Archive | February, 2013

Lost in translation

28 Feb

Recently we went to karaoke with friends.  I hadn’t gone for a long time and it was great to sing and have fun.  Our package for the evening included a certain amount of credit towards food and so I looked at the menu more closely than I have in a while.  There were the normal things – dumplings, popcorn, lots of different beverages.

Then, on one of the last pages, there were these two dishes.

Really bad translation

Really bad translation

In looking at the two translations, the only obvious problem is that garlic is spelled wrong.  However, if you look at the pictures, something is up.  Now that I know a little more Chinese, it becomes obvious that the translations are just wrong.

The first translation – peanuts with “galis” sauce should be pistachio nuts and the second – “Honeydewed sweet potato” should be cashews.  I have no idea who peer reviewed this menu, but obviously they did not do it very carefully.  Although, honeydewed sweet potato does sound interesting.

A lot of the “chinglish” that I’ve seen in Shanghai has disappeared over the last five years, I really think that the average English level here is excellent.  However, this fun night with friends reminded me that just around the corner, lots of fun examples still exist as long as I keep my eyes open!  The ironic thing is that just before I saw this page of the menu, I was telling my friends that I thought the English song selection at this particular karaoke place was the best I had seen in Shanghai.

Have you seen any strange translations lately?

The end of Chinese New Year – Yuanxiaojie

26 Feb

Two weeks after the official Chinese New Year’s eve is the end of spring festival – Yuanxiaojie.  This year Yuanxiaojie fell on a Sunday, so I didn’t have to work.  The moon is full and the tradition locally is to eat “tang yuan” which roughly translates into soup balls.

The moon on my walk home on Yuanxiaojie - even visible among the bright lights of Shanghai

The moon on my walk home on Yuanxiaojie – even visible among the bright lights of Shanghai

The translation however doesn’t do the actual food justice.  A tang yuan can be sweet or savory with different fillings included inside – my favorite is black sesame and peanut, but there are lots of options including different types of meatballs, chestnut, green tea flavor, taro, coconut…  It looks like a little moon nestled in your bowl before you bite into them to discover the flavor.

Frozen tang yuan - before cooking

Frozen tang yuan – before cooking

A bowl of tang yuan before I ate them :-)

A bowl of tang yuan before I ate them 🙂

This time of year they are on special at the supermarket and tang yuan shops pop up where people can get fresh ones made as well.  One year a vendor that I work with gave me a couple of packages for free.  Ours this year were left by Li’s mom that she hand made before she headed back after celebrating the festival and were a sweet mixture with goji berries which I hadn’t had before.   To celebrate we boiled some up and watched the fireworks.

The year of the snake is starting well – and having tang yuan makes it even sweeter.  One of my friends sent me a weixin with holiday wishes which had an animation of a tang yuan turning into a small snake which made me smile.

Have you noticed any traditions from other countries that you have adapted into your day to day life?  Sometimes the small holidays are the easiest to absorb and make your own.

Cambodia – Towers, tuk tuks and ta das!

24 Feb

As I have referenced a couple of times, we had been planning a trip to correspond with the end of the Chinese new year holidays.  Our destination?  Cambodia – more specifically the city of Siem Reap that is best known for being the home of Angkor Wat, one of the great wonders of the world.

As we (mostly Li) took over 2000 photos and we just got back middle of last week, I have not yet had the time to go through, categorize and tell the story that they deserve.  Instead I am going to leave you with a teaser – three photos that I feel start to represent the adventure we had during our trip there.

I chose the photos to connect with the headline that I posted – towers, tuk tuks and ta das and they were all from our first day as we started to comprehend the history and complexity of the beauty that could be found in Angkor Wat.

Our first day, posing on the roof of Angkor Wat with one of its characteristic towers in the background

Our first day, posing on the roof of Angkor Wat with one of its characteristic towers in the background

The tuk tuk driver from the first day as we exited the complex by one of the gates

The tuk tuk driver from the first day as we exited the complex by one of the gates

Li in front of the library at Angkor Wat - every place we turned there were ta dah moments!

Li in front of the library at Angkor Wat – every place we turned there were ta da moments!

We have many more photos and stories to tell, so please check back for those over the next few weeks!

How do you go through your photos after a long trip?  I can sometimes find it overwhelming, but always find it a lot of fun.  Any tips as I start to go through them?

Cold storage

21 Feb
Which piece would you like?

Which piece would you like?

Over the holiday we went to one of the suburbs of Shanghai to have dinner with some of Li’s extended family.  They treated us to a very nice lunch but the above was outside the restaurant, quite literally swinging in the breeze.

I know that hanging meat increases its flavor.  In the US we talk about “aged beef” and the effects on a regular basis.  Shanghai’s pollution, though, makes this something that I’m not super willing to try – at least willingly, though who knows what was in the lunch that I ate that afternoon.

Would you have eaten that meat?  What kind of cold storage do you think is appropriate?

A new travel bag

19 Feb

I travel quite a bit – some for work and some for pleasure.  One of the items that I consider key to a successful trip is the bag that I use as my purse.

For work, I need to be slightly more dressy, but for the last several years for personal travel I have had a bright red nylon travel purse which has been able to meet my many needs in multiple countries.  It is over the shoulder so my hands are free, it has many interior and exterior pockets and places to slide my passport and spending money and subway cards.  It sheds rain and has a big back pocket where I can slide a book, a map or an umbrella and most importantly it is light.

My bag at this point has been on multiple continents, over half a dozen different countries and many more cities.  It is an old friend.

Here's my original purse earlier this year when we were climbing Mt. Tai

Here’s my original purse last year when we were climbing Mt. Tai

Unfortunately I have now been using the same bag for at least seven years and at this point, the wear and tear has gotten the better of it.  The last time I used the bag I noticed that the metal clasp had rusted and the bottom of the bag has changed colors.  It was time to look for a replacement.

On my walk to work I go by a couple of luggage stores and there had been a bag in the window that was calling my name.  Finally, I broke down and went in and bought a replacement.  It is a slightly different shape and size, but still light, goes over my shoulder and is waterproof.  Instead of red it’s a shade of dark pink so in the same color family.  I’m actually trying it out right now!

I wonder where it will go?

I wonder where it will go?

What travel supplies do you pay attention to when you’re on the road?

Silent Shanghai during Spring Festival

17 Feb
Shanghai - at peace

Shanghai – at peace

Shanghai is a center of commerce and business which means that many people work here but do not call it “home.”

This also means that when given the opportunity to celebrate Chinese New Year or Spring Festival a very large percentage of those who work and live in Shanghai go home.  I don’t have statistics for Shanghai but heard that for Beijing nearly 1 out of 2 city residents left prior to the holiday.  Imagine the population of New York in a one week period dropping by 50%.  It’s a huge migration.

Spring Festival is the time of year that Shanghai is emptiest.  The proportion of Shanghainese (local Shanghai dialect) that I hear in the shops and on the streets goes up exponentially and things calm down.  Buses have seats, restaurants don’t need reservations (if they are open) and on the sidewalk it is possible sometimes to be the only person crossing the street.

This year that was compounded by the fact that it snowed just before the holiday, meaning that even local folks stayed home if not absolutely necessary.  The weather this time of year is normally pretty terrible – even if it doesn’t snow there is bitter cold.  The last day our office was open I was one of only 6 people who came to work – the rest had all put on their out of office replies and started the celebrations.

A rest from the normal busyness that is Shanghai is much needed.  Small shops close their doors and paste signs saying back after the holiday.  For me that means in theory I have a few days to catch up on my blog and movie watching and the ability to burrow (if I only didn’t have guests).  I know that I won’t get email from China clients, I know that it really is a chance to rest and relax.

Traditionally this holiday was a full two weeks, but now the rules of commerce have shorted it to around one week officially.  That said – don’t try to get anything done for one week before, one week during and one week after the official holiday.  We’ll work over Christmas, but don’t try messing up Chinese New Year!

I like silent Shanghai.  Have you ever lived in a place that completely changes for a few weeks?  What stories do you have?

On weddings in China

14 Feb

For Valentine’s day, I thought I would post on weddings in China and some of the observations that I’ve had over the last four years.  I have been lucky enough to go to many weddings of friends and co-workers and each one has been different but they all have some similarities.

The first wedding I went to in China - it was a buffet style with the bride and groom singing karaoke in the middle.  They are still dear friends today.

The first wedding I went to in China – it was a buffet style with the bride and groom singing karaoke in the middle. They are still dear friends today.

Golden jaguar plaza - home to two weddings that I went to over the years.  The round tables were customary at most all of the weddings I went to.

Golden jaguar plaza – home to two weddings that I went to over the years. The round tables were customary at most all of the weddings I have been at.

For me?  Thank you! A standard part of weddings - the chocolate they put on tables for you to take home.

For me? Thank you! A standard part of weddings – the chocolate they put on tables for you to take home.

The most western of the weddings I have gone to (and the most recent), with separate vows, time to chat and then food at the end.  This one also had a flower girl/boy who absorbed the attention of all.

The most western of the weddings I have gone to (and the most recent), with separate vows, time to chat and then food at the end. This one also had a flower girl/boy who absorbed the attention of all.

Weddings are a strange concept in this culture – where until the early 2000s you needed to ask permission from your boss to get married.  There are bits of tradition that were almost destroyed during the Mao era that are struggling to return and then there are western customs that have been pasted on in a haphazard way into the Chinese culture.  At their best it serves as a bridge between different cultures and traditions – at its worse it is a disconnected event without much meaning.

I’ve had weddings on my mind a lot lately as soon we will have our own.  After knowing each other for over four years Li and I finally tied the knot last December and will be having a Chinese wedding in March.  It promises to be a big event and since it is in his hometown my opinion is not the key one, instead his mom and sister have taken over all preparation.

People keep asking me if I’m excited and I am, but I think it is a different kind of excitement than a typical bride – it will be an interesting experience for sure.  Our parents will get to meet and I’ll get to experience from a very personal point of  view a wedding in China.

Who knows what will happen?  Happy Valentine's Day!

A shot from our photo shoot earlier this year.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers.  When this post goes out to you all we will be celebrating away from Shanghai and its cold winter.  I hope that you are able to escape as well.

What’s your view on weddings?

Decorating the door

12 Feb
Our door - ready to welcome the new year!

Our door – ready to welcome the new year!

One of the traditions for the new year in China is decorating the door with words of good luck and fortune for the upcoming year.  The piece of paper on the sides are called “chun lian” (春联) which roughly translates into “communication with the spring” and the piece on the top is “he nian men tou” (贺年门头)which is kind of like “connecting the years at the top of the door.”

In traditional times you would paste it on the outside door and then it would slowly over the course of the year come off because it was exposed to the weather.  Since we live in an apartment I expect that we will need to remove it ourselves sometime in the summer when it is obvious that the beginning of the year is over.

The sayings that are written on each piece have special meaning and I have to confess that they are beyond my ability for Chinese translation.  This year that was one of Li’s jobs to choose the saying that will lead us into the new year.  I do know that the piece on top of the door says “万事如意“ which means literally 10,000 good things.  That seems like a good New Year’s wish.

One additional decoration that I have especially noticed this year was lots of blossoms in the advertisements.  Below was a beautiful display in the building across the street from my office.  It looked like a fairy land between two very expensive name brand stores.  I like this type of decoration as it reminds me that spring is coming soon (despite the frigid temperatures we have had recently).

New year decorations of a more formal variety in a shopping mall

New year decorations of a more formal variety in a shopping mall

I wonder if I could start a new Chinese tradition by decorating a door with blossoms?

More snake decorations are also showing up since I made my post on Sunday.  The doors of my apartment building now have a pair of cute snakes in traditional Chinese garb welcoming all visitors.

What type of holiday decorations do you enjoy the most?  If you had to post a message on the outside of your door welcoming the new year, what message makes the most sense to you?

Welcoming the Year of the Snake

10 Feb

Each year as the lunar calendar turns the page a different animal gets front and center in the Chinese psyche.  The year we are just finishing was the year of the dragon, a very auspicious year, that was considered lucky for getting married and having babies.  A baby boom occurred in my office with three pregnancies out of 30 women in my department.  Quite a high percentage for one year!

This year  (starting Sunday) is the year of the snake.  The snake year is an important one for Li as it is “his year.”

Last year with the year of the dragon, everyone was talking about China rising and the dragon from the east overpowering the west.  Snake year is a little harder to make those kind of statements.  Snakes can look very evil very easily and so most people have gone to the other extreme with very cute snakes that look like something out of a children’s book or a cartoon series.

The ubiquitous hong bao!  This one with a cute little snake

The ubiquitous hong bao! This one with a cute little snake

For me snakes conjure up memories of my younger cousin who was obsessed with snakes when we were growing up.  He’s now in his 20s so it’s not a current memory, but a strong one.  I also remember our trip to Bohol last year when we saw the snake below up close.

Can you feel the scales?

Can you feel the scales?

Finally, due to my western upbringing, snakes make me think of the original snake story – Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden – snake as a temptress.

This last image is one that is supported in a strange way by many of the ads that are appearing – using snakes to tempt you to buy a watch or a car or anything else that they may feel like.

Here are a few snake images that I’ve seen over the last couple of weeks.

A modern take on the snake - but still mildly threatening

A modern take on the snake – but still mildly threatening

This free form version stretched over two stories in a shopping mall close to our place

This free form version stretched over two stories in a shopping mall close to our place

This one is selling jewelry - a well known Hong Kong brand.

This one is selling jewelry – a well known Hong Kong brand.

Which is your favorite?

Happy year of the snake to you all!  蛇年快乐!万事如意!新年大吉大利!身体健康!我给你们拜年! Happy snake year – best wishes for a year of prosperity, health and all good things!

Prepping for guests

7 Feb
The room is ready for guests

The room is ready for guests

Li’s parents are spending the Chinese New Year holiday with us which they also did last year.  Having houseguests is always interesting and I try to anticipate different needs that people will have.  In the spare bathroom I have small bottles of toiletries and tooth brushes collected during my many trips.  The spare room no longer has drying clothes or spare suitcase storage and I’ve picked up and filed or trashed the papers that tend to collect on every surface.

Li went to the grocery store and we are stocked up on nuts and fruits and other good things.  The kitchen has a new bottle of soy sauce, a full bag of  fragrant Thai rice and lots of eggs.

We are ready.

And yet, I’m not.

Having guests not of my choosing can be a little touchy.  Li’s mom makes me eat every single time I see her and the food is not always of my choosing.  Li’s dad watches Chinese TV at all times of the day and night at super high volume.  I don’t control the temperature in the house or anything else.  Knowing this going in makes it tougher.

But that is what you do for people you love.  You celebrate holidays and eat food and smile and soon it will be over.  The memories will get sweeter and time will pass and it will be ok.

One of the benefits of our relationship is that our holidays are different.  We never need to argue about where to go for Christmas.  I am the expert on western holidays and he on eastern.  Christmas was wonderful and Chinese New Year will be too.

So what tricks do you use when prepping for guests?  Any tips I can use to make the guest experience ( and my own) more pleasurable?  Any cultural difference stories with houseguests?  Please share and keep me smiling.  Going with the flow can be hard work.  I think I’ll need a vacation after this!

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