In China the biggest festival of the year is the New Year, also called spring festival 春节chūnjié in Chinese. You may be asking why they celebrate the New Year in late January or early February and not at the beginning of January like most of the world. The reason for that is the lunar calendar.
The Lunar Calendar
Before China started to use the Gregorian calendar they had their own system, which followed the moon but even to this day China’s festivals are still celebrated according to the lunar calendar. Many people in China even celebrate their lunar birthday instead of the Gregorian calendar birth date, which can actually be found on their ID cards.
This can be confusing for people from other countries, as the lunar calendar varies from our calendar by a few weeks, hence the dates change every year.
The Chinese New Year starts on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar, which this year is on the 31st of January. Usually it is celebrated for one week, but as most people will go to their hometown, they will usually stay away for two weeks, sometimes even longer. This leads to a mass of people travelling through the whole country with crowded trains, buses and planes. The ticket prices rise tremendously just before and after this period so it is not advised to go on a journey at that time. However during the first few days of the actually holiday period tickets are very cheap and it’s not as busy as everybody is already home with their families.
Customs and Traditions
Just before the holiday you will see people buying new clothes and getting new haircuts. Everybody wants to look good for the New Year. As red is the lucky colour, the people who were born in the year of the same zodiac animal, will buy red underwear and wear it on the first day of the New Year.
People will also clean their homes and put red banners with 春联chūnlián, couplets, at their front doors wishing for good luck and a prosperous new year. They are put up vertically one on the left, one on the right and one horizontally on the top of the door
There are many other decorations as well, usually red lanterns, paper cuts or posters of the character 福fú meaning ‘good fortune’ and the zodiac animal of the year. You can often see the picture of fú hanging upside down, so that the luck will pour down on you.
Another traditional decoration is fish, the reason for this is the saying 年年有余，天天有鱼 niánnián yǒu yú, tiāntiān yǒu yú, which translates into ‘Have abundance year after year, have fish every day’. As the words for abundance and fish have the same sound (yú), Chinese people use fish as a symbol for abundance. That is also why Chinese will have fish in every New Year’s meal.
There is one red thing everyone anticipates, it’s the red envelope 红包 hóngbāo. It’s the typical New Year present filled with money from family or close family friends and is usually given to the children. Most companies will also give out a New Year’s bonus in a hóngbāo to their employees.
Family is the most important during the Chinese New Year. As many people work in a different place than their hometown for most people it’s the only chance in the year when the whole family will get together. During the holiday there will be plenty of lunches and dinners with family, extended family, friends and neighbours. It’s a very lively time and the atmosphere is bustling with excitement.
Of course you cannot miss out on the firecrackers and fireworks, that is what the Chinese invented gunpowder for (not for guns ;-P). The noise of the exploding crackers is supposed to drive evil and ghosts away, so that there will be a happy and peaceful start into the New Year.
After filling their stomachs and letting off a huge amount of firecrackers most families will spend a calm New Year’s eve in front of the TV watching the New Year’s Gala 春节联欢晚会chūnjié liánhuān wǎnhuì, a four hour or longer programme with singing, dancing, comedy and magical performances from the different ethnic groups all over the country.
Before the actual holiday many Chinese New Year events and parties will take place, just like companies in western countries will have their Christmas party. There you can also see traditional performances such as the dragon dance.
Do you want to experience a Chinese New Year celebration yourself? Apply for an internship and do a homestay to have an authentic Chinese New Year with a Chinese family!
Everything is arranged: You know which company you will do your internship with, you might have booked your flights already but not sure yet where to live?
Today, I would like to give you some advice on your choice of accommodation when you stay in China. From my experience dealing with hundreds of students and interns every year and living in different cities in China, I am in a good position to give you a hand when it comes down to making a decision on your accommodation in China.
First of all, I would like to recommend you to put financial questions aside when it comes to your choice and really listen to your heart and find out what you want to get out of your stay in China. If you are interested in getting to know the Chinese Culture, picking up on or improving your Chinese, trying authentic Chinese food and getting in touch with locals, a homestay with a Chinese family should be the first option for you. As Chinese people are very family- and relationship oriented, they will not only accept you as a guest in their house but actually integrate you in their daily family–life which is great because it will help you settling down quickly. I personally can recommend you to stay with a Chinese family from my own experience that I had when I came to China the first time. On the other hand, if your focus in China is more in doing an internship and doing a lot of networking in the evenings, an apartment seems to be the better option as it allows you more independence and privacy.
Secondly, aside from your expectations about what you want to get out of your stay in China, you are still a student and you want to get the best value for money from our programme. A homestay will help you pick up some Chinese if it is your first contact with Chinese language or it will help you to apply and enhance your Chinese skills that you have learned before. Either way, it will always look good if you had contact with locals in a non-business-context during your stay in China. A homestay in China will be first and foremost a unique and once-in-a -lifetime-experience. You can even add it to your CV to emphasize your ability to adapt quickly to a new environment, independency, intercultural and communication skills. So, when it comes down to your financial situation and you cannot afford taking language classes but want to improve on your Chinese, it is always the best solution to choose homestay as an option of accommodation.
Thirdly, I hear a lot of people who want to arrange their own accommodation because they are here on a budget as they are still students. I can understand that arranging an apartment yourself sounds tempting if you speak fluent Chinese. However, you are also missing out on a lot of great experiences if you stay in your own place, where you might end up really far from your host-company or paying a lot more money than through our programme because you will get charged an agents-fee, pay utility bills and internet extra and have trouble negotiating with the landlord when something is broken in the apartment. But wasn’t your initial plan to come to China to achieve something and to meet great people? Well, then don’t waste your time with arranging your own accommodation! InternChina is providing this allround-service to you through our friendly, local, English speaking Chinese staff. We are experienced to help you with whatever you need to make your stay in China pleasant and a great experience. We will be there when you lost your key for the apartment or the toilet is broken, we provide bedsheets and cooking utensils for you.
So, you can focus on the things that really matter when you are in China from your first day after your arrival: your internship and your guanxi!
Growing older happens not only too fast, but it can also be pretty exhausting especially if you are abroad for your birthday.
My birthday celebrations started on Friday when I partied with some of my InternChina friends. We went to a huge club area in Chengdu where we enjoyed some free drinks with many Chinese people. Club-hopping was amazing but we were out till about 4am. So I was able to catch some sleep until noon the next day.
I was a bit surprised that my host-family did not wish me “Happy Birthday”. Later though it turned out that it was only a cultural misunderstanding. In China birthdays are usually not given special importance until your 60th birthday. Bearing this in mind, I was happy they ignored it since my 60s are still some years ahead of me. Although they did not congratulate me, they invited my friends to come over to our flat for a party. During the day my host-sister Sophie was preparing hand-made cupcakes, milk tea and biscuits as well as rearranging the furniture to make sure all my 20 international guests would fit.
It was not only a birthday party but also an International Food Feast. Every intern as well as every Chinese guest brought one home-made dish and we shared all the international food: Bangers and Mash, Chicken Wings, Spaghetti Carbonara, American Pizza, Schnitzel, Bratkartoffeln, more mashed potatoes, Chinese vegetables, fried Jiaozi and dessert. I totally enjoyed having all this delicious food at the same time.
After dinner someone started blowing up balloons. It was lovely and colourful to begin with and distributing them all over the room reminded me of childhood birthday parties. Somehow the balloons found their way all around our living room landing on people and food. Soon the peaceful party took a different turn when people started throwing balloons at each other. Thankfully no one was seriously injured during the balloon fight =).
After the party I skyped with my family in Germany and went to bed already excited for Sunday, when we had decided to see the Giant Buddha of Leshan.
It was a terribly busy but amazing weekend. Since I am leaving tomorrow I wanted to say goodbye and thank all my new friends here in China. Hope to see you soon!
As one of InternChina team member I had lots of chances to meet with people, especially with our host family. In our Chinese host families, they are always patient with you even if you cannot understand a single word of Chinese. When you move in with a Chinese host family, you will find that the parents or grandparents will always insist that you eat more on the dinner time. They’ll always say “eat eat eat more”! Can’t understand the reasoning behind it? It’s based on Chinese traditional cultural and hospitality. They want to give their child (in this case, you, their host child) everything possible to make them feel more comfortable.
Living with a host family is so much more than just a place to live because the family legitimately tries to bring you into the family. Consistently some of the most rewarding aspects of living with a host family are the day to day affairs that on the surface appear insignificant. From eating to shopping to going out to sites, our host families genuinely try to include you. From teaching you how to make dumplings to bringing you along on family outings, you’re guaranteed to take something from the homestay experience.
I myself had a homestay experience when I decided to go to Thailand after my graduation. It was my first time abroad. Sooner than expected, I found myself with my host brother, Tom, in his village of Chinmai. Eight hours away from the city center, I was greeted by my host mom at the edge of the door. Big and well furnished, the home had a lived in feel that can’t be found anywhere else. At dinner time mum (I also called her mum) cooked us some Thai hotpot. It was very interesting helping her prepare the ingredients together as she taught me all the Thai equivalents to the vegetables and meats. After dinner they took me to the night market that was full of nice cheap goods (sometimes I really can’t control myself from buying something I don’t need!) While Tom went to work during the day and his sister went to school, the evenings were always special. All in all, I’m going to tell you guys who wants to go abroad and live abroad don’t be afraid to talk with locals even you can’t speak the local language, sometime it really doesn’t matter if you can speak their language or not, body language will be your dictionary!
…and in your host family
Being vegetarian in China is not that easy sometimes, especially if you don’t speak Chinese. As I already wrote in an earlier blog, you always have the possibility to go to a vegetarian restaurant, like Crystal Lotus in Qingdao.
While students, who are living in apartments can cook for themselves and normally don’t have too much explaining to do for their roommates (being a veggie in western countries is not that exciting and unusual anymore I hope), students who are living in a host family might encounter some problems. Not eating meat AND seafood/fish is not common in China. Families with a Buddhist background might understand you better, but they are comparably scarce. But still, there is no need to be afraid if you bring a little patience and stick to some advice I am about to give. 😉 So here it is, a mini-guideline about things you should pay a little attention to when you come to China and want people to accept you (r vegetariarism):
1) Don’t expect your family to understand about animal rights or anything like that. It is a concept which is more or less not existent in China and Chinese will have their difficulties to understand you. Easiest way might be to say that you just like animals very much and that’s why you don’t want to eat them.
2) Also don’t try to explain your views with harsh comparisons. It might be ok in Europe if you asked a hard-core omni if he would want to eat his own dog, but you won’t be making friends with your host family with comparisons like this. It only gives people the feeling to be ‘bad’/have lower morals than you and you wouldn’t want that.
3) Many host families know that there are vegetarians in western countries. And your host family will know from your homestay application form. They will try to understand and even cook special meals for you. Just don’t be disappointed if there is at least the same amount of meat dished as there are veggies on the table. They might want to offer you meat dishes now and then. Again, don’t be disappointed they just mean well and are worried about your nutrition. 😉
4) Your host family might be afraid to not know what to cook for you. While breakfast it normally not really a problem, dinner might be. Assure them that you eat eggs (if you do) and are fine with carbohydrates (meaning rice and noodles) and vegetables. Tell them what vegetables you like (e.g. broccoli, mushrooms or aubergine…) and demonstrate how full you are after dinner (rub your belly ;-)). They will be happy that you are happy and also will be a little closer to understand that not eating meat doesn’t mean to go hungry all the time.
5) You might be asked quite often what you actually eat at home, so best have a few examples ready of what you normally cook or even show them pictures. (Hello intercultural exchange: Yes, we do really eat that…no, it really tastes great ;-))
6) It will help a lot if you can lower your principles a little and eat dishes where meat and vegetables are mixed. You can pick the meat out and just eat the green stuff. It will in general make your life a lot easier.
7) Tofu!!! It’s like one of the best inventions ever – and it’s Chinese. Some people might have forgotten, but Chinese cuisine can offer the biggest variety of vegetarian dishes in the world!
On Monday, Sunny, our Customer Relations Manager in Zhuhai, asked me if I would like to come with her and visit a new homestay family. My Chinese is still very basic and I was afraid that not being able to communicate with them would make things awkward, but of course I was excited to meet a family that could potentially become one of our interns’ host family!
After a few minutes of asking around to find the right building, we arrived at the apartment. They opened up and quickly welcomed us inside. First we met the host dad, host mum and their 11-year-old son. They were very nice and accommodating, even though I could understand very little of what they said.
Then they gave us a tour of the apartment. It was a very nice, clean and cozy home, with a few bedrooms and even a studio full of books! In the son’s bedroom we met the grandparents, who were also really friendly and sweet. We went back into the living room and there Sunny began talking to the mum and dad about Intern China and the students that come do internships and live in homestays. Meanwhile, I had a very pleasant chat with their son, who was very keen on practising his English and I was more than happy to help! As it turns out, he loves basketball and is an avid drummer.
Even though we were only planning a short visit, they invited us for dinner and the food smelled so yummy we couldn’t refuse. It was a very nice meal with lots of vegetables, rice and some lamb. I was reminded of my own childhood when the host mum gave her son a small plate with ketchup on it, so that he would eat all his food!
After dinner we went back to the living room for some tea, chatted for a few more minutes and then took our leave. With lots of smiles and “thank yous”, we said our goodbyes and left. It was a great experience for me, to be welcomed so warmly into someone’s home, by a family who is very excited about the prospect of providing a home away from home to one of our future interns.
One thing should be emphasized right from the beginning: If you have the chance to join a Chinese wedding, do not hesitate to do so!
Last weekend my host family and I were invited to join such a special event. The wedding started at 11am so I was only expecting a small and short ceremony with a few snacks. Surprisingly, as we arrived I saw a bunch of people waiting for the bridal pair in front of a luxurious hotel.
As soon as the limousine arrived, an impressive drum concert started, cannons shot confetti and traditional Chinese “Lions” started to dance around them. Afterwards, we took a seat in a big hall, decorated in white and blue which is not common in China as Chinese weddings are usually in red.
We were served around thirty dishes, including premium fish and meat, fine wine and traditional Tsingtao beer.
Fortunately, I had a great view of the catwalk which lead to the stage where the marriage took place and a nice Chinese moderator lead us through the rest of the program, consisting of a saxophone solo, a torch show, singing performances and of course the performance of the bridal pair (the bride changed her dress three times!!!).
All in all it was an awesome experience which I am so glad I was apart of!
Greetings from Zhuhai! It is so hot in here that you wouldn’t even believe it! However, nothing will stop InternChina from having fun! So during the last few weeks we had countless street barbeques, participated in the wine marathon, and managed to organize British summer fair here in Zhuhai!
As you all know, InternChina offers a homestay option for those who want to get to know Chinese culture a bit better. However this time, we decided to show our Chinese families a little bit of our own Culture and invited them to the traditional British fair! I have to say that they were really amused seeing all those foreiners running around with spoons and eggs in their mouth! Not to mention the tug of war!