A Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快乐! 恭喜发财! 万事如意! 狗年吉祥! I hope the Year of the Dog brings you happiness and prosperity.

I have been very off my resolutions as a result of those health issues I had been dealing with earlier this month, so the Lunar New Year is another shot at a fresh slate to get my life back on track. Valentine’s Day was also Lent, but I don’t know what bad habit I really need to completely abstain from this year. I may try to add something instead of eliminating something, maybe meditation, but we shall see! I’ll be mostly focusing on my resolutions from earlier in the year. For example, I still haven’t purchased stamps for all that snail mail I said I would start sending. BUT I have started collecting mailing addresses and sending eCards in the meantime?

Anyhow, this is very delayed but here’s a 1SecondEveryday compilation from when I celebrated the new year most recently in Hong Kong 🇭🇰

I had so much fun in Hong Kong and it feels so familiar even though I only visited once before, 15 years ago. It’s a city like no other and one of my favorites, despite the frustrations of seeing Chinese and English everywhere but being unable to communicate with Cantonese-speaking-only folks. The city is super vibrant and has an incredible energy that I absolutely love. The food scene is so good that I only remembered to get an eating video right before we left, as the rest of the time I was too busy cramming the food in my mouth.

I hope you are having a great 2018 so far, for those observing, I hope Lent is going well, and I hope the Year of the Dog brings nothing but good things to you!

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Ready for the Year of the Rooster?

Depending on where you are, tomorrow, January 28, marks the first day of the Lunar New Year! And according to the Chinese zodiac, this will be the year of the Rooster.

Image result for lunar new year 2017

I’m going home to my parents’ tonight for 年夜饭 nianyefan, New Year’s Eve dinner, sometimes known as the Reunion dinner. It’s one of the biggest parts of every Chinese New Year celebration, as it is when the whole family gathers and eats a lot of delicious foods. While talking with my boyfriend about how our families celebrate Chinese New Year, I thought about all the little traditions that make this time of year special. Sometimes, I feel very at odds with my cultural traditions if only because I am unfamiliar with them. When I go back to China, everyone grows up doing these things year after year to the point where it is no longer something that has to be explained. Things are just known among Chinese people. (Thanks in small part to how viral articles can get on WeChat!)

My family isn’t actually very traditional, as far as Chinese families go, so many traditions I have picked up along the way outside of my own home, whether from other people’s families or through reading about celebrations in other homes. So to brief you (and myself!) for the upcoming new year and the year of the rooster, here are just a few ways I am prepping for Chinese New Year:

  • 腊八 – While I was in China, we were able to celebrate Laba, which is the 8th day of the last month of the lunar year. You eat laba congee, which is full of lots of goodies, notably cured meats or larou, in Chinese. I believe it has something to do with saving fresh meat for the new year and using up any cured meats before the start of the year? But I actually have no idea.
  • Family time – My mom works full time in China and is guaranteed 2 holidays every year to take a week off to come home: National Day (the anniversary of the first day of the People’s Republic of China) and Chinese New Year. I make sure that I am home during this time and have extra hours put in at work so that I can spend more time at home with her, my dad, and my brother, as well as any extended family we may be able to see.
  • Cleaning – I first learned this on Mister Rogers, funnily enough, but while you are supposed to do a big clean-up before the new year to cleanse the home of last year’s bad luck and make room for new, good luck, you are not supposed to clean on the day of the new year. If you do, you risk cleaning out all the fresh good luck that just arrived! For this reason, you also can’t sweep outwards or throw anything away.
  • Haircuts – My dad clearly didn’t know this when he searched for an open salon in China 2 years ago for me to get a haircut, but you are not supposed to cut your hair on the new year. Many Chinese traditions (and jokes) revolve around wordplay, and the Chinese word for hair sounds like the word for prosperity. Therefore, you don’t want to cut off any of the fresh new year prosperity!
  • Red, red, everywhere – If you are unsure what to wear on Chinese New Year, wear red. A lot of it. Fresh duds are a good idea, too, so if you have a new red sweater, there is no better time to bust it out than on the Lunar New Year. Red is a lucky color and you’ll be seeing it everywhere, from the lanterns to the papercut patterns to the red envelopes. Speaking of which…
  • Red envelopes! – 红包 hongbao are one of the hallmarks of Chinese New Year for children because they get to collect money from their elders! As an adult with a job, I no longer expect to receive little red envelopes with super crisp $20 bills in them anymore. (The bills are always crisp because people get fresh bills from the bank for this purpose. You’ll see that this freshness is one of the themes of Chinese New Year traditions.) Although people will still give me 红包 despite my age and employment status, I think I may actually be responsible for giving out red envelopes now? Last year, we purchased a pack of envelopes to prepare for stuffing, so if you will be attending festivities with children, I’d prepare by picking up some red envelopes and popping over to the bank to get some crisp bills.
  • Foods to include – As with any holiday anywhere, there are a lot of traditional foods that go with Chinese New Year, including:
    • Dumplings: Popular in northern China because their shape resembles old Chinese money
    • 年糕 Rice cakes: Literally niangao is year cakes, but I like to think it’s another play on words because they are very sticky and the word for sticky in Chinese sounds like the word for year. These are almost always prepared in a savory dish. It has a second wordplay meaning in that the word for cake sounds like the word for increasing, so the phrase sounds like increasing [prosperity] by the year.
    • Fish: Another play on words, the Chinese adage 年年有余 means “may there be a surplus every year” and sounds like “may there be fish every year”. I learned last year that my boyfriend’s family will prepare fish but they tend to leave it so as to have as much of a surplus of the fish (surplus) as possible. (Oops sorry for eating it, it looked so yummy!) Fish is, to me, a mandatory Chinese New Year food. All other things you can have one or the other, but this one you gotta have.
  • Firecrackers + fireworks – Depending on where you are, these may not factor into your celebration, but a large Chinese community (think Chinatowns) will definitely see some firecrackers and there’s a good chance you’ll see fireworks somewhere, regardless of how legal they are where you live. These are super dangerous and have caused an incredible amount of damage in China, but you know, they scare off demons trying to sneak in with all the fresh good luck while you sealeup your house to keep them the heck outta there. Bring ear plugs if you suspect explosions to occur; tinnitus does not bring good luck with it.
  • Lantern festival – Very traditionally, in some places, you celebrate the Lunar New Year, aka the Spring Festival, over 15 days. FIFTEEN. Each day, with it’s own traditions! The 15th day of the new year is the Lantern Festival, 元宵节 yuanxiaojie. On this day, you eat little glutinous rice balls called 汤圆 tangyuan or 元宵 yuanxiao, named for the 15th day holiday that you eat them on! And yes, there be lanterns.

Also, the year of the Rooster is the 本命年 benmingnian for people born in other years of the Rooster. It is actually a tricky time if it’s your 本命年, which I learned during my own 本命年 2 years ago, because essentially a lot of luck becomes focused on you – good and bad. This is the reason why my mother became very obsessed with buying me a red belt, and I heard a lot of talk about red belts for our family Roosters when I went back home to China as well. HOWEVER you can’t buy it for yourself? My mom was very firm about this, she wouldn’t leave without getting me something red and wouldn’t let me find something later on. So if you are turning a multiple of 12 (12, 24, 36, 48 60, etc.) this year, be mindful! You may find a lot of luck coming your way, so try to make sure it’s all good luck by wearing a lot of red and maybe some jade jewelry.

Overwhelmed? Don’t be! There are a lot of traditions but the most important thing is family and friends. You are trying to start the year off on the right foot by welcoming prosperity and fortune into your life with open arms.

And we do this by eating a lot of delicious food!

新年快乐!恭喜发财!Happy New Year, everyone!

Do you celebrate the Lunar New Year?
What are your favorite New Year foods/traditions?

Look Back/Look Forward (February 2016)

Hello folks! Trying very hard to get back on schedule with blogging so here’s a quick little recap of February as far as what I’ve been up to and what I’m looking forward to doing over this last week!

Feruary 2016

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Quick China Highlights

My trip to China for the new year was pretty relaxed. It wasn’t like my Europe trip, where we were in a different city each day and were sightseeing constantly.

So, I’ll just give you all a bulleted list of some of the highlights of my trip for now rather than an in-depth recap. I’ll also be posting up some other thoughts I had while I was in China before going on to put up the rest of my Europe posts (sigh…) and a couple of travel tips that I’ve picked up along the way (do as I say and not as I do, for those!).

This is going to be kind of… stream of consciousness. Sorry in advance 😛

  • I saw a North Korean on-ice acrobatics troupe and it was amazing. It was also a very unique experience, since you can’t see North Korean performers anywhere else in the world except maybe North Korea. But you likely will never be able to go to North Korea, so China is your best bet.
  • I set off big a** fireworks!! Fireworks are illegal in Maryland, so it was extra exciting for me. Plus, while I did set off firecrackers, these were giant, blooms of green and red fireworks.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y60k_H3A6Sk
  • Chinese New Year in China is a big deal and I got to celebrate accordingly.

    Lunch at 姥姥’s, Chinese New Year Eve’s dinner at 姑姑’s, new year wishes
  • I spent time with my family, who I haven’t seen in 4 years

    My cousins and aunts (on my mom’s side) and I being cheeseballs (we’re matched up with our respective mommies)
  • I watched the 春节晚会 (annual televised New Year variety show) all the way through and then some, due to the multiple multiple multiple re-broadcasts
  • I was able to visit my grandmother’s grave.
  • I set a new record of 5 nosebleeds in 2 days while in Harbin, due to the extremely dry and polluted air.
    (I only had about 3 nosebleeds during the several days that I was in Beijing. “Only”.)
  • Reading Dan Brown’s Inferno before going to the most populous country in the world is not a great idea. (Premise of Inferno: The antagonist decides he will personally address the overpopulation problem.)
  • I went to the cinema and watched 2 Chinese movies: The Man from Macau (澳门风云) starring Chow Yun-Fat and The Ex-Files (前任攻略) starring Han Geng (formerly of Super Junior).

    I didn’t watch the movie on the left, but it’s a spin-off of a popular TV show about celebrity dads and their adorable kids!
  • I kind of got into a show called Sing My Song (中国好歌曲) which is a The Voice-esque kind of show that features original songwriters.
  • It was really warm in Changde, Hunan, which is my dad’s hometown. 26°C, and I was bundled up because everyone in Beijing told me that it feels extra cold in the south because they don’t usually turn on the heat. Heaters were completely unnecessary, as was my puffy coat.
  • It was balls-to-walls cold in Harbin, of course, where the warmest days were about -10°C.
  • The Ice & Snow Festival was pretty impressive (although it didn’t distract me from how cold it was)

    Their dedication to ice and snow sculptures is really impressive.
  • However, it was comforting that I never once saw a single white dude wearing shorts and flip flops. Chinese people believe in bundling up very well when it’s cold, as is the sensible thing to do!

    You can't see in this photo, but I was wearing 5 layers on my legs and 6 layers on my torso.
    You can’t see in this photo, but I was wearing 5 layers on my legs and 6 layers on my torso.
  • I’m not sure why, but I heard Psy’s song “Gentleman” more while I was in China than I think I had ever heard it before my trip.
  • I slid down an ice slide or 3

    Video coming soon! (“Soon”)
  • I seem to be on a mission to see aquariums and TV towers everywhere I go

    Harbin’s Dragon Tower and Polar Land
  • I paid my respects for the new year at a temple, where I totally hit a bell that was hanging in the middle of a giant coin by throwing a regular-sized coin at it and, yes, I felt like I had hand-eye coordination for just a moment!

    I was too busy throwing coins to get a photo, so this photo comes courtesy of the Beijinger
  • I got highlights in my hair again! The last time I dyed my hair permanently was almost 10 years ago, and it left my hair so dry that I was terrified of chemically treating it again.
  • I saw a play in the gorgeous Chinese National Centre for the Performing Arts

    The theater runs underneath this pool, so you can look up and see water and sky above you.

     

  • I was harassed by a shop owner in 秀水街 (Silk Street Market) who insisted I buy a polka dot top that I didn’t want when I wanted to buy some of his OTHER merchandise. I left with my mom buying the top and generally unhappy with the shopowner. XD

Things that did NOT happen during my China trip, much to my disappointment:

  • Completely avoiding squat toilets (ughhhhhhhh)
  • Eating my favorite items from American fast food chains in China
  • Meeting my cousin’s husband
  • Seeing one of my uncles
  • Eating hotpot at a hotpot restaurant
  • Karaoke T^T
  • Have a nice foot soak (but it is winter, so)
  • Get my head massaged while getting a haircut
  • Sleeping through the entire evening when I shared rooms
  • Breathing easily

It was an interesting trip, for sure! Full of ups and downs, my trip proved that I couldn’t live in China as a permanent resident but that it is full of reasons to go back for visits.

Friday Favorites! (Special edition: China)

I was inspired by Julie aka PBFingers, who has her own “Things I’m Loving Friday” series on her blog, to start my own little roundup. (P.S. Julie is one of my favorite bloggers; I highly recommend PBFingers if you are into fitness, food, and fun.) This will just be a roundup of things that I am currently a fan of, or dedications to single things that I like, so much so that I wanted to share them here!

Although I likely won’t have a roundup/dedication available every single Friday, I’ll try to post whenever I have a nice list of things that I really enjoyed recently.

Without further ado, here is today’s roundup, which will be a special edition  that focuses on things I am a fan of from China, to be followed soon by another recap post.

Condiment Caddies

A dumpling shop caddy with soy sauce, black vinegar, minced garlic, brown mustard, and chili sauce

American condiment caddies usually have ketchup and mustard. (Unless you’re at IHOP, in which case, you get lots of syrup.) I’m not knocking ketchup (I love ketchup!) but in China, soy sauce is king. And in lieu of mustard, Chinese chili sauce/oil is super yummy. Also, if you go to a place that specializes in dumplings or noodles, they will have vinegar (usually black vinegar for dumpling shops, sometimes red for noodle shops). Other possible things could be things like brown mustard (none of that bright yellow stuff) and minced garlic. Lots of yummies going on, and I don’t know why exactly but I was such a sucker for it!

FOOD

Say it with me: omnomnomnomnommmmm

Okay, let’s be real here, you guys. Chinese food (which is just regular food in China, yes) is SO good. Here are a few of my favorite things that I eat when I go back:

  • Peking duck, which tastes even better with an accompanying duck soup and is a delicious nice meal to have. Someone served it to me with pop rocks, and it was weird. Peking duck is a treat and I enjoy it loads. You can have too much, though, so be careful!
  • Hot pot is something that I eat here really often, but it’s extra special over there. They do it up proper, yo. There aren’t enough hot pot restaurants in this country. (Yet?)
  • 拔丝地瓜 (basidigua) which is a kind of sweet potato/yam that is cooked with sugar and when you pull a piece off, the sugar is still sticking to it so you have to dip it into cold water to harden it and eat it. There is no way to not be messy while you eat this, but it’s pretty fun. I also have not had this in America before.

Fireworks

As the country that invented fireworks, China does not disappoint here. Where I live, setting off fireworks is illegal, so when I see them outside of big shows, they’re little dinky firecrackers. But I set off some big deal big kid fireworks in China and it was SPECTACULAR although it was way loud.

Unabashed Bundling Up

Not a single pair of shorts or flip-flops in sight!

I don’t know why, but I feel like in America, fashion trumps warmth in the winter. And sometimes, I see boys walking around in gym shorts and flip flops when it’s snowing outside, making me wonder what is going on because gym shorts are no more fashionable to sweatpants. Personally, I always wear at least one pair of leggings/thermals in the winter under my pants because I just cannot stand being really cold. In China, I will never see someone in shorts in the winter, and I’m glad. In fact, when I decided I was going to wear 6 layers to Harbin (and 5 layers of pants), I was encouraged and given down-lined coat to boot. Walking around the streets were guys AND girls with maybe-too-cute mouth covers to keep their faces warm. These are my kind of people.

Unabashed Love for SPF

Again, I get ridiculed quite a bit here for being so very into sun protection, but China is the nation where I can always count on getting a sunbrella in the summer and where all the daytime skincare products have SPF in them. When I cover up any and all exposed skin, I only had one person ask me “Are you trying to avoid getting too much sun exposure?” and when I said yes, that was that. Accepted. No ridicule. Yes thank you very much.

Asian Street Style

You know, even though it’s sometimes way over-the-top or way cutesy for my tastes, I appreciate that I could wear my panda hat around without anyone looking twice, mostly because they had little foxes on their mary janes, or giant lips on their mouth covers, or a badger hoodie, or their own panda hat. So that was kind of nice, despite how overbearing it seemed on particularly cranky days. Also, Asian girls seem to be very into the skater skirt/dress & tights combo, and I dig it. (I don’t like baring my legs, personally, so I’m always down for tights.)

WeChat

This app is available to everyone in the App Store and the Google Play Store, and I like it a lot. My favorite feature is the small voice messages that you can leave in your chats. I like this feature because a) I can hear someone’s voice and b) I really hate typing on my phone. Really really. Talking comes so much more easily to me, you don’t even have to look at the screen to do it. WeChat is HUGE in China. Most companies and TV shows have their own WeChat IDs that you can interact with and it’s one of the online media giants in China along with Weibo and Baidu. (So instead of companies having Facebooks and Twitters and Instagrams and etc. etc., they all have a Weibo and a WeChat.) I wish more people here would use it so that I could type less on my phone and have more friends to talk to with it!

What have you been a fan of lately?
Do you bundle up a LOT in the winter or bundle the bare minimum?
Are there any apps that you wish more people used with you?