Tag Archives: holidays

Happy Halloween!

5 Nov
Ready for Halloween?

Ready for Halloween?

Halloween is an American holiday.  When I first came to China it was hardly celebrated at all – in fact, the term in Chinese was still even fairly new (万圣节).  Over the last seven years, it has slowly gained in popularity from just an additional night with some special drinks at bars, to being more entwined in the culture.

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Now there are Halloween parties at schools, costumes available online and in some of the stores and even an office party.  I did have a discussion with a colleague this year as to how it all began, why it was important – and he admitted he still doesn’t see why it is getting popular, but others have embraced it.  The idea of being able to be someone else – whether an ancient Chinese poet, a zombie or a vampire has an attraction that transcends cultures.

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As I mentioned, this year my company went all out and had a party on Halloween evening with different departments acting as teams and competing for the best skit.  I was assigned to the rag tag team of departments that were too small for their own group – and we really went all out.  I was the pumpkin queen for Super Mario who was spirited away by an evil thief and then had to be rescued from a series of monsters including a masked belly dancer, a tree, a flute playing assassin and an Egyptian pharaoh.  Our chief legal counsel was Mario – and he impressed everyone with his jumps and acting so much that our team wound up in second place!  It was a blast.

Mario rescued his queen!

Mario rescued his queen!

I find it ironic that after making Halloween merchandise for so many years for the rest of the world, the treats and favors are now being used by Chinese people themselves.

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What was your favorite costume of all time?  I still remember a Care Bear costume that I wore in first or second grade.  That was definitely up there – though this year’s pumpkin was pretty good too.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Mid Autumn Festival!

13 Sep

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What a difference a year makes!  Last year at this time I was finishing up at my previous employer, looking forward to our upcoming delayed honeymoon to Greece and going to visit my sister-in-law who had just had a new baby.  In the spirit of full disclosure, the holiday was actually at the beginning of the week, but I figured after not posting for four months I should just take the plunge again and not worry about being a few days late.

This year I am almost a year into a great new job and waiting for more big changes of our own before the end of the year.  We celebrated in Shanghai in a very muted fashion as I had a terrible cold, but had to have some moon cakes and of course take a walk to look at the full moon.

The moon cakes this time were the traditional Hong Kong style with the egg yolk in the center – we tried two variations, one the classic and the other with bean paste and egg yolk.  I still prefer the classic one – though the ice cream moon cakes that some companies provide are also pretty yummy.

After an absolutely crazy travel schedule through the end of August, I should be in one place for a while now and will try once again to share my findings and stories of the jumbled life that I live here in Shanghai.  Over the last couple of weeks as I have been walking through the city I’ve noticed things that automatically I’ve thought – that would be a great post!

Now, I’ve taken the time to reactive my account, start transferring some photos and getting myself into that blog mindset.

I hope that once again you will agree and follow me on my journey.

Cheers!

Christmas in New York

22 Dec

Right after Thanksgiving I was in New York for a couple of days of meetings.  With my flight schedule I was lucky enough to have half a day free to wander the city before my meetings started in earnest.  I haven’t been in the US this time of year for seven years and was soaking up everything.

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The hotel was downtown – not far away from Grand Central Station so I started a mosey which led me from there to Bryant Park (made famous to me from Project Runway) and then to view the windows in Macy’s on 34th Street.  The weather was perfect – not too cold, with blue sky peeping out from behind the skyscrapers.

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The decorations, music, free ice skating and blue skies set me humming Christmas tunes the rest of the day.

Later that evening I met a friend for dinner up by Lincoln Center.  Coming up from the subway there was a group on the corner singing Hannukah carols in the twilight.  I gawked for a while and then hurried to the restaurant.

Only in New York.

I will be heading back Stateside to celebrate with family and friends during this happy time of year.  May you find peace and joy in the holiday season.

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New York is one place that is unique – a complete cultural mix and represents the US to so many people outside of it.  It is one place that is very special.  This post is my response to the Weekly Photo Challenge – One.  To see how others illustrate it, please click the link.

Thank you for your support and comments over the year.  Merry Christmas!

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?

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!

Christmas at home

8 Jan

Christmas is a state of mind instead of a date and I’d like to extend that as long as possible.  Now that I’m back in China I’ve had a chance to pull together some photos that represent Christmas to me from our trip.

If you’d like to see any of the photos larger you can click on the images.

Ironically, in coming back to China the weather is helping keep me in that mood.  It actually snowed in Shanghai (albeit didn’t actually stick) and the weather has been practically frigid.  The snow which looked so beautiful in Michigan is not so fun during a walk home from work.

Stay warm wherever you are.

Enjoy the shots!

Traveling during the holiday season

6 Jan

Li and I recently returned from a Christmas trip to the US.  It was the first Christmas that we have spent together because normally I’m with my family and he is working in China, so it was a special trip.  We had a wonderful time and were blessed with a white Christmas – about 4 inches of puffy white snow to make it really seem like the holidays.  Our days were filled with special meals, presents, family and overall relaxation.

But we had to get there first.

Traveling during the holidays is always a challenge, too many people trying to get home, too much luggage in the overhead bins, too many school age kids in seats that I’m used to having business travelers.  Normally people are in a pretty good mood because they are going home and I try to keep that same spirit during the trip.

One year I had torn the ligaments in my knee and had requested a wheel chair escort for the trip.  I neglected to understand though, that once they drop you off at your initial gate they leave.  That year when I had to change planes in Chicago my flights were delayed and I had to hobble through the airport to get to each gate as they changed.

Another year when I was trying to get back to China my flight was canceled at 3:30am the morning of and pushed back to the next day due to heavy fog – but at least I was upgraded to business class!

There was also one Christmas where I surprised my family and planned a secret trip home for Christmas.  Ironically on the last leg of my flight I was seated next to someone else who had done the exact same thing.

This year after we boarded the plane the captain informed us that there was a discrepancy between the stated amount of fuel in the tank and what his gauges read.  We couldn’t leave until it was cleared up which they had to do manually with a cherry picker.  Several hours later (note that we were sitting on the plane already), we finally left.

We made friends with the people behind us who were going with their young son to Disney World for Christmas and discovered that we would be traveling back on the same date two weeks later.  I did see them again on the flight home, so they made it, but seeing them was the high point of the flight back.  I was unable to sleep, a rare occurrence for me, and the woman next to me had a killer cold and coughed and hacked the entire flight.  It was not pleasant.  I haven’t come down with a cold yet, but am still a bit nervous that the germs will get me at some point.

The holiday season will actually continue through the middle of February here in China until after Chinese New Year, so I’m not done with holiday travel yet.  Let’s see if I encounter anything else.

Do you have a favorite holiday travel story?

Mooncakes and Autumn Holidays

2 Oct

Sunday evening was the celebration of Mid-Autumn Festival – 中秋节 which this year backs up against the Chinese National Day holidays.  This means that I have eight days off – Sunday through Sunday to do what I will.

The moon has been visible each night last week as I walked home from work – waxing to its zenith on Sunday.  If I were a professional photographer I would take a photo, but I’m not so I try to mentally remember the full moon rising over the new/old mixture that is Shanghai.  There is one place on my walk home where on a clear evening I can see the lights of the skyscrapers of Pudong along with the moon beams.  What the moon has seen over the last forty years…

The “golden weeks” are a lovely gift – a part of the Chinese culture that I very much appreciate because during those holidays people really stop working.  Offices are closed, out of office responses are common and most of the world goes traveling, enjoying the lovely fall weather that seems to coat the country.

That is, most people except me are going traveling.

With the move a couple of week ago and the apartment search before that I never got around to booking tickets and by the time I started researching everything was very, very expensive.  No matter – a week off is a week off and we’ll see how I spend this luxurious week in such an intriguing city.

Prior to the holidays though there is a wonderful time with lots of gifts and good cheer and mooncakes!  I wrote about mooncakes last year as I was just starting my blog.  This year the vendor community has been even more innovative in their gifts.  In the last two weeks I’ve had gifts of cheese cakes, fruit, ice cream, small tarts and of course the traditional mooncakes.  There were so many sweets in the office that people started turning them down and we shared our bounty with other departments who were not so happily situated.

Chinese/French/Japanese tarts – yum!

I didn’t take a photo of the traditional cakes this year, but this lovely assortment of small tarts brightened my day.  The giver in this case was an insurance company – the bakery was Japanese and the technique appears to me to be French.  Globalization at its best.

My second favorite Mid-Autumn Festival tradition is truly an employee benefit (included in our company policy).  HR provides each employee with a Haagen Daz gift voucher which includes a chocolate ice cream mooncake and several other ice cream goods.  Localization of an international product – and truly a yummy gift!

If you had a week off when work would not call on you – where would you go?  If you had to give a gift to celebrate Moon Festival – what would you give?

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day!

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