses a lot of word play – akin to puns – that still leave me shaking my head.

The show finished, you enter the war zone.  About 5pm the stray fireworks and firecrackers start to go off and closer and closer to midnight the whole of Shanghai is turned into my view of what it would be like to be bombed or suffer from anti-aircraft fire.  The fireworks occur in more and more concentration – whistlers and big flowers and just noise.  There is no way to sleep, so I accepted it and sent text messages to people wishing them good luck in the new year.

Have you ever celebrated within a culture that you don’t consider your own? What things stick in your memory or what have you absorbed into your own celebrations?

Red vs. pink

29 Jan

Is it sexy in red and sweet in pink? That may depend on where you grew up.

I get my nails done here fairly regularly and since I am lucky enough to have a housekeeper and am not scrubbing dishes or toilets my nails tend to last two to three weeks in pretty decent shape.  I have two different nail salons that I frequent depending on if I’m looking for a quick polish change or a more luxurious experience.

One of the conversations that I have had multiple times with the nail technicians is what colors they believe look the best.  They love to suggest bright colors that set off my white skin.  For Christmas I tend to get red and when I went last week it seemed everyone in the salon – Chinese and Western alike were getting red for the Chinese New Year season as well.  Red is everywhere – from door decorations, to clothes to packaging – even the bright apples that are sold on street corners.

However, if you change the tables and ask – what color they believe is the sexiest, every single Chinese person I know, irregardless of gender,  has said “pink.”

Initially this took me back – we have “Pretty in Pink” the movie, romance novels with pink parasols and in general pink is a color for little girls in the states – we even have “Barbie pink.”  That’s fine for the summer – on my toes, but it’s not the first color that pops into my head. 

I’ve thought about the color choices quite a bit and I’ve come to the conclusion that here – red is everywhere.  It’s nothing special – it suffers from overexposure.  When it is your year (for example, this year is year of the dragon), you are told to wear red clothing to protect you from harm.  They even sell special red underwear (which in another context may be sexy) to make sure that you are safe and sound.  It’s a tradition for parents to give their children red underwear every twelve years – in a sense the “underwear for Christmas” syndrome.   If you grew up here, you may too think pink is the sexiest color.

This is one of the cultural differences that seems to have crept up on me.  I like red and I like pink, but the meaning for me won’t be Chinese.  I think of red as a sexy Valentine’s day color as well as my dad’s favorite color.  Pink is adorable on babies, but can also be seen as a splash of color on a  little shift under a black suit.  Each has it’s own place – for multiple uses.

Which would you pick – red or pink?

Year of the Dragon

26 Jan

The Chinese zodiac has twelve animals that are typically represented in a wheel, meaning that once you tell someone which animal you are, they can get to your age pretty easily.  I remember looking at the placemats at Chinese restaurants when I was growing up, calculating the year of birth, to read my own fortune and those of my brother and sister and parents.  There is also another level of complexity that adds the elements into the picture – wind, water, earth and fire.

2012 starts the year of the water dragon.  In western culture, dragons tend to be seen as scary, wicked creatures – St. George the Dragon Slayer, or the dragon keeping the princess in the tower.  In China, dragons are seen as symbols of power – the emperor used to be represented by a dragon and it is seen as symbolizing wealth.  I don’t know if it’s true as I haven’t researched birth records in China, but I have heard that more boy babies tend to be born in the year of the dragon so that parents start their child out with the best luck possible.

I did a little research and some famous dragons include Bing Crosby, John Lennon, Shirley Temple and Michael Douglas – so dragons tend to be creative and charismatic individuals which I have always known since my mother is a dragon as well.  However, in your own year, Chinese believe that it is possible for bad things to happen and you need protection – so be careful this year mom!

According to my own horoscope, the year of the dragon looks to be a positive one for me, so we’ll see how things go!

Welcoming the new year

24 Jan

Living in China, I am lucky enough to celebrate two new year’s celebrations, with the second, the lunar new year being much more important.  There is a week off of work and this year, because of the lunar calendar there were only three weeks between my Christmas break and the lunar new year.  It is tradition to welcome the new year into your apartment.  This year – with New Year’s Eve on Sunday and Chinese Lunar New Year on Monday is the year of the dragon, hence the little dragons in our New Year’s door decorations.  Here are some photos.

Welcoming the new year into the apartment

More dragons.

Close up of the dragons


Decorating the door of the apartment building - aren't they cute?

 More traditional – wishing for wealthy and prosperity.

The neighbor's door - 福 means wealth

 The color red is an integral part of the festival and is everywhere this time of year.  There are annual parties (my company’s this year was Friday the 13th), people in the streets buying fruit baskets as gifts, and lots and lots of toasting.  My colleagues equate Chinese New Year with Christmas, but in my mind it is more like a week of Thanksgiving with a touch of the Fourth of July.  It’s a week of family and too much food and staying up late to look at the never ending fireworks. Now that this is the fifth Chinese New Year that I’m celebrating, the traditional phrases are starting to fall off my lips, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less genuine.
新年快乐!祝你们身体健康,万事如意,龙年大吉!(Xin nian kaui le! Zhu nimen shenti jiankang, wan shi ru yi, long nian da ji!)
Happy New Year! I wish you all health, 10,000 good things and a dragon year full of blessings.

Time warp

22 Jan

Due to a serious cold,  I recently headed home after lunch one afternoon so that I could take some extra rest.  It was a bright sunny day and everyone was enjoying the springlike weather.  There was bedding airing on the street corners and the ubiquitous clean laundry hanging from windows.  As I sneezed my way towards my apartment I noticed that I was the youngest person by far on the street.  It seemed like everyone was over 60 years old, walking along, playing cards or mah jong or sitting in the sun on little tiny chairs. 

In front of the corner convenience store there was a row of half a dozen very senior citizens, eyes closed in chairs that a three year old would be comfortable in.  The contrast between the modernity of the local “Family Mart” which isn’t even 6 months old and the creased, knowledgeable faces relaxing in the sun twisted my sense of time.  The elders relaxing in the sun looked as though they had seen everything – and given the history of China over the last 7o to 80 years, that could be a fair statement.

And so, as I made my way home, the day and pressure and stress fell away, absorbed into the sunshine and time warp on that street corner.

An aerial view

19 Jan

Recently I looked out of my bedroom window and noticed something strange.  The hospital across the street was missing it’s roof.  I don’t remember it not having a roof before.  I also don’t remember construction to take it off. They did construction a few years ago, but that was on other buildings.

I wonder what else I miss?

The second quarter review

17 Jan

I’m proud to announce that Zhongguo Jumble has just celebrated it’s second quarter of completion!  Last July I kicked things off and since then have written nearly 80 posts about life here in China (and the trips I take).   I had fewer visits to the site during this quarter – many people have told me that with the holidays things just got too busy.  I hope that many of you made a new year’s resolution to follow again!

And without further adieu, some favorites from the last quarter.  To read the original post you can click the links in the below descriptions.

Top postJianlibao – this post has climbed up the search engines and has logged views from all over the world.  It was based on the story of the Jianlibao company – China’s “Coca Cola” – from Li’s childhood.

My favoriteForeigner for Rent – This video that I linked too is from CNN.  It includes interviews of westerners in China who were hired to pose as important people at events in second tier cities.  It makes me laugh every time I view it because I could actually see it happening.

New concept – This quarter I have tried a slightly new concept with a couple of photography focused posts.  One example is Ode to Autumn.

Travel series – My trip to Yunnan resulted in several posts and a number of great comments.  If you click the “Explore” category on the right side of the blog you can see those posts and other “Exploring”  posts.

Cooking adventure – “The Missing Crabs, Part I and Part II” resulted in comments, shared stories and more laughs.  I love food and the laugh was definitely on me with this one when that crab escaped.  He sure tasted good though so I think I got the last laugh.

Site stats – A Boeing 747 has 416 seats so I’ve had 4 planes full and a lot of folks stuck on the wings or put on the waiting list with nearly 1800 views in the last six months.

Another way to think about it is that the  Great Hall of the People in Beijing (the Chinese “congress”) – has space for 2,987 delegates. My viewers to date would occupy over half of the seats – a good goal for 2012 would be to fill up the entire hall at least once.  Seems doable.

Did I miss any of your favorites from this quarter?  Please let me know if one of the above, or another one made you smile, think or even laugh out loud.

Do you happen to know…?

15 Jan

The call took me by surprise – during a work day, one of my chinese friends.

Once we got through the pleasantries came the question – “Do you happen to know any foreign (white) boys between the ages of 8 and 11?”

My response was actually, “I don’t.  I have friends with little kids and one friend with a 9 year old daughter, but no boys.  What’s up?”

“We’re shooting a promotional video at the school I work at and our 8-11 year old boy canceled.  The shoot is tomorrow.  Do you know anyone who can fill in?”

Casting director.  Another role I’ve played in China.

Christmas chrust

12 Jan

One of the universal traditions of holiday seasons is making lots and lots of different types of food.  This year for Christmas we continued a tradition of making polish chrust with three generations of chrust makers included.  All parties involved said that this year’s result was one of the best in recent memory – light and fluffy yet crisp.

In process - frying, twisting and supervising


The cooks with the finished product

The Christmas dessert line-up with chrusts in the middle

Sharing good food makes the holiday even sweeter.  What’s your favorite holiday specific dish?  Please share.  One special thing about chrust is that since you fry them instead of baking them it means that I could make them here in China where I don’t even have an oven.  Perhaps I’ll have to take a try for my next holiday season.

A noble cause

10 Jan

I was in the airport heading home for the holidays when I saw that there was a donation box.

Difficult? - should be translated as "those in need"

You can see that there are donations at the bottom, which I’m guessing came largely from mandarin speakers.  After smiling at the translation I started thinking “What if someone gave me a donation for each time I was acting ‘difficult’?”

Chinglish or not, I hope to continue to think of others (in whatever language necessary) both during the holidays and throughout the year.  Any charitable campaigns that went a bit off for you?

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