Category Archives: Chinese Culture

Blog posts about the wonderful Chinese culture

天灯

This last week was a national holiday in China celebrating the national day (October 1st). So I’ve had a week off school (and to make up for that week I had school today – Saturday..) and Isaac came to visit me. We went to Hangzhou together, which I’ll tell you about later. But before that we had a few days in Nanjing. One evening we went to Xuanwu Lake and we saw this guy sending up a sky lantern:

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About the Sky Lanterns, from this page:

Hundreds of years ago, Flying Lanterns, traditionally called Khoom Fay, were launched alongside fireworks during festivals to offer the people a feeling of tranquility and to appease their worries. It was a way for them to send their dreams to the heavens. Armies would take advantage of their high altitude and long burning period as a signaling method.

Traditionally, Khoom Fay or Sky Lanterns were made of oiled rice paper with a bamboo frame carrying a small candle in order to provide the heat to warm up the air. Their invention is credited to Zhuge Liang, a brilliant strategist from the Three Kingdoms era in China. It was one of his most useful and innovative inventions, using the concept of hot air rising over cooler air, which was a novel idea at the time. This concept was not reproduced in Western countries until the 17th century.

If you want to know more, .

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Spring Festival

新年快樂! (Happy New Year)

February 14th this year was the Chinese New Year‘s Day, the peak of the Spring Festival which is the most important Chinese holiday. As all traditional Chinese festivals, it is based on the Lunar Calendar and we’re now at the start of the year of the Tiger. It is practically impossible to travel inside China right before the festival as it is usually spent with the family and this means that people travel to their hometowns from the place they study or work.

In many ways, Spring Festival is to the Chinese what Christmas is to many Norwegians; a time for family, good food and traditions. These traditions differ depending on where in China you are. Most of the traditions are based on Chinese folk religion and include elements of ancestor worship, symbols that bring luck and prosperity and rituals to scare evil spirits from following them into the new year.

One tradition I’ve seen a lot of is fireworks. These days there are fireworks everywhere, all the time. It started Saturday at about 11 a.m. and I’ve been more or less able to hear it every hour after that, either distant or close by. Traditionally, the fireworks were to scare away evil spirits. I don’t know whether this is still in people’s minds when they use them, but it sure is the most visible (and audible) sign that celebrations are taking place.

Tasha and I got to see some of the preparations for Spring Festival up close last week when we visited Cuty, one of our Chinese friends. We made dumplings! This is the traditional “Spring Festival-food” in Northern China; so many families make them before the celebrations start. Dumplings are basically meat and vegetables wrapped in dough and then either boiled, steamed or fried. It’s easy to get hold of dumplings in Nanjing any time of the year, but they are mostly mentioned in connection with Spring Festival.

According to tradition, we put a coin in one of the dumplings we made. The one who gets the coin will have a year filled with luck and prosperity. We cheated and put a coin each in the dumplings, so we all ended up with lucky coins ^^,

Another tradition is to put up paper decorations on the door. These usually have characters like “luck” on them and are supposed to protect the home in the year to come. And they are not removed from the doors until next Spring Festival when new ones are put up. So we have seen them on doors from we came to China, but now they are all new and shiny. Tasha and I decided to put two tigers on our door too, for decoration purposes only.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve (13th) by going with Kala to the old town of Nanjing (Fuzi Miao) where there were lots of lanterns and lights. Pictures say more than words, so I’ll leave you with some photos from my Chinese New Year.

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Food?

One of my goals for this year is to expand my perspective on the world. This week, I’ve certainly expanded my idea of what is food. China is well-known for her .. special delicacies.

Here are some of the dishes I tasted this week:

  • dog meat
  • roasted pidgeon
  • turtle
  • pig’s stomach
  • cow’s muscle
  • duck soup, with a whole duck (feet and beak included) in the bowl
  • chicken feet
  • snail
  • eel
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    Eating rose and dried squid

    We spend most of our time during week days in our office, which we share with 8 other Senior-1 English teachers. Right now, I’m sitting in the office eating tofu, processed rose and dried squid as snacks. You see, it’s normal in our office to share whatever snack you’re having, be it fruit, nuts or biscuits, and this happen fairly often. So it’s here that we’ve been introduced to some of our favourites; roasted sunflower seeds and giant lemon. It’s my first time to taste rose and squid, though. Come to think of it, it’s my first time to eat a flower ever. It tastes surprisingly good! 好吃!

    Lately, I’ve been thinking that we don’t experience enough and that we should do more “chinese culture stuff”. I’ve been annoyed at myself for spending too much time inside the school gates. But now I realize that the office is actually one of our most valuable sources to the Chinese culture!

    The teachers at our office are the people we have gotten to know the best. They teach us the language, they help us with any practical problem we might have (like, say, a broken toilet), they show us what to do and what not to do in Chinese social settings and if we have any questions they are more than happy to answer. Yet most importantly, they’re good friends. If it had not been for their guidance, it would have been so much harder to adapt to China. I’m really beginning to understand and appreciate the Chinese “community” concept, and being a part of our office community is very nice.

    Open offices in Norway are organized so that the desks are placed facing away from each other, preferably facing the wall, with partition walls between them so that the worker is left staring at a wall or a computer screen all day. The offices are designed to create efficiency and silence at work.

    Our office in China is completely different from this. The desks are placed in groups, and each teacher is facing at least one co-worker. The concept “silence at work” does not exist. The office is designed to build relationship and the focus is on being social. Still, the teachers are efficient and I believe they get just as much work done as people working in Norwegian office solutions. I think working in a “social office” like ours is great because the small social breaks create variation from the work that may otherwise become boring. I realize that this has a lot to do with personality as well, but a social office does at least never get impersonal.

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    昆曲 Kunqu

    We went to se a traditional chinese Kunqu opera this Saturday! It was great and the actors were the best I’ve ever seen. They could express an impressive range of emotions using their facial expressions only.

    The opera we went to was located in a old, traditional house that reminded me of the Mulan movie. Even though the opera was in Chinese, the theatre had screens on both sides of the stage that gave translation in beautiful, poetic English, so we could follow the play without losing any of the magic.

    We saw some scenes from an opera called the Embrodied Robe, written in the 16th century. Sadly, most of the Kunqu operas are incomplete because some of the scenes have been lost as time has gone by. Still, each scene start with a summary of the action so far, so it was not difficult to understand the setting.

    The characters in Kunqu are exaggerated to the point of caricatures and this add humour to the performance. Yet, the best part was without a doubt the amazing, traditional costumes and the extreme make up!

    Since they are written many centuries ago, the Kunqu operas give an excellent view into the old China, as a world that no longer exists.

    Want to know more about Kunqu? Here are some links for you (the first one has pictures 😉 ): http://tinyurl.com/ydv627g, http://tinyurl.com/yz8uh3v, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunqu

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    星期六在高淳县 Saturday in Gaochun Xian

    Last Saturday, we went with Jenny and Yuanyuan, two of our teacher friends, to their hometown. It’s a bit bigger than Lishui and about one and a half hour away with bus. This city, called Gaochun, is famous for it’s several thousand year-old street. All the buildings in this street had facades with detailed wood cravings, and you could almost hear a buzz of voices telling it’s history. The street also had many small shops that sold traditional foods, cakes, jewelry, shoes etc. We went into a house that had been owned by an artist, and which now had been made into a museum. It had traditional furniture, and one of the rooms had been decorated for a traditional wedding, with colourful ribbons everywhere. Most of the rooms also had old paintings, calligraphy or wases. And the best part; all of the paintings and wases told legends and stories. So I’ve started reading these stories online, and I’m beginning to realise just how rich the Chinese culture is.

    After we’d been in the city, we were invited to Yuanyuan’s home. Her father works at a rubber factory, and we had been there earlier to leave one of Yuanyuan’s bags there so that she didn’t have to carry it. She’s from a village outside of the city. We took a taxi, and after driving past fields and villages for a while, we came to a lane with trees on each side leading to the village. Walking down this lane, we passed fields with farmers. The farmers work so hard! They’re on the fields from morning to night, and the only tools they use are buckets and carrying poles.

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    星期六 在 高淳县 二 Saturday In Gaochun Xian 2

    Yuanyuan’s parents, which we came to visit, are building a new house. In the villages in China, it’s less expensive to build a new house than to buy one. Before I came to China I heard that people living in the villages were poor, so I didn’t know what to expect. But the house they were building was definitely not what I had pictured! It was huge and beautiful, and would have been very expensive in Norway. We were told that in China, when you have enough money for food, the next priority is to save up enough money to buy/build a house. I picture the farmers turning every yuan, saving where they can, so that they can afford a house. Then I picture the house I grew up in and always took for granted..

    We were invited to Yuanyuan’s aunt and uncle for crabs, since the house was not done yet. I’m still amazed by the hospitality here! The Gaochun area is famous for it’s crabs and now is crab season. The crabs are "grown" on fields with wather on them, that used to be rice fields before the farmers found ut that crabbs were more profitable. It was quite an experience sitting in a kitchen outside a house in a Chinese village, eating crabs!

    All in all the day was well spent with good friends, getting to know the Chinese culture even better.

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