Xin Nian Kuai Le! It’s the Year of the Sheep/Goat

Last night, our family got together with another family we knew from Shanghai, to celebrate the New Year with a fabulous Chinese meal. They moved back to Michigan around the same time that we did, and have children of similar age. In another one of those small world incidents, when we moved into our first house in China, the kids and I met the neighbor’s wife and children almost right away, as they were pulling in with their car when we got there. They were very friendly, and we discovered we were there with the same company. I knew we would get along wonderfully. The husband came over to meet us and my husband later in the evening. When Billy came down the stairs, both men started laughing and smiling. They had worked together in Michigan years earlier and neither had any idea that they were in China, nor that of the thousands of houses available to expats, we would choose one right next to them! Needless to say, we have remained friends, and although we don’t get together as often as we’d like, we love seeing them when we do!

Xin Nian Kuai Le…….Happy Chinese New Year!

A blog entry from January 26, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year, or as the Chinese call it, Spring Festival! This year, 2009, is The Year of the Ox. The Chinese spent their New Year’s Eve “scaring away evil spirits” with fireworks (“Nian” is a mythical beast who is afraid of the loud noises)), sending Chinese lanterns into the sky in honor of deceased relatives, and “sweeping” away the “old year,” while welcoming the “new.”

We spent the night in downtown Shanghai, on the Pudong side of the river, in the Shangri-La. We were joined by another family from the children’s school, and had a great time enjoying the holiday together. The kids swam in the hotel pool, we enjoyed dinner together, and then settled into one of the rooms with snacks and movies to wait for and watch the fireworks display.

At midnight, much like in the States, the fireworks peaked. However, in Shanghai it sounded like a war had begun in the city. No celebration in the U.S. has ever reached this level. In every direction, we could see fireworks rising above the buildings. Although we had heard fireworks at a decent rate since about 7 PM, at midnight the sound of the explosives could be heard continuously from all directions, for what I’m guessing was about an hour or more. In our awe of the show, we lost track of time.

Before we left the hotel today, we watched a Lion Dance performance in the lobby. Lions are a symbol of protection, and the dance is to summon “luck” and “fortune, ” and scare away evil spirits. The God of Fortune was there as well, giving out “golden nuggets” in the form of foil-wrapped chocolates.

During Chinese New Year, oranges are considered very symbolic. The Chinese word for “orange” is similar to the Chinese word for “luck.” Giving oranges to friends or relatives is sending “good wishes” for the new year. Fish is also a huge part of this holiday. The Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the word for “wealth.” The fish that is served whole, including head and tail, during the new year’s dinner must be tasted, but not finished. If the fish is gone, so is everyone’s “prosperity” for the coming year.

On New Year’s Eve, red is worn, as Nian (which is also the Chinese word for “year” ) is afraid of the color red, and therefore, will not come down to eat the villagers or the children. Everyone sweeps out the house and cleans, to get rid of the “old year” and prepare for the “new year.” At midnight, all the windows and doors are open to let the “old year” out. For the next 15 days houses are not cleaned, as this would be cleaning away the “good luck” for the new year. Finally, one of the well-known parts of the holiday, “Hong Bao” (red envelopes) filled with money, are given out, generally to children and newlyweds, as gifts. This 15 day period, known as Spring Festival, ends with the Lantern Festival, when thousands of Chinese lanterns fill the night sky.

I love the tradition and folklore that the Chinese New Year is filled with. I miss celebrating it in Shanghai. It is such a joyous and beautiful holiday. It will always be close to my heart, and bright in my memories.

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For The Love of Two Worlds

Remembering China fondly today, it will always be close to my heart. This Valentine’s Day, I am posting a blog entry of mine from September, 29, 2008. For love of my second home.

Similaries and Differences

If I am sitting in my room with the windows open on a cool fall day,  I could be in China, or Michigan,  they both feel the same.  If the kids are playing in the park and I am sitting on the bench watching, it is the also the same. Sitting in Starbucks reading a book is no different. There are times in China that feel just like Michigan. When it’s hard to notice the differences,  but here we have luxuries that we would not have at home. Yuan-Yuan comes for the day to clean and cook,  and Mr. Tao pulls up in a silver Buick minivan to cart us all over the city. These things are very different. It  feels strange to have someone else taking care of my home.  I miss driving.  I miss having a car to jump into whenever I want to go somewhere.

There are many wonderful things about this experience,  many adventures to be had, but there are also wonderful things that we have left behind. We are seeing parts of the world which many will never see, we are learning a new language, and culture, but instead of learning it in a class, we are living it. We are strengthening  our minds and our spirits. It is a growing experience which I believe is very important for our children, especially in today’s world. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is a hard,  but rewarding thing to do. I am proud of us for taking such a bold step. I am proud of my children, for  even though they may not have had much of a choice, they have handled it well.

We have left our home, friends, and family to move to the other side of the Earth. That was very hard. As we all know,  our home is a soft place to fall,  and when things get tough that is where you want to be. I look forward to the first time I sleep in my bed at home again, lying my head down on that soft pillow,  and being a car ride away from those I love.  We are doing great here, but we look forward to our upcoming visit.

There are so many differences in our surroundings here compared to home.  When a guest arrives, you bring them a cup of warm water. This is better for the body.  They will take off their shoes at your door even if you tell them they don’t need to. You must offer them a pair of slippers.  If you ask your Ayi or driver if they’re able to do something,  the answer will be “yes.”  They will not tell you that they do not want to do something,  or know where something is. That would be “losing face.”

There is not a fourth floor in most buildings,  as the word for the number “four” sounds too much like the word for “death.”  I’m sure Yuan-Yuan is not happy that Carleigh  has drawn a three foot tall “44” on the wall by the study. She has had to pass that forbidden Chinese number 20 times a day, and I think she’s afraid to touch it to wash it off. You can’t drink out of the tap, and must order water for the water cooler. Most bathrooms  STINK.  Here  you learn the places that have Western-style bathrooms and avoid the ones that do not. Tissue is always carried with you, as bathrooms do not always have toilet paper,  or soap, making  hand sanitizer a must as well. Surprisingly after the last statement,  there are always workers cleaning on the street,  and in the buildings.  You  will not have trouble finding someone to clean something up. Service in  restaurants is better than in the US, and no tip is required.  You must ask for your bill or it will never come.

You’ll never see more bikes than you see in Shanghai.  You will probably never see as many cars either. You would  be amazed at what can be fit on a bicycle. Don’t ever think you can’t move a refrigerator just because you don’t have a car. Nothing is too dressy to wear while riding a bike.  Heels are almost a must,  good for any occasion. Ankle-length nylons are fine with capris, or anything else for that matter.  Getting  there first does not mean it’s your turn,  getting noticed first does. If this means pushing to the front of the line,  so be it. Sleeping can be done anywhere, and is.

We enjoyed living in China. Its differences are intriguing and its similarities, when found, are little gifts.