Archive for the ‘Chinese Holidays and Festivals’ Category

Julianne and I saw this firework’s store while riding a bus to Metro just before the Lunar New Year in China. Usually fireworks are not on display so far out onto the sidewalk . . . this was definitely a sign that Julianne and I were going to be in for a New Year’s Eve fireworks display that we could not begin to imagine in scope and volume.

I’d have to say how fireworks are used in China has been one of my bigger culture shock experiences, lol.


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Julianne and I have been living and teaching English now in Changsha, Hunan, China for just over a month–and we’re both really happy we made the move from South Korea to China.

The biggest thing I love, so far, is the general pace of life in the Hunan region of China (not sure about other regions, or how super-cities like Beijing and Shanghai are in terms of pace) and how it is slower and very relaxed.  People here have a calmness to how they go about things.  People here also have a confidence in themselves, and there is a feeling they project as they go about their everyday lives that everything will be okay.

Some expats I know back in South Korea have suggested that I would miss Korea in many ways–so far, based on the month of experiences in China, I don’t miss Korea at all.  In fact, I wish I had left sooner.

I don’t miss the frenetic-manic pace and energy of everyday life in Korea.  And I certainly don’t miss the all too common insecurities that lie beneath far too many Koreans speech and actions as they go about their everyday lives.

I love how Chinese people will make efforts to communicate with you in English regardless of their proficiency level in speaking.  I think they’re still a little nervous or anxious about speaking English because they don’t want to make mistakes, but their desire to practice their English/speak to the foreigner/successfully achieve the communciation goal of the situation seems to override their worries–this is NOT the case all too often in Korea as many expats can testify.

A couple weeks ago during the ten minute break of a two-hour class I was talking to my sophomore students about study and test culture in China.  I wanted to get a sense of what it’s like, and also compare and contrast it with how Korean students think about it.

I asked the students how much sleep they usually got while in high school and they all said 6-8 hours depending on what was going on.  Most said that the average was 7 hours a night.  I told the students about a common saying in Korea for high school students: Sleep five hours, get into an okay university. Sleep four hours, get into S.K.Y. (Acronym for the top 3 universities in Korea).

They were horrified at the idea!  One of the students standing next to me vehemently said, “Everyone knows the highest ranking students usually get 7-8 hours of sleep!”  I was thrilled to hear this kind of common sense coming from Chinese students, and wished that it was a more common attitude in Korea for parents and their children.

Anyways, other stuff that’s been going over the past month . . .

I was asked to begin coaching my university’s first ever debate team that will go to compete in a national debate competition.  I met the team of four sophomore’s yesterday for the first time.  It was awesome.  The students were exceptionally smart, had advanced level English fluency, and displayed that each of them have an innate talent for debating and critical thinking.

I had iniitally planned to spend two hours with them practicing debate skills and seeing what they were capable of doing for the first practice session . . . and we ended up talking and debating in a free-style manner until nearly 5pm (we started at 1pm)–wow!

The national debate is based on the British Parliamentary rules and procedures, and while the students have familiarized themselves with those things they are still nervous because it will be their first time at a national level competition.  After spending hours with them to get a sense of how they construct an argument, and what kind of critical thinking skills they each have, I got a much clearer picture of what we need to do in our next practice session.  I’m actually looking forward to it!  It’s freaking awesome that after spending so much time with them that I left feeling energized and excited about the next session whereas there have been times in the past when I taught or was coaching debate-students and left feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of the next class because the students’ language levels were too low to actually be learning debating skills, or as is all too often the case not enough class hours/practice time had been planned before the competition (ah, Korea, stop trying to do too much in too little a time with unachievable goals!).

I’ll write more about the first debate team practice session in another post . . .

Other things that have happened . . . Mr. Mouse has now defeated all attempts by Julianne to capture and/or kill him (we have a mouse in our apartment).  He continues to lurk and prowl around our apartment at night, and last night I discovered he has a taste for left over teabags.  I accidentally left a mug with a teabag on my desk and this morning noticed he had dragged it behind my computer monitor and munched away on it leaving a nice pile of leftovers . . .

I’m beginning to think that I will have to let go of my fondness for Mr. Mouse and launch an all out offensive to capture him . . . we’ll see what happens.  I remember a few of the improvised trap designs I read about in the SAS Survival Handbook I have back in Canada . . . might have to try using one.  Pictures will follow on my flickr page.

Julianne and I continue to be amazed, horrified, and bewildered at how Chinese people drive and don’t maim and kill thousands of each other on a day to day basis.  We’ve gotten used to the driving culture to a fair degree, and as Julianne points out she isn’t nearly as scared in China about the driving because Chinese people seem to be very alert and aware (most of the time) about the other vehicles and pedestrians that are around the vehicle they’re driving.  In Korea, the ‘culture of obliviousness’ to one’s surroundings would have Julianne gasping and clawing my arm or the seat in front of her when we’d be in a taxi, lol, but I have yet to see her as freaked out in China.  That says a lot about some of the differences, I think.

We also continue to be amazed, horrified, and bewildered at how crossing the street at traffic lights is done in China.  Scooters do not stop for anything–period.  Cars also generally will run a yellow light for sure, and ‘most’ stop for red lights but you just can’t assume that–period.  For some of the massively wide streets that have eight lines of traffic (four on either side) you’ll see Chinese people, and CHILDREN, randomly stepping out into traffic to cross four lanes of oncoming traffic on one side, and after they’ve negotiated the fast-moving-heavy-metal-projectiles-aka-as-cars/buses/trucks/scooters they then negotiate the other four lanes of fast moving lethal projectiles . . . and often the pedestrians are NOT crossing at traffic lights or at crosswalks but just crossing whereever they are and happen to need to go to the other side.  Oh-My-God!!!

As far as Chinese foods go–I like nearly everything I’ve tried.  You can see pictures of foods Julianne and I have eaten here.  We want to go and try more new foods, and I’ll take pictures as we try them.

Our schedules have been very erratic over the last two weeks because there was the Mooncake Festival period from Wednesday to Friday (which meant a five-day weekend), and then a week of regular work/classes, and now we’re on another week long holiday for China’s National Day . . . which actually seems to be ‘national week’ since our university doesn’t have classes all week.  We’re still trying to find out what kinds of cultural events and performances we can find outside for free.  If we manage to find our way to them we’ll definitely be taking pictures and I’ll upload mine onto my flickr page.

Looking at the wikipedia page on China’s National Day it says, “The National Day marks the start of one of the two Golden Weeks in the PRC. However, there have been some recent controversies over whether Golden Weeks should be kept.”  I guess we’re now in the “Golden Week” . . . wikipedia goes on to explain about “Golden Weeks,”

Golden Week () in the mainland of the People’s Republic of China is the name given to two annual 7-day national holidays, implemented in 2000

  • The “Spring Festival (or Chinese Lunar New Year) Golden Week” begins in January or February.
  • The “National Day Golden Week” begins around October 1.

It’s very cool that “Three days of paid holiday are given, and the surrounding weekends are re-arranged so that workers in Chinese companies always have seven continuous days of holiday.”  In Korea, it’s a hit or miss thing all too often with how much time off you get during Chuseok.    The logic behind how the Chinese organize the holiday it is pretty solid: ” These national holidays were first started by the government for the PRC‘s National Day in 1999 and are primarily intended to help expand the domestic tourism market and improve the national standard of living, as well as allowing people to make long-distance family visits. The Golden Weeks are consequently periods of greatly heightened travel activity.”  And that’s why Julianne and I are staying inside the city and not traveling.

A friend of our’s that we work with sent us an email about her trip so far to another part of China during this time off.  She was hit by another scooter while on the back of a scooter-taxi on the way to the train station . . . for a trip that she thought would be 22 hours and turns out it will be 25 hours.  On reaching her bed/seat she found an old man sleeping on her bed, and the sheets were not replaced after he was told to get out of her paid for spot.  Lunch on the train? Chicken feet . . . yeah.

Julianne might be up for an adventure of that sort once we’ve got more Chinese language skills under our belts, but for now we’ll settle for whatever ‘interesting’ travel experiences we are confronted with inside the city we’re living in.

And on that note, it’s time to get my butt outside and walk around taking pictures, and learning more about China.


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Today is Mooncake festival day in China . . . and it rained for most of the day.  It was also really cold and windy–at least relative to the high 30s and low 40s heat and humidity that we’ve been experiencing.  I think the temperature was in the mid-20s but it felt ‘colder’ than that relative to 40-something.  It was a really NICE break!

Unfortunately, Julianne’s foot is still in no condition to walk more than a short distance and time.  Her foot combined with the rain pretty much kept us in our apartment most of the day.  Around 4pm, we decided to go do a food and beverages run to Metro (it’s like a COSTCO store).

On our way out of the apartment we ran into two other foreign teachers, and we all decided to take a taxi together.  It was chilly enough with the wind that I almost went up to grab a sweater but I didn’t.  One of the girls was from Arkansas, USA, so she had a jacket on.  We had to wait about 10 minutes for an unoccupied taxi, and during that time the neighborhood people walking by, and cars driving by, oggled the group of four foreigners . . .

Finally, we get a taxi and drive to Metro.  The parking lot was packed, and we realized that Mooncake festival day is on par with Chuseok in South Korea.  I should have brought my camera with me to take a picture of the parking lot and all the people inside . . . but the upload speeds to my blog are still a major handicap (I’m still mulling over how I’m going to deal with that).

Walking inside we go to pass through a gate and are stopped by one of the service people.  She points at my backpack, and another teacher’s backpack, and gestures for us to take them off and give them to her while speaking fast Chinese.  I found this peculiar because the FOUR other times I’ve visited the store I was never asked to do this.  I comply with the ‘you’re-foreign-white-possibly-a-criminal’ profiling that seemed to be happening cause we were in a group, and hand over my bag and get a ticket for it.  I look at the shelf where our bags are stored and see no other bags–meanwhile the store has hundreds of customers.  I tell Julianne and our two friends that the next time I’m there, and it’s not insanely busy (another ‘possible’ reason for heightened security), that if they ask me for my backpack again and I see another Chinese person with a bag or backpack that I’m going to go back to the security counter and escort the service person to where the Chinese person is and ask them about the double-standard . . . actually, I probably won’t do that, but the fantasy helps me let it go, lol.

We walk around and pick up the foods and drinks and other stuff that we came to buy, and then head to the checkouts.  Ohhhhhh god, each checkout line had about 20+ people waiting in it, and there are about 15 checkouts.  The speed with which these lines are processed is SLOW.  We had about 15 people in front of us, and it took nearly 45 minutes.  Add to this that the computers look like they use a DOS system, and the printers are the old school 1980’s type with the rolling wheels and holes on both sides of the paper that spin and spit the paper out . . . yeah, it’s slow.

When we first got into line a late twenties Chinese man turned around to see who was speaking English and boy did we make his day.  First he gave each of us a good once over.  He especially liked the fact that Julianne and two other foreign women were with me.  Then he examined every item we had in our shopping cart.

At first he tried to be a little inconspicuous with his staring, but after the first two minutes his neck must have been bothering him so he turned his entire body so that it was facing square onto us as a group with the cash register now directly behind him.

I gave him 3 minutes of staring time, and then I looked him in the eye with a smiling but firm teacher stare and said, “Hi. What are you doing? Turn around please.”  I put my two fingers to my eyes, and made a gesture that meant staring, then I crossed my arms in a no/stop signal, and finally spun my fingers around and pointed at him.  He had the good grace to smile a little, with a bit of shame and ‘oh yeah, maybe what I’m doing is not so polite,’ and he turned around.

I think I surprised the other two women with Julianne and I, but I said that if Chinese people would consider his behavior rude, that we should not allow the staring to go on for so long or in so blatant a manner.  (Last week I asked my students during the break time what the rules were for staring in public, and they confirmed that staring for excessively long periods of time in close proximity to a woman is not acceptable behavior in China.)

Anyways, we waited and waited and finally got through the checkout.  Outside it was even colder, and we made our way as fast as possible to the street to find a taxi.  Just as we got there a taxi pulled up and two men in their mid-20s got out.  We really must be a shocking sight for the Chinese people in Changsha when in a group of four cause these guys were totally wide-eyed and in shock to see four ‘aliens’ approach the taxi they were getting out of, lol.  The reactions remind me of the kind of shock that Koreans on Ganghwa Island would have during a summer English camp I was at when 10 foreign teachers would be in the two street hamlet that I taught in; it must have seemed like an invasion or something from War of the Worlds, lol.

This post has kind of organically grown into one about staring . . . so I guess the last thing I’ll say is that Chinese people in the Changsha area (it might be radically different in other regions of China) seem to be more curious in a positive way.  The curiousity, however, in my mind is very different than a lot of the staring I experienced, and Julianne experienced, while in Korea.  Some people have posted comments that they think the fact that I have a shaved head, I’m fat (I prefer to use the term “chubby” but whatever), and Julianne has a very curvy figure and red hair . . . and that that is what draws so much staring . . . but that’s not the issue.

It’s the mild to extreme hostility, and in general negative vibe, that I felt from some/too many Koreans who would stare at us.  I don’t get that sense at ALL in Changsha.  I get a sense of wonderment, awe, curiousity, and sometimes even playfulness.  There were times I’d feel that kind of vibe in Korea too–indeed, some Koreans who would stare at us turned out to be wonderful and friendly people.  But I have to say my own personal view so far on how the staring in China versus Korea contrasts is that it’s far more friendly and relaxed in China, and that in Korea it’s more xenophobic/racist/hostile/negative (and yes, I know the historical context and origins of this phenomena).  For those readers that would say that the kind of energy you project is the kind of energy you get back . . . well, I’d half agree with that, but then go on to say that each person in a cross-cultural interaction produces their own vibe and sometimes it doesn’t matter what kind of vibe you’re projecting–the other person is not influenced.

I’ll finish with saying that the general cultural vibe I feel in Changsha is a friendlier, and slower paced, and more relaxing.  I love it.

I’m hoping that Julianne and I might be able to find out where some Mooncake festival events are tomorrow, and that they’re not too far away.  If so, we’ll go and take our cameras, and I’ll upload some shots to my flickr page.

For now, it’s time to go eat some mooncakes, and enjoy a quiet evening in our apartment.


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