Tag Archives: year of the dragon

Year of the dragon – in Michigan

26 Jun

I was lucky enough to spend some time traveling around my home state during my recent travels and went to the place where I have spent almost every summer since I was born.  I got a big smile when I entered the cabin because there was a dragon to welcome me.

My friendly dragon

My parents had hung it from the fireplace both because this year is my mom’s year – she is a dragon – and because it reminded them of me in China.

The world keeps getting smaller.  I see it as akin to the small stuffed turkey and pumpkin I bring out in October/November, the peanut butter eggs that I sourced for Easter or the Christmas stockings I hang in December in Shanghai.  So – in honor of dragon boat festival which was last weekend, I’ve posted this dragon.

Any cross culture references that seem out of place in your travels – or while not your first thought, seem wonderfully in the right place?


Smoke flowers and poppers

2 Feb

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Fireworks are an intrinsic part of Chinese culture.  With the invention of gunpowder, “smoke flowers – fireworks” and “poppers – fire crackers” (烟花 & 鞭炮) have illuminated the night skies for battles, parades, weddings and births.  The red packets are ubiquitous this time of year – hawked on street corners and in supermarkets, all with the promise of beautiful and loud results.

Starting in 2011 the Shanghai government proclaimed that certain districts would be firework free for Chinese new year.  I cannot comment on last year as I spent my lunar new year in Thailand, but this year it certainly seemed that the ban was not being enforced.  Judging by the amount of debris all over our complex and the streets surrounding it, the firework lovers were in full force to wish in the year of the dragon.

In full disclosure, I didn’t make it to midnight for Chinese New Year.  A very bad cold and some heavy duty cough syrup caused me to full asleep just short of the goal.  Li did stay up though and took some photos within the apartment complex.  There are two things to consider as you look at these photos.

1) The distance between the apartment and the fireworks themselves.

2) The fact that he took these off of the balcony – that they were this close.

I am surprised that each year we don’t hear of many individuals who were maimed or injured by the powerful fireworks, but perhaps the history and sense of respect is on China’s side.  That said, my windows were firmly closed on New Year’s Eve.

What do fireworks mean to you?

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?

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.
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