Po Wu 破五 - Day #5 of Spring Festival

Ever since 6am? this morning - we've had an insurgance of firecrackers for the entire day!! I don't think we've had a quiet 20 minutes all day. The fifth day of Spring Festival is called "PoWu." The word "PO" means "smash, break, defeat, end." In the past, there were many taboos surrounding the Spring Festival - but on this day all taboos are broken. Today is the fifth day of the New Year celebrations (we have 15 days total, so 10 more days to come!) which is marked by a few interesting traditions:

1. Everyone eats lots of homemade Jiaozi 饺子 (potstickers/dumplings). It is a custom that jiaozi be homemade completely - without the use of machines (food processors) for any of the chopping. This makes for quite a bit of work - but it is believed that the coming year will go well as all bad things are chopped away. They are quite scrumptious too!!

2. Welcoming the god of wealth: Legend says that today is his birthday! Families welcome him and better fortune for their family in the coming year. Some people will prepare carp or sheep head for this occasion. Old custom asks people to open all their doors at midnight to welcome the god of wealth into their homes.

3. Lighting firecrackers: people use firecrackers to break taboos and bad luck on this day. On this fifth day, its time to clean up & dump the trash. Lighting firecrackers will drive away all the "garbage" and bad luck from your family. Firecrackers also welcome the god of wealth. He prefers the loud bangs, I guess.

4. After all this, Businesses will re-open once again!! They have been closed for 4 days now, and we really miss our Nan bread man down the street. Oh the smell of fresh Nan bread....

They also make great pizza-crust!


Chinese Couplets - decorated door frames!!

COUPLETS: New Year Couplets (chun lian 春联) are traditional festive items that are used as wall décor (dui lian), and they are quite auspicious! The couplets are typically printed on red paper scrolls that hang on either side of your main doors. Many people give them as gifts to others with wishes of renewal and good luck.

The couplets can be purchased at the market, or made by hand. They are glued to the door frame on New Years day. Some couplets are inherited from previous generations and contain traditional hopes for prosperity. These decorations are similar to Halloween or Christmas decorations in America.

They are written vertically in beautiful calligraphy. The first line is posted on the right side of the door, and the second line is posted on the left. Also, a third line may be posted across the top of the door. The couplets are written to ward off evil and bring peace, happiness and good fortune to those inside. Some are left up year-round for continued good luck.

What do they say??
Chinese couplets are often antithetical in nature. This was a traditional method of teaching in China for thousands of years. The couplet includes two phrases/sentences that often have double meanings. The two scrolls generally have the same number of words & characters, and the tones of each character are often harmonious (there are certain rules for this, that I don't really understand yet). Also, the parts of speech for each corresponding word is identical. Both scrolls are related to one another, but not identical. Its really like writing a poem or haiku. There are RULES to follow!!

We also have learned that Chinese people make new couplets as a form of entertainment. One person makes up a first scroll sentence and challenges another to create spontaneous second scroll sentences that is appropriately matched. This challenges participants' linguistic, creative, and intellectual skills. Sometimes children are challenged to do this as a test or practice.

To translate a Chinese couplet can be very challenging, while keeping the same depth of wit, meaning & conciseness conveyed with such brevity. But we'll give it a shot!! (this picture below is our neighbors door)

Left Scroll: 金牛换 ? 耀五洲 jin niu huan (?) yao wu zhou = gold ox shining (?) bright/dazzling five continents - that's our best guess!
Right Scroll: 盛世呈祥英四海 sheng shi cheng xiang ying si hai - flourishing age lucky sign reflect four oceans - hmmm, we might not be so good at this!
Top Scroll: 平安年年 píng an nian nian - peaceful year year - that was easy, but why so repetetive? No idea!

Also - some people go the extra mile and place a square "FU" character on their door or windows (fu = 福 = good fortune, blessing, happiness). You can also hang it upside-down, as the meaning becomes "Fu dao le" or "fortune comes." I think we learned a bunch from writing this post!! We wish you abundant blessings year-round!!


Happy New Year!! Xin nian kuai le!! 新年快乐

"its fire-cracker day!" ...Asia exclaimed with glee this morning! We celebrated with a large breakfast and a brisk walk outside to play in the snow. It was really warm today (25F) and lots of people were out buying huge boxes of Mandarin oranges to give as presents.

Actually - today (Jan 25th, 2009) is the EVE of the lunar new year. Tomorrow will mark the year 4706 on the Chinese calendar - the Year of the Ox. And the most famous OX this year?? President Barack Obama!!

THE OX: a sign of prosperity thru perseverance and hard work. People born in this year are said to be "born leaders," being dependable, calm, modest & patient. Oxen are considered to be tireless in their work and capable of enduring hardship without complaint. Oxen tend to be logical, systematic and have great imagination & appreciation for beauty. They speak little, but are extremely intelligent. They can be highly articulate & eloquent. These ideas are all based on the Chinese zodiac calendar.

Most of the evening - fireworks were lighting the sky with color, and the streets were LOUD. We got some video of the display outside...and it went on for 45 minutes straight! Then it began again at 5:00am. Luckily, the kids slept thru it all!! *here's a 5 minute clip!!

For some reason the quality isn't that great, but it gives you an idea of how loud the fireworks were. Adjust your volume first!! - turn it UP for the full effect.


Ancient myth: How Chinese New Year began

Like most holidays, Chinese New Year is rooted in many deep legends that have been passed on for ages. According to ancient myth, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with a fight against a mythical beast called The NIAN or "Year" in Chinese. NIAN would come on the first day of the New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers - especially children.

To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that after the NIAN ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One time, people saw that the NIAN was scared away by a little child wearing red. The villagers then understood that the NIAN was afraid of the color red. Hence, every time when the New Year was about to come, the villagers would hang red lanterns and red scrolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten away the NIAN. From then on, the NIAN never came to the village again. The NIAN was eventually captured by Hongjunlaozu, an ancient Taoist monk/immortal god. The NIAN became Hongjunlaozu's steed (pictured above). Before he left, he advised the villagers to decorate their homes & windows each year with red paper decorations to scare away the NIAN.

The phrase "guo nian" which means "survive the Nian" became "celebrate the Year." The word "guo" in Mandarin means both "pass over" & "observe."

Legend also tells us that the LION was the only animal that could manage to wound the ferocious NIAN. This is why the Lion Dance became popular - as it would frighten away the beast, with the loud drum & deafening cymbals. The menacing face of the Lion dancing aggressively would scare any evil away. Troops of Lion Dancers travel & perform everywhere during Chinese New Year.

This year - Chinese New Year is celebrated on January 26th, 2009!! (3 days!)

We also wanted to include some neat links to make your own Chinese New Year crafts.
Enchanted Learning - crafts & activities
Kaboose - cute crafty ideas
The Best Kids Booksite - good books, craft ideas & info too

*You can also read more about Chinese New Year by reading previous posts in "Topics to Explore" along the right sidebar.


ice sculptures!

This afternoon daddy took A&E downtown to see the ice sculptures. This is an annual attraction in one of the main squares - and the cold temps allow for the ice sculptures to stay intact for most of the month. Ice Sculpting is an incredible art - and its amazing to see the intricate detail that goes into each sculpture. China is well-known for its massive ice sculptures in the north-eastern city of Harbin. You can see other pictures here.

As for our small city of 4 million: Here are a few picts!
This shows part of the "Great Wall" behind the galloping horses.
This is a wall of ice - with a dragon carved into it. In front of the wall, there are smaller statues of dancers & musicians from different minority groups.
Also, there was a tall slide of slick ice that kids could slide down in tubes, as well as an ice skating area. We might try and go back on a day that isn't so cold, and we can all go.


Cart Racing in Beijing!!

Having fun while traveling with the kiddos. These Beijing luggage carts are amazing. All four wheels rotate and the terminal was quite empty. The girls loved it!!

(mom's voice is raspy sick voice)


we made it!! now trying to get settled...

Traveling seems to feel longer than it really is, especially when cramped on a plane with three littles. I feel like I could write a book about the last 48+ hours...tho I feel a bit delirious at this point. I am sure the trip could have been much worse -- but I am so glad to be in our warm apartment....and HOME!

Asia cried after saying goodbye at the airport for a good chunk of time. Poor little one was hard to console, and even harder since we had security people rushing us thru security...with very little sensitivity I might add. So much, that I almost considered writing their managers. She finally brightened up to open her small presents and cards in her backpack, and find a new necklace & jewelry (note to self: remember "backpack surprises" for future travels!). Thanks Nana & Jamma!! She is doing much better now, but its such a hard transition. I think they are all quite sensitive to change, and show it in different ways.

The flight was great - no huge turbulence or issues. Sydney protested sleep: she was awake for most of the trip, which was challenging! I was also not feeling great - still sick with this horrible cold/earaches, etc. Not fun for a flight with all the change of pressure. Justin was amazing as usual -- entertaining three girls while mom "sprawled" on our three seats. By the way :: the lady who checked us into our seats in SFO gave us an extra middle seat!! Wahoo!! Huge bonus!

After the first flight (12 hrs) we arrived in BJ and got to our hotel. It was cold outside, but not too bad! I think we all fell asleep once our heads hit the pillows. I was feeling heaps worse and shivers/earache/stuffy/cough. In the morning (5:30am) we went down for our nifty continental breakfast before daddy left for the US Embassy to get new pages in the girls passports. Their passports are FULL at ages 3 & 5! ...such international travelers. Justin got back in time to pick up us girls and head back to the airport for flight #2 (4 hrs). We also saw 5-6 Uyghur men on our flight, and they were all seated around us on the flight home. How appropriate. It was fun to practice our languages, and interact again in another tongue. When we got to Urumqi -- it was 16 degrees outside. We were met by a girl - with a nice pink van for all our gear. We were so excited to get home -- and by this time my sickness was making me delirious. I was quite woozy, and couldn't talk because my throat was hurting & head was pounding.

The girls LOVED getting back to the apartment, and they have been tearing into every drawer, box and nook :: finding old things and getting reacquainted with our home & lives here. They especially loved seeing their dolls and rooms. Asia said "xiang jiao" today -- which means banana, and then she exclaimed "Hey mom, I think my Chinese is coming back to me!!" I cracked up. She is a goof, and such a precious head.

The past few days we've been working on getting the house functional. J has successfully registered at the local PSB, shopped for food, turned on the water....all outings that require heaps of patience. He also visited the Ice cream shop!! looks good. He paid some bills....and finally got the internet back up. Today a guy came and fixed the phone line outside the house -- which was the major dilemma. Now we are trying to get the GAS turned on so we can cook over the stove. Going on 2 days without a stove makes you creative.

We are ALL jet lagging like crazy. The girls are all waking up at crazy hours - WIDE AWAKE and planning their entire day at 3am. Then in the evening Asia fell asleep at the dinner table. She was so tired, but we are hoping for better sleep ahead.

You can tell I (Ali) have been really sick. I don't remember feeling this sick in a long time. Its been 7 days now?? I've had every symptom - and today my ears are clogged and sorta in pain. Headache, stuffy, etc. I feel really lethargic, and can't really do much. I really need to get better so we can function here, and eat some decent meals. Chinese New Year is right around the corner -- so we need to stock up on food before the stores shut down.

Today the temps soared up to 27 degrees F!! That is quite warm for us in the middle of winter. We were also surprised that there is not heaps of snow/ice on the ground -- its been a mild winter, many have told us. Our apartment is warm and the coal stacks are going strong. Here's a view from our window:


final hugs with friends & fam

Our final week in America was jam packed with visits to friends homes, getting outdoors, phone calls, and of course packing our belongings into eight 50-pound suitcases. This requires heaps of skill to find the right combination of clothing, books & extras to fit snugly into one suitcase. I think I married well, since Justin is a master packer.

The girls also had their fill of friends, princess parties & love. Literally - every night of the week was booked, as well as most mornings out too! Justin & I managed to fit in one final boys-night out & girls-night too. This might be the reason I got sick (a nasty flu/cold?), just being so frazzled with the last minute things to get done. I hope you didn't catch anything from me!?

Either way, it was worth it!! We finished the packing and said our goodbyes in time for our Sunday flight to the Orient. Thanks to our sendoff crew & rides to the airport. We love you guys, and we know our leaving is most-times harder for those we leave behind.

Know that your relationships are priceless to us, and that we will do our best to stay close! I know we always mention this, but please come visit!! We'd love to share more of this place we call home in China. Thanks for making our visit to America grand! Zai jian!!


Longs Marine Lab - Seymour Center

I remember visiting here when I was little: touching all the anemones and starfish, and seeing seals & dolphins in the big pools too. I grew up in such an incredible spot on this planet, surrounded by marine life, oceans & beaches & forests: such rich learning opportunities at my fingertips! So, in our final week in America - we decided to take advantage of the free day @ Longs Marine Lab (UCSC's research center) and learn more about Marine life with great buddies too.
Outside there is a HUGE skeleton of a whale - and statues of elephant seals to climb on. You can walk along the cliffs and eat lunch at one of their picnic tables. Or if you want a real tour - you can schedule one in the afternoon. Inside the Lab, there are stations to learn about different aspects of marine life. The girls loved the tanks of fish & seastars, and also the touch-pools. Sydney bravely held another hermit crab! Asia loved feeling the colorful starfish (her fave was the Jewel Star) & even the otter fur!!
Top to bottom: Jewel Star, Bat Star, Leather Star. See, we learned something??
goodbye ocean and marine life. We will miss you!!


real mini golfers.

This was the girls' first time to wield golf clubs. We laughed so hard watching each of them attempt putting their fluorescent balls into the hole. The noise was too much for Eden, and she kept her hands over her ears the entire time.

Sydney enjoyed lessons from dad, but was determined to do it herself too. She was seriously determined to take all 27 strokes to get that ball in the hole. Asia is already begging us to go again!!

Jamma shares our love for cold treats.


Cheers to 2009!!

To ring in the New Year - we spent time with 2 amazing couples (who all had babysitters!) while eating guacamole, cookies, hors d'oeuvres AND playing Seafarers, an expansion to Settlers. We are addicted. If I wasn't so nice with my trading & placement of the robber - Dave wouldn't have won - its true!! We also had incredible views overlooking the Bay & fireworks display! We love you guys - and wish everyone a thrilling 2009!


a not-so-professional haircut

Eden's hair has gotten luxuriously long. Mom decided to lop 6 inches off for ease of management. She was a willing specimen, and loves her new style. I love the precious facial expressions and toothpaste splatter on the mirror.


We won't tell. It's just too cute.
6 little world-changers. Watch out!!

quick trip to the foothills!

Last weekend we made a spontaneous trip to visit long-time friends once more before we depart. We lounged around the house (in our jammies!) while the kids bonded, ate delicious holiday leftovers (sinful cookies too) and played a few rousing games of Settlers of Catan. What could be better?
Playing Settlers has recently triggered a renewal of love for the game. We have played two more games since, and even Asia (5yrs) is becoming a strategic trader & serious player. You can't start too young.

It was wonderful to spend time with our pals and just be mellow together. The kids loved making Josiah laugh, and playing outside together. Asia found a new love for basketball, and she helped Josiah slam dunk a few. Thanks P-clan for the incredible hospitality & laughs! We miss you guys already!!

Chinglish #6

While in China town we managed to capture a funny typo for your enjoyment.

"Snappers. A novel trick item. Bang drop it! Throm it! Step on it! Snap it! Caution: Carefully read other cautions on side panel."

We bought 6 boxes of these "snappers" for $1!! On the side panel, we are recommended to only give to children 8 years of age and older. We figured the combined ages of our kids (11) was good enough, so these were nifty stocking stuffers and fun New Years items. Of course we had parental supervision, and we picked up our trash!