春节 （the Spring Festival）or the 农历新年 (the Lunar New Year) is fast approaching! The new year of the dog begins Friday the 16th of February, with the first new moon of the year. The holiday can fall between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. People start to celebrate the day before the New Year and continue until the 15th day – the Lantern Festival. This year the Lantern festival takes places on the 2nd of March, when people will release red Lanterns to symbolise letting go of the past and moving on into the new year!
Chinese New Year and the Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 animals; similar to the 12 Western Zodiacs, however each Zodiac represents a year as opposed to a month. This passes in cycles with each year also being associated with an element. 2018 will be the year of the Earth dog, which is the 11th animal in the 12-year cycle.
Your Birth Year ‘本命年’:
The year you are born in decides your zodiac and you won’t be in your zodiac year again for another 12 years! Surprisingly, your zodiac years are the considered the unluckiest in your life and unfortunate events in this year could have lasting effects on you for the rest of your life! So, you are suggested to take extra care to avoid incurring bad luck. Many Chinese people will buy lucky items as talismans, such as red underwear with lucky characters stitched on.
There are also lucky numbers, cardinal directions and colours associated with your zodiac. 3, 4 and 9 are lucky for people born in the year of the dog, as are the colours green, red and purple.
The Origins of Chinese New Year
Every year around the new Lunar Year, a mythological beast called Nian was said to come and lay waste to towns and eat people, particularly children. Everyone would hide from the beast until he left. One year an old man appeared and refused to go into hiding, and decided he wanted to get revenge on the Nian. He put red papers up around the door of his house with lucky symbols and set off loud firecrackers. The day after, the villagers discovered that their town wasn’t destroyed. They believed that the old man was in fact a god that came to save them. The villagers then realised that the the colour red and loud noises deterred the beast. Next New Year the villagers hung up red lanterns, wore red clothes, and placed red character scrolls on windows and doors, and they set off firecrackers to frighten away the monster. Ever since, Nian never returned to scare the villagers!
Characters on the Door
You will see Chinese phrases on red scrolls around doorways, such as ‘出入平安’ , meaning peace wherever you go. The most common character is ‘福’ Fú which means fortune or luck. It is often placed in the centre of the door to ones home, and sometimes you will see that the character has been placed upside down. This is because by placing it upside down there is an added meaning to the character:
Homonyms are common in Chinese language. The Chinese expression ‘福倒了‘ and ’福到了‘ sound identical, so to have 福 upside down also means to have fortune arrive.
New Years Day Celebrations
On New Years day young family members are given red envelopes called hongbao (‘红包) filled with money, fireworks are set off, dumplings are devoured and relatives are put up with. It is a time when Chinese families reunite, with some people travelling vast distances to see their family. The Spring festival period is host to the largest migration of people on earth, with almost 3 billion journeys being made!
Here are some common greetings to say on the New year:
Taboos to avoid doing on the first day of the festival:
- Debt: You should not lend money on the day, and debts should be paid before New Year’s Eve.
- Washing hair: you’ll wash away your wealth for the year.
- Sharp objects: if you cut yourself it is extremely unlucky.
- Sweeping and cleaning: If you sweep up then your wealth will be swept away.
- Theft: If someone steals from you then your wealth for the year will be ‘stolen.’
- Killing anything: Similar to sharp objects, anything associated with blood is very bad luck.
- Taking Medicine: you’ll be ill all year.
- Monochrome clothing: White and black are the colours associated with sorrow in China.
- Giving specific types of gifts: scissors, clocks, or anything with the number 4 (it sounds like death 死) and shoes (they sound like evil!)
Have a happy New Year and remember, watch out for evil shoes!
Bike trips in China through some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes are popular adventures for both Chinese and foreigners. These aren’t just casual bike rides either, I’m talking about trips that last weeks or months. Cycling routes in China range from the (relatively) relaxing 450 km trip around the tropical island Hainan, to the intense, spiritual 2200 km climb from Chengdu to Lhasa, Tibet. A huge China bike trip is on my bucket list, but over Spring Festival holiday, I settled for a day ride around a city in southern Sichuan called Xichang.
Xichang, the ‘Spring City’
Chengdu can be a little cold in the winter, so over Spring Festival holiday, I wanted to go somewhere warmer. I ended up taking a 12 hour train to Xichang, where the temperature during February consistently gets up to about 20-25 C. The fresh air, sunny skies, and warm weather are invigorating, making it a popular tourist attraction among Chinese, but still not too many foreigners go there. The city sits by the massive Qionghai lake in a valley 1500 m above sea level. Instead of doing a bus tour around the area, my two friends and I opted to bike around the lake.
We rented bikes in the city for 20 RMB each for the day. First, we began in a crowded, touristy part of town, where we had fun weaving in and out of traffic. Soon, though, we made it to the less developed side of the lake where we could relax, soaking in sunshine as we biked.
The route around the lake is very bike-friendly, with pedestrian and bike-only paths for almost half of the lake. The scenery is incredible the entire way as you ride between the edge of the water and foot of the mountains. Xichang calls itself a ‘Spring City’, due to its unique climate that gives it a pseudo-tropical feel year-round. We stopped often to take in the astounding views and weather, spending seven hours to complete the 40 km loop around the lake.
Why I Take a Bike, Not a Car
Biking has always been one of my favorite forms of exercise as well as my preferred transportation. It is a convenient way to get around while being able to enjoy your surroundings. The crisp feeling of the wind as you speed down a hill, the natural smell of flowers as you zip through a garden, and that burning feeling in your quads as you power up a mountain slope; it is a complete experience of sensation, something sitting in a car simply can’t compare to.
One drawback, perhaps, is that it is so easy to stop and take pictures of the beautiful scenery along the way! Bike trips aren’t meant to be rushed, so give yourself more time than you would need to actually cycle the whole way. With the blue water, clear skies, and rolling mountains all around Xichang, I found myself snapping photos at every turn, even taking detours down hidden paths just to see what surprises may await.
Making Friends with the Yi Minority
One such detour made me a new friend. After biking up dirt path into a field, I came across a local farmer. He motioned me over to take a picture of his sheep grazing in the field. We struck up a conversation, and I found out he was Yi minority, the ethic group whom this special jurisdiction of Sichuan was named for (Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture). He pointed to his house at the top of the hill and talked about his family. Also, he was quite curious about me, asking questions about where I was from, why I interned in China, and even if I had married yet. Suddenly, he quickly ran off to shoo away his sheep from some crops they’d begun to chew on. Spur-of-the-moment experiences such as this come naturally with the freedom of a cycling trip.
With beautiful scenery and countless surprises, China is a great place for bike trips of any duration. Biking offers active stimulation of exercise, immersive feeling in the scenery, and freedom to discover the hidden experiences a tour bus would speed past, helping you get the most out of your China adventure.
Eine Woche während Chinese New Year, geschlossenen Geschäften und einigen freien Tagen- was bietet sich da besser an als eine Reise? Nur wohin? Bloß nicht nach Guangzhou- zu voll! Bloß nicht in die ländlicheren Gegenden- zu voll! Bloß nicht zu teuer und auch nicht zu weit weg…also…Chongqing!
Thelma und ich haben uns für unsere Reise für die „Sparfuchs-Variante“ entschieden und anstelle des Schnellzuges den „normalen“ Zug gewählt. Dadurch haben wir für unsere Hin- und Rückfahrt nur 93RMB bezahlt anstelle von 150RMB für eine Fahrt.
Chongqing hat uns bereits nach den ersten Minuten unserer Ankunft begeistert! Ein sehr gut ausgebautes Nahverkehrsnetz, eine atemberaubende Skyline und das Beste: nicht voll!Als größte Stadt der Welt hat Chongqing wirklich so einiges zu bieten! In den nächsten 3 Tagen haben wir wunderschöne Tempelanlagen gesehen, uns an Massen von Streetfood satt gegessen und haben letztendlich leider doch eine Kostprobe davon bekommen, was zu Chinese New Year ganz normal ist.
Das alte Städtchen Ciqikou im Chongqinger Shapingba Bezirk eignet sich besonders gut wenn man ein bisschen Alt Chinesischen Flaire genießen, ein paar Souvenirs kaufen oder den gut erhaltenen Baolu Tempel besichtigen möchte.
Eins meiner persönlichen Highlights (im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes)war definitiv die Fahrt mit der Gondel von einer Seite Chongqings über den Yangtze auf die andere Seite der Stadt. Wir mussten zwar fast 1 ½ Stunden anstehen bis wir endlich an der Reihe waren, aber die Aussicht- einfach Wahnsinn! Mit 30RMB für einen Roundtrip auch preislich völlig in Ordnung.
Das Stadtinnere ist mindestens genauso beeindruckend wie die Skyline! Ein Hochhaus überragt das andere und auch hier lohnt sich der Besuch bei Nacht da viele der Gebäude bei Nacht angestrahlt werden.
Beschämenderweise haben Thelma und ich es nicht geschafft, den schärfsten HotPot der Welt zu probieren für welchen Chongqing so berühmt ist. Nach dem wir innerhalb der 3 Tage an gefühlt jedem Streetfood-Stand gehalten haben, war einfach kein Platz mehr für HotPot.
Aber auch ohne diese HotPot Erfahrung war der Trip nach Chongqing rundum gelungen. Wer gerne für ein Wochenende so richtig Großstadtluft schnuppern möchte und gleichzeitig wunderschöne, chinesische Kultur erleben mag, der ist in Chongqing genau richtig!
As you are probably aware last week was Chinese New Year, which meant a week off for all of us in China- and as amazing as Qingdao is we decided it was time to explore somewhere else in China. Which is how 5 interns ended up at Qingdao airport at 5.30 in the morning for the first stop in a week long trip to Nanjing, Suzhou and Shanghai. We were planning to spend 3 days in Nanjing (the most recent of China’s Four Great Ancient Capitals in Jiangsu Province), 1 day in Suzhou (home of the world famous Humble Administrator’s Garden) and 3 days in Shanghai (need I say more?) Despite being warned about travelling during the busy Chinese New Year period we were prepared- after all, crowds are an everyday part of Chinese life!
Landing in Nanjing we were immediately greeted with sunshine and warmth, a welcome break from the recent minus temperatures we’ve been experiencing here in Qingdao. We were lucky enough to book a hostel in the middle of the beautifully busy Fuzimiao area, and despite our early start we were eager to see what Nanjing had to offer us. Sunday was spent exploring the Confucius Temple area, the Pedestrian Street, the Wende Bridge and the QinHuai River, along with trying a lot of the local food on offer. That night we were lucky enough to be treated to a New Year’s Eve dinner provided by the hostel staff, which was a great way to try a lot of traditional Nanjing dishes.
Monday morning we set off bright and early (after eating a ridiculous amount of fried dumplings for breakfast) to visit the Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum and Nanjing’s Purple Mountains. After an interesting ride on what looked like a plus size golf cart to the Mausoleum, we were delayed by an eager group of Chinese tourists who wanted photographs with all of us- however their daughter was less eager, and cried every time her mother brought her near us.
The Mausoleum is an imposing, beautiful building based on top of 392 steps and through two grand entrance ways. Dr. Sun is interred there, and he is considered by many to be the “Father of Modern China”- he was involved in fighting against the Qing government, ending the monarchy after the 1911 revolution and helping to found the Republic of China. The scenic area surrounding the Mausoleum also leads to the Ming Xiaoling Tomb of the founder of the Ming Dynasty.
On Tuesday morning we visited the Nanjing Massacre Museum. This was definitely the most sombre point of our entire trip, as you are greeted with statues commemorating those who died, along with a very graphic account of what happened throughout the museum. However it was an interesting visit and definitely a must see for all of us. To lighten the mood after the museum, we spent the afternoon at XuanWu Lake (Xuánwǔhú 玄武湖) and the City Wall.
Wednesday morning was another early start for us to arrive in Suzhou by 11 am. We immediately sought out a late breakfast in the form of amazing jian bing (jiānbing 煎餅) and headed towards Shantang Canal to take one of the canal boats towards Tiger Hill. The canal boat was a relaxing break from all the activity of the past few days, and we soon arrived at the insanely busy Tiger Hill and Yunyan Pagoda (known as “The Leaning Tower of China”). We decided against visiting the Pagoda as we only had a few hours until we caught our train to Shanghai, so we visited the Humble Administrator’s Gardens (Zhou Zheng Yuan) instead.
The gardens as they are today were started in around 1510 by the poet Wang Xiancheng, and was changed and updated up until 1949 when the Chinese government bought the gardens and opened them to the public. It was obvious why the gardens have been granted World Heritage Site status, as they are amazingly beautiful and absolutely huge- every turn leads you to a pond, pagoda, tea house, bridge or collection of bonsai trees. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend long here, but it was still worth the visit.
Our train to Shanghai only took 20 minutes on Wednesday evening, however we still arrived quite late (mainly due to me holding everyone up in the train station after being issued a broken metro card). After finding our hostel tucked away into a side street we intended to go to bed early and catch up on sleep after the last few days however the bars of Shanghai proved too tempting for some of the interns.
We also visited Pudong to get an alternate view of the buildings you can see from the Bund, however the cloudy skies helped us decide against going inside the Shanghai World Financial Center, which at 492m tall gives one of the best views of the city on clear days. We then made our way across the river to the Bund after walking the Lujiazui Pedestrian Bridge (a huge circular walkway set above the traffic).
On Friday we visited People’s Park, a beautiful area filled with people playing mah-jong, cards and also the “Shanghai Marriage Market”. This was definitely something to see, as crowds of parents and grandparents lined the entrance to the park advertising their children to potential marriage partners. Despite the crowds surrounding the marriage market, the park wasn’t as busy as we expected it to be, and was definitely a lot quieter than the Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou. We spent a lot of the afternoon here exploring, and the park has a nice change of pace to the business of Shanghai’s streets.
On Saturday morning we visited the Shanghai Museum in People’s Square, which showcases a history of Chinese art (including pottery, jade, calligraphy and a history of the Buddha’s evolution in art). We also visited one of the fake markets near the Science and Technology Museum.
Despite all the warnings we received about travelling during Chinese New Year, and how we would regret visiting these places during such a busy time, we only had positive experiences with all the transport we took- except for a minor 20 minute delay for our flight from Shanghai to Qingdao. Two flights, two trains, a few buses and a lot of metro journeys later, my first trip out of Qingdao was an exciting one! The crowds didn’t affect our experience at all, and we saw some of the most beautiful places in China during one of the most interesting times of the year.
If you want to experience a trip like this for yourself, apply now!
Last week the famous Lantern Festival (元宵节) was celebrated all over China. Red lantern lines illuminating the night everywhere– what could be more characteristic of China?Let me talk a bit about one of the most widely known Chinese festival.
The Lantern Festival originated in the Eastern Han Dynasty and was first celebrated about 2000 years ago. It is celebrated on the first full moon night in the Chinese calendar, which is why the date changes every year, and traditionally marks the end of the Spring Festival. After the Lantern Festival people normally stop setting off fireworks. I put “normally” because I still heard fireworks for days afterwards. It’s been, however, relatively calm during the past few days so I assume everything is back to normal now. What is special about the Lantern Festival? Visitors can enjoy various beautiful lanterns, make lanterns fly into the dark night sky, try to solve lantern riddles, eat ball dumplings in soup, join lion or dragon dances and many other things.
Well, that’s exactly what we, the IC intern group, were looking for when we went to Qingdao’s Old Town on Thursday, March 5th. We didn’t really find all of these “interesting things” but we finally managed to find a traditional temple that opened its gates for the event where we took lots of beautiful pictures. You may find a selection of them below.
元宵节快乐, Happy Lantern Festival !
What about 青岛糖球会? This is the Chinese New Year Big Market in Qingdao. It lasts one week and is well-known not only by Chinese people but also by foreigners. If you want to try strange delicacies and aren’t afraid of getting bitten by a crocodile, this is the best place to go to! Meat skewers, squid sticks, scorpions, coconut juice, and – best thing of all – 糖球 (candied hawthorns!). If you are lucky, you will manage to not lose your friends in the streets which are crowded by masses of people. Otherwise you’ll have to find your way through the crowd, passing flower headband sellers and men hitting rice pastry with a big wood hammer.
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Being in China for the Spring Festival, I really wanted to understand the importance of this festival to the Chinese people. I had the possibility to spend the Chinese New Year with a Chinese family, and what could be any better than learning more about the culture, tradition and faith from the locals themselves? So I seized this opportunity and packed my bags for a few days.To start from the very beginning… I met Guimin Zhang, alias Molly, when I arrived in Qingdao at the end of January and she invited me to come to see her family during the Spring Festival. Therefore, on the 17th after work, I took the bus to her home, wondering what was awaiting me. But there was no need to worry. I was welcomed in the Chinese way: as a special guest. During the day and until late at night fireworks were set off.
On the 18th, we went to the grandfather’s home. I helped a bit to cook for lunch, but the grandmother just wanted me to sit on the sofa and watch TV. It was really difficult for me to understand what they were saying in Chinese, because they have this particular Qingdao accent and speak so quickly.
Just before lunch, I was invited to go with them to the cemetery, which is traditionally exclusive to men. However, there are no longer only men going, and some women also take part in this tradition. Naturally, everybody was looking at me: “But… Who is that girl?” In the cemetery, it was very noisy because everyone was setting off fireworks in front of their ancestors’ graves to show their respect to them. They also burned incense and this particular yellow paper representing money which is believed to be sent off to the dead. Afterwards we went to different places around the city to set off fireworks and burn more of this yellow paper.
In the afternoon, we visited some other family members. I was surprised at the fact that, whenever we would enter a different home, we would be offered some fruit. Nice and refreshing!
And after that, time for dumplings with the whole family! Yeaaah. I learnt how to make them, from flour to plate. At the beginning my dumplings were… Well… They didn’t look like dumplings, I have to admit. But the more I made, the better their shape. Practice makes perfection. And now that I know how to make them by myself, I may make some when I’ll be back to France and impress my family and friends with my new abilities.
And for now I only have one more thing left to say:
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Any supply chain that involves Asian links, especially Chinese links, is subject to disruption in supply as businesses shut down for the Chinese New Year (CNY).
During the CNY celebrations most Chinese companies remain closed, resuming operation as late as one to two weeks after the specific CNY date. And even after companies reopen, they rarely have enough manpower to produce at full capacity as many employees don’t return to work in time.
For the workforce, however, CNY is a welcome vacation, giving employees a longer break from work than in most parts of the Western world. Chinese normally use their vacation to travel home to spend the CNY celebrations with their families who often live far away. Traveling to one’s hometown can be cumbersome as trips easily take 3 to 7 days by train or bus. With an entire nation on the move, “going home” may quickly become a nerve-wracking endeavor and travelers are advised to prepare for crowded train stations, bus stops and airports. On the bright sight, however, many of the big Chinese cities like Shanghai or Beijing will be less trafficked and main spots in the city center less crowded since most of the locals spend CNY in their out-of-city hometowns.
Western companies with close ties to China are advised to plan well in advance to minimize disruptions in supply and should factor in airfreight or sea freight delays. For those companies which solely rely on Chinese vendors for their inventory, it is necessary to consider one of the following options:
1) Increasing the company’s inventory for the CNY season.
2) Searching for possible (non- Asian) suppliers to be able to switch to a second source for the CNY period.
3) Using up, if possible, older inventory or reduce production altogether.
The CNY period, on the other hand, presents opportunities to boost sales for those businesses which import their products to China. With consumer spending reaching similar levels to the holiday season spending in the US, CNY is quickly becoming a success story for many importers.
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Firstly – Happy New Year – it is my pleasure to be writing my first blog in the year of the Horse – I hope you enjoy it! This blog is going to be a mixture of personal reflection on Chinese New Year, rough travel guide and random ramblings. I hope you can get through my mixed style and enjoy this blog.
After setting off a few Chinese firecrackers, enjoying a wonderful dinner with one our homestay families in Chengdu and successfully not getting blown up by the 1000’s of fireworks and firecrackers exploding all around us in the middle of the street whilst cars, motorbikes and people moved around the city. I was off to spend the holidays in a different province – Yunnan, China.
China has 22 provinces which are all vastly different to each other, which is why when someone asks – “what’s it like to live in China?” the answer can be somewhat problematic and relative to the individual. The answer may vary significantly if you live in the icy Heilongjiang Province, Tropical Island, Hainan or spicy Sichuan province (which is where Chengdu is located). In summary, China has many provinces which are bigger than many European countries and with distinctively different personalities, food and landscapes. One of the joys of living and travelling here is you can experience a very different China right on your doorstep.
The capital of Yunnan – Kunming is one hour flight from Chengdu and a little over 2 hours from Zhuhai and Qingdao. Famous for being the “Spring City” with year round temperate and sunny weather as well as being one of the most ethnically diverse provinces of China (25 of China’s 56 recognised ethnic groups call Yunnan home).
Whilst in Kunming, I noticed some distinct differences to Chengdu:-
• (Even) more chaos – be careful when crossing the street here!
• Sun… much more sun.
• Less push chairs and more babies on their mother’s back (carried in ethnic minority style carriers).
• Less tall buildings/advanced development – Kunming is growing but at a slower pace than Chengdu.
• More travellers/hippies/backpackers and tourists (domestic and foreign)
• Flowers – EVERYWHERE!
• More street vendors and street food
• More exotic fruit and vegetables (fruit that is not available in Chengdu until Spring is already readily available)
• More expensive taxi’s
• Cheaper water
• No humidity
• Red earth and Eucalyptus trees (outside the city it can look a little like the Australian bush!)
• High Altitude – you may feel tired for the first few days and this is where Chinese athletes come to train – try to run / cycle here at your normal pace and you will struggle.
• You can get sunburnt in January and wear a T-Shirt.
Kunming is a great gateway to some wonderful destinations (and I am forgetting it borders Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos – which all require a separate blog) – go south to the beautiful rice terraces of Yuanyang, and further still to Jinghong and Xishuangbanna where free roaming elephants, jungle and spicy food next to the Mekong river await.
Go North and you have tourist hot spots and hippy hangout Dali and further North Lijiang and the (highly recommended) Tiger Leaping gorge where you can hike spectacular scenery and look down at the Chinese tourists taking the “safe” road below while you climb along waterfalls and negotiate the mountain pass used by tea traders in years gone by and now travellers from around the world.
As you can probably tell I have a soft spot for Yunnan – it was my home for a year and a half and my girlfriend also comes from there. It was really great to enjoy the Spring Festival with her family. We had huge, delicious dinners, played a lot of Mahjong – a lot of money exchanged hands(even I got a couple of Hong Bao’s – Chinese lucky money). We also spent the holidays relaxing, watching movies and eating chocolate and exotic fruits! It was also a good chance to visit some parks and bars in Kunming which I used to go to regularly, (try) to do my Chinese homework and have a decent Indian curry! All in all a productive time in Kunming.
After spending a few days in Kunming I also took the chance to visit Yuxi and enjoy the Hot Spring’s and food in a city voted one of China’s best (small) cities. Beautiful flowers, Spring Festival traffic jams and endless blue skies greeted us as we drove to the city which is just two hours from Kunming.
It was also a chance to meet up with some old colleagues and friends in Kunming, enjoy a few beers and catch up. Spring festival can be a strange time for a foreigner in China – not knowing quite how to embrace a festival which is not your own, but as I found both two years ago and this year Chinese hospitality knows no end and if you happen to be in China during this time I am sure your new friends / colleagues will make it an unforgettable time.
China has so much more than the Great Wall, Shanghai skyscraper’s and Terracotta worriors, in every one of our cities Chengdu, Qingdao and Zhuhai you will find wonderful treasures hidden in and around the province. So apply now! China is a gift that keeps giving and I have found the longer and closer you look the more you can find in this vast country! Happy New Year!