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Archive for February, 2007

Back Home (only like no other home we’ve ever known…)

Hi all,

During the Chinese New Year our family was blessed to visit some long-time dear friends. The trip was relaxing and refreshing. We are so thankful for their amazing generosity to make the trip possible. We returned home ready to jump back into our work here. Many exciting things are on the horizon.
Things we would ask you to Think About in the upcoming weeks:

  • Several dinners planned with local friends to continue the celebration of Chinese New Year/Spring Festival/Lantern Festival – great opportunities to build relationships.
  • Visitors! We are thrilled to have both the Johnston and Viselli families visiting us in the month of March. May they experience safety in their travels and love and connection to the Chinese people.
  • DK’s new friend. For several months, I have been asking Dad to give me a friendship with a local young professional man. Just this afternoon while Zach and I were picking up a care package from the post office (thank you Becker family!) we struck up a conversation with a just such a person. I gave him my contact info – I hope to connect with him soon.

– Dan

A few pictures from our trip

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China Day is ‘Every Day’, but especially last Friday

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Last Friday at the kid’s school was China Day. China Day was a celebration of everything China – food, culture, music, dance, crafts and such.
Most of the kids and staff dress up in traditional Chinese clothes – which few Chinese ever wear themselves – except on very special occasions (or if they work at a fancy Chinese restaurant).
Again, our apologies on our ‘under-blogging’ – we are out of town visiting friends during Chinese New Year. We return February 24.
-Dan
DSC03438.JPG The kids gather in the main entrance for several performances.
DSC03468.JPG Mia and our dear friend Wendy enjoy lunch together.
DSC03477.JPG Mia insisted on doing the fishing game because ‘she misses her grandma and grandpa’. And yes, our Korean-American daughter looks beautiful in her Chinese chipau!

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Kick-Off, 7:20 A.M.

Cinamon rolls, egg casserole and orange juice. These are the essential ingredients for a Super Bowl party in China. Watching live events happening in the States takes a bit of creativity. I could not resist the invitation of a friend of mine with satelite TV to watch the big game. It had the additional flavor of trying to explain to my Chinese, Singaporean and Swiss friends who also came what the big fuss was. They also couldn’t understand my disappointment that we were watching ESPN Live, which had NO commercials!

Continuing to learn and live a bit differently,

Dan

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What is Chinese New Year?

OK, confession time. Even though we professed to be interested, and even a little educated about all things China-related before we moved, we were woefully ignorant about the most important Chinese holiday, Chinese New Year. In honor of our Chinese friends, and the many things they have taught us, we have prepared the following short primer:

Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the exact date varies from year to year. In 2007, New Year’s Day falls on February 18. This date marks the beginning of spring, so it is also commonly called Spring Festival, or Chun Jie. It officially last five days, though most schools are out for one month, and most workers can expect one to two weeks of paid vacation.

In preparation for the New Year, families will thoroughly clean their homes, make repairs, settle debts, get haircuts and purchase new clothes. Until recently, most families could not afford to buy new clothes whenever they needed or wanted, so Chun Jie was a very special time. Red papercuts of the animal that governs the new year (2007 is the Year of the Pig), as well as the characters for blessing, luck, prosperity, etc will be posted on doors and windows. In many traditional homes, an altar to the kitchen god is set up with wonderful delicacies and other offerings. The kitchen god makes his yearly report about the family to the Jade Emperor at this time, so it is especially important that he be happy with you!

On New Year’s Eve, many will honor their ancestors in the morning by burning the paper money and paper clothes believed to be needed in the afterlife (burning these needed items allows them to enter the spirit world; luckily, fake paper money and paper clothes are sufficient). In the evening, families will gather to prepare vegetable dumplings (su jiao zi), which are similar to steamed vegetarian potstickers in the US. At exactly midnight, part of the family (usually the men) will light firecrackers outside the home to scare away any evil that may wish to enter the home that year; those remaining inside will drop the prepared dumplings into boiling water. Family members will change into their new clothes and enjoy jiao zi, play cards, watch special TV programming and share other traditional foods (nuts, fruits, candies, etc).
Sleep is discouraged on New Year’s Eve, even young children are encouraged to stay up all night (and with all the firecrackers going off, its not too hard!). Some believe the longer the children remain awake, the longer their parents will live!

As dawn breaks, the head of the home will open the door to welcome the new year with a blessing. New Years Day is celebrated with more firecrackers, more jiao zi, parades (often including the famous dancing dragons) and visiting the oldest generation in the family. Young children are given red “lucky money” envelopes by their older relatives. Many of our friends shared that in their families, they were expected to turn over their lucky money to their parents after the festivities.

For the next five days, families visit, give one another gifts of liquor, fruit and candies, and eat more jiao zi. Traditional greetings are given, even to strangers: “guo nian hao” (happy new year) and “gongxi facai” (wishing you prosperity). On the fifth day, jiao zi filled with chopped meat (represents the act of chopping up villains) are sealed (representing the act of sealing the lips of anyone who might speak ill of you), boiled and shared. More firecrackers complete the evening.

Now, in the west, we would think this is a pretty long and exhausting way to celebrate the new year, but not in China! On the eighth day, vast amounts of jiao zi are prepared and eaten to follow the saying “the more you eat, the more you prosper” (a play on words with a translation of the number eight). Likewise, on the ninth day, more jiao zi, as “the more you eat, the more you have.” Many of these evenings are punctuated by, you guessed it, fireworks!

Finally, on the 15th day of the new lunar year, the Lantern Festival begins. In many parts of rural China, this is an even larger celebration! Firecrackers are set off at dinnertime and well into the night. Dumplings made of sweet glutinous rice flour are stuffed with black sesame, peanut or red bean paste and shared among families. Red lanterns light up the night, while entertainers fill the streets. Lion and dragon dancers parade through the streets, even venturing into restaurants and businesses. It is a spectacular end to an ancient tradition.

We’ve learned that there are also many local taboos associated with Chun Jie. For your benefit, a few of our favorites: 1) don’t get your haircut in the first month of the new year, as it may lead to your mother’s brother’s death, 2) don’t say anything negative while the jiao zi are cooking, even if one splits open, as it will bring bad luck to your home, 3) don’t sweep the floors on the first day of the new year, as you may just sweep out the good luck you just ushered in, 4) don’t forget to kowtow (in the literal, face to the floor sense) to your grandparents on New Years Day, or you may never again see a lucky money envelope.

Just as we shared Christmas with our local friends, we are looking forward to sharing Chun Jie with them. If you have the opportunity to celebrate, even by visiting a local Chinese restaurant during this time, please order some jiao zi, wish the staff “guo nian hao” and remember that for most, they are missing what is by far the most important time of the year to reunite with their culture and families. You can really bless someone this time of the year by your interest and friendship.

Happy Year of the Pig to you all!

Sara

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