Tag Archives: china

Gazing at the moon

8 Aug

Moon pathIt began with a text message and a challenge.  My husband wanted to know if I could read the “junk text” that the phone company had just sent him.

The characters were basic and I slowly puzzled it out.  “Can we ever see the dark side of the moon? Reply 1 for “Yes” and 2 for “No.””

My husband beamed – I had read the text, then he said, “Of course we can’t see the dark side of the moon. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see the old man chopping down trees every night.”

I looked at him blankly.  This required further explanation.

He then told me some of the legends of Wu Gang, the man in the moon.

In the first legend Wu Gang offended the gods who then sent him to the moon to chop down trees as punishment.  Every night he almost finishes and every day the trees grow back.  He is continuously trying to finish his sentence but has been chopping down the same trees now for thousands of years.

In another legend Wu Gang is actually a god himself and he was dating the goddess of the moon Chang E.  Unfortunately the two of them got into an argument with the head God who sent Wu Gang to the moon to chop down the trees and keep him from his true love.  Each time he was nearly done a raven was sent to distract him- first by snagging his clothing, then with a loud noise, then with other ways.  In the moment he was distracted the trees grew again.

Legend has it that each year on the 16th of the Eighth lunar month a single leaf will fall to earth from the tree on the moon.  He or she who finds it will be blessed with treasures.

I have never heard these stories, they belong to a culture that I am just figuring out, but one may argue that I have found my treasure already.

This post is in honor of my husband.  It was five years ago today that he came back to Shanghai to start a new career after living in the UK.  It also is the day that the 2008 Olympics began in Beijing.  Eight is an auspicious number – it brings good luck and good fortune.  I don’t necessarily believe in the superstition, but if he hadn’t made that move we never would have met, so perhaps 8 is a lucky number for me as well?

What stories have you learned from your partner or friends that change your view of how the world should be?  Is it the man in the moon or the best cure for a cold or what children should or shouldn’t do?

These local customs are the things you never find out unless you happen to be in the right place at the right time.  Or, you get a strange text message.


31 Days

7 Jul

When I moved to China over five years ago now, I didn’t know if I would be there three weeks or three years.  This year is come November is my sixth year here.

As my time extended, I started to become aware of a rule that hit during your fifth full year – for tax purposes at some point in that year you need to be out of China for 31 consecutive days.  The day you leave and come back don’t count so it’s actually close to 33 or 34 days out of the country depending on who you ask.

That is a long time to be away from home.

And that is what I have been doing for the last month.

To make things even longer, I had a business trip to Beijing at the front end, so my time away from home has extended even longer.  I can’t wait to get back!

In the last month I have been in four countries, many cities, have been on around 10 flights and racked up thousands of frequent flier miles.  And I am still not home.

I have vacation stories and work stories.  I went on a food crawl in Singapore – tasting the local hawker dishes for an entire afternoon.   I rode the world’s fastest elevator in Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world.  I ate my fill of avocados in Washington DC and sat at the Lincoln monument as the sun began to set.  I learned the secret to entering the back door at our Taipei office and met people in Singapore that I have never seen face to face.

I also have not gone to a yoga class, written a blog post, cooked a full meal or seen my Chinese colleagues, though I am working and have been on more conference calls than I would care to admit.  My husband went with me for part of the vacation time, but I haven’t seen him either for coming up on four weeks.

It is discombobulating to be in so many different places but also invigorating.  I remember last year in the fall when I didn’t travel for about three months how antsy I got.  Hopefully this trip will cure me of my traveling bug, at least for a while.

And I know that every five years I get to do it again.  Not bad.

I am back blogging now, but may be a little sporadic until I make it back to China.  The fluidity of my schedule can be tough to predict as well as uploading photos when I am not    home.  Let’s see how it goes.

What is the longest you’ve been away from home?  Why were you away?  If you could take 31 days to travel, where would you go?

Wuzhen – a water village

23 May

In April we held a large event for our vendor community.  Because we called on resources all across China we decided to do a team building event the following day and take advantage of our colleagues from different places all being together.  The location of the offsite was Wuzhen – a water village about two hours outside of Shanghai.

I had been to another water village Zhujiajiao four years before, but that visit had occurred in January so I had never really gotten the full sense of the magic of the water villages before.

For the purist, Wuzhen is not a living water village anymore.  Most of the original houses have been turned into restaurants or guest houses and there are boutique shops that line the streets of the town.  There are myriads of shoe stores, sweet shops selling local delicacies and expensive water taxis that will take the well heeled tourist from one side to the other.  After seeing it though, that doesn’t matter to me – the beauty and peacefulness that I found there made it one of the least crowded and enjoyable mornings I have spent in China thus far.

It started the night we arrived where above the reception area were lanterns representing a dragon and a phoenix.  They illuminated the dark room and gave a sense of magic to the space.

The fire of the dragon

The fire of the dragon

was complemented by the beauty of the phoenix

was complemented by the beauty of the phoenix

That continued into my hotel room where the paintings and four poster bed grounded the space into traditional Chinese history.  From my window I could get a sense of one of the channels of the river running close by, but I couldn’t see into the darkness.  The hotel had planks embedded into the floor in the hallways which gave me the impression that I was walking over a bridge to my room.

Traditional Chinese art on the walls of the room grounded by the wood floors and carved pillars.

Traditional Chinese art on the walls of the room grounded by the wood floors and carved pillars.

The next morning before my meetings I went to wander the paths of the village.  I didn’t have a lot of time, so I tried to see as much as I could.

First view of the canal and the typical transportation by boat

First view of the canal and the typical transportation by boat

Peaceful water with reflection of the trees

Peaceful water with reflection of the trees

Mist rising off the water - the canals are fairly wide

Mist rising off the water – the canals are fairly wide

But the streets are very narrow - you can even touch both sides

But the streets are very narrow – you can even touch both sides

Bridges would cross from one side to the other

Bridges would cross from one side to the other

With gardens on some of the dry land, beckoning me in

With gardens on some of the dry land, beckoning me in

And scenes carved into the wall with bamboo behind reminding me of an earlier time

And scenes carved into the wall with bamboo behind reminding me of an earlier time

The mix of water and lanes and bridges with gardens just on the other side made me feel glad to be alive.  There was mist rising over the rivers and yet I could see the reflections of the trees in the canals.  It was a special place.

Wuzhen also happens to represent the elements which is the weekly travel theme at Where’s My Backpack – the Four Elements.  There is the water of the canals, the wood of the houses, the fire of the lanterns, earth of the bricks that make up the streets and the mist which rises through the air over the entire scene.   To see how others visualized the elements, please feel free to click on the link.

It also links up with the Weekly Photo Challenge this week which is Escape.  For that morning I escaped the loudness, the pollution, the busyness of Shanghai and was able to see a more natural world.  Wuzhen is a true escape from Shanghai.

Where do you escape to?

A final look

A final look

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?

Foiled by the great firewall

22 Jan

I had great plans  for blog posts this weekend.  The ideas were flowing and I even had a photo that would make you laugh.

Instead I spent two hours (or maybe a little more) trying to get that photo to upload.  Which ultimately didn’t work and leaves me with a very busy week at work and not very much time.

The Chinese government has really been cracking down on the Internet lately.  Part of it is likely the change in leadership that happened at the end of last year and part is that the Internet is a voice of truth among the censorship that once open is very difficult to put back in “Pandora’s box.”

It seems to me between the weather, my office construction (more updates to come on that in the future – there has been progress!), and my recent internet issues I have a case of the January blahs.  Luckily I soon have a business trip coming up to the relative warmth and calm of Singapore.  Never have I welcomed two days of training each capped by a five hour flight quite so warmly.

The January blahs are unique to western culture because in China there is still the excitement and family and friends for Chinese New Year to look forward to.  It is quite odd to have the January blahs by yourself, but I’m hoping that will make me overcome them more quickly.  I also don’t remember being hit by them quite this hard last year or the year before, but that may be a selective memory.

So I ask, what do you do to fight the blahs?  I am continuing to do my yoga on a very regular basis, I am staying connected with friends, I am crossing things off my to do list (new pillows from IKEA), cooking some more at home and doing all the “right” things.  Any additional tips?

Please share (and if I’m late in posting the next few days, it’s not me – it’s the firewall).

Charitable giving in China

25 Oct

Showing some of our clothes prior to donation

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am involved with my University alumni group here in Shanghai.  We have different events – some connected to recruiting, some with welcoming visitors from the University, different networking events, we have the game watches (of course!) and for the first time we had a barbeque/charity event.

The University of Notre Dame puts a big emphasis on charitable giving – whether you are giving your time, resources or money and we wanted to try to connect that into China as well.  It wasn’t quite as straightforward as we expected.  There is no official designation of a charity or an organization that tracks and monitors charities so we had to do all of our own due diligence.

Last year there was a huge scandal with the Chinese arm of the Red Cross where a wealthy young lady who claimed to work for them posted photos of herself in very expensive cars and with famous brand bags and clothes.  The credibility of the Red Cross took a nose dive and it made us all the more skeptical about published claims.

Our initial thought was to do something connected with education which fits the mission of the university, but as we looked for groups it was pretty difficult.  We found some that would allow us to purchase books, but there was no guarantee where they would go.  There was another group that said we could teach English to migrant children, but we had to commit so much time and we had to pay a “training fee” that was pretty expensive before we could go to the school.

Eventually we settled on another type of charity called Buy42(善尚网) – a website that resells almost new and gently used clothes and uses disabled individuals as volunteers.  We had the barbeque as well to incent folks to come and collected two big boxes of clothing.   We feasted on sausages, chicken wings and kabobs and watched a replay of the Notre Dame vs. Michigan State game and also made our contributions.

The charity sent two volunteers to give us an introduction which is a new concept in China.  There is no Goodwill or Saint Vincent DePaul in China – which if you think about it makes sense, so they are trying to start something new here.  I wish them luck and hope that our donations make a difference.

Do you have any impressions about charities in China?  What type of donations do you like to make – time, money or resources?  Any other charity ideas for our group in the future?

Two different worlds

13 Sep

My August and September are shaping up to be two of the busiest periods I have lived through in a while.  An office move, a personal move, several high profile people visiting at work from overseas, a trip to Korea (more to come on that) and trying to plan for October holidays have put me behind the eight ball.  Sleep has definitely been a luxury and I anticipate the next couple of weeks to continue in the same mold.

As I am trying to fit everything in I am getting to the office earlier than I have for a while – arriving between 8 and 8:30 which gives me an hour of “peace” before the masses arrive.  The cleaning staff has not yet accustomed themselves to seeing me since the office move and with the move I no longer have an office so I am in the main working area.  It’s that funny awkward feeling – you know that they’re doing their job but I would prefer to move in a bubble – no loud noises – floating through my morning without interruptions.

One day last week I walked into the women’s restroom and found our cleaning lady washing her hair in the sink.  She had carefully tucked paper towels around her collar and was rinsing (I think) when I arrived.

I almost backed right out of the bathroom – it felt as though I was intruding on a very private moment.  Instead, I scurried into a stall and took a little longer than I otherwise would as I listened for signs that she had finished.

I came out and we nodded at each other as I washed my hands.  Nothing was said but my mind had a list of questions that I wanted to ask – the first being “Why are you washing your hair in the sink?”

Can you think of a world where you would do that?  I’m having a pretty tough time.  I wrote about Urban Shanghai last week and the contrast between old and new and this struck me in the same way – but at a much more personal level.  I felt uncomfortable – partially because of my position of privilege in this culture and partially because I believe that there are certain parts of my life that I don’t want to share with others (washing my hair being one of them).

Any stories where you have seen two different worlds come together?

Church in China

9 Sep

Stained glass window at the church in my hometown

When I’m in Shanghai, I am a regular visitor at the international Catholic parish that is close by my apartment.  Close may be a relative word – it’s a very fast 15 minute walk or a more leisurely 25 minute walk.  Given the heat that we’ve had lately it certainly seems longer.  When I first came to China I wasn’t sure about going to church.  As a Catholic I had heard stories about the Chinese government taking a cut of the donations, about them not accepting that the Pope has ultimate authority in the church, about priests being appointed by the government instead.

When I finally got up the nerve to go though, it’s a pretty normal catholic church experience – I go to mass in English and the majority of the congregation (I’d say at least 50%) is Filipino.  Like going to any new parish, I don’t recognize all the songs and at the beginning there were certain local customs that took a while to get used to, but perhaps the universality of the church does conquer everything.  There is one thing that is different than most mass experiences in the US or Europe in that the average age tends to skew much lower because people over 65 can’t get work permits to live in China.  Senior citizens tend to be the largest group back in more developed countries, but here it’s only if they are visiting someone who already knows where the church is.

There have been times when I have felt a little uncomfortable.  Every once in a while the priest will start complaining about Chinese government intervention and I always feel like looking over my shoulder to see if we’re being observed.  Even though I’ve now attended for a couple of years, it just seems that any one of the chinese faces  (and they are not many) could be a spy.  I am likely just paranoid as the Chinese government has far larger issues, but who knows?

In general though, church focuses me, allows me to put faith in something larger than myself and allows me to continually straddle the western/eastern world that exists in Shanghai.  I feel lucky to have my faith – especially because so few people born here are provided that luxury.

Have you ever gone to church in a foreign country?

Travel theme – curves

6 Sep

This week’s theme at Where’s My Backpack is curves.

Bridge in water town outside of Shanghai, China around new year’s 2009

As I looked through my photos I started looking at bridges and doors.  In China classic bridges tend to have a high arch in case of potential flooding and in traditional gardens, there are lots of curved and round doors that can be used to frame a subject.  They are man-made curves with a focus on proportion and line.

Doing a curvy yoga pose, in front of an arched door in Wuxi, China, summer of 2010

Then I started thinking about more natural curves and remembering the trip I took with my good friend Valerie in the spring of 2010. We went to Guilin and Yangshuo in the south of China to see the rolling hills. From that trip I captured curves that predate humans and remind us that they will continue while we are gone.

A natural half moon arch in the foothills of Yangshuo, China

Lovely curves as we bicycled through the hills of Yangshuo in May of 2010

Finally when looking through photos from my family’s trip to China in 2008 I found this photo from the Chongqing zoo. We had gone to see the pandas (and did see many of them), but this elephant’s trunk seems to be the perfect curve to end the post.

A final natural curve, photo taken in the Chongqing zoo in June of 2008

Which curve is your favorite and where do you see your favorite curves?

If you would like to see other people’s photos defining curves, please go to the link above.

You know you’ve gone local when…

31 Jul

Over the last month or so as I’ve re-acclimated to China after a lot of traveling the months prior, I’ve started thinking about how much I have changed since I came here nearly five years ago.  It’s getting harder to remember my five years ago self but every once in a while I do something and I think – “Wow, that is a change in my behavior.”

I started jotting down thoughts in random places and slowly realized that I have enough for a list.  If there are any other China expats who can chime in, I’d love to hear when you realized that you’ve “gone local.”

So, I knew that I’d gone local when…

1) I could use a squat toilet in heels

2) I asked for warm water to drink at a restaurant

3) After a long day traveling when I looked at the room service menu I ordered a bowl of beef noodles

4) I told someone off in the grocery store (See this story for details)

5) I checked “going home” on my entry paperwork at the airport instead of “employment” for the reason I was entering the country – this actually caused some confusion with the customs officer who looked at me and asked, “Are you really going home?”

6) I stopped expecting any restaurants to have napkins or bathrooms to have toilet paper

7) I can give my Chinese friends directions to my favorite restaurants

8) My Notre Dame friends invited me to the Chinese (Mandarin speaking) alumni meeting

Eight is a good (lucky) number in Chinese, so I’ll stop my list there which may be another signal that I’ve gone local.

Any more that you can think of?


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