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 a student in China has some very significant perks – especially when it comes to holidays. You might not get your usual Christmas vacation (it was rather depressing having to sit in the classroom on the 24th or 25th December), but Chinese University students are given a very long – sometimes up to 5 weeks – winter holiday.To make the most of our time in China, and to practice our Chinese, of course, my friend and I took on the quest of travelling during Spring Festival. Our rough plan was laid out as follows: Train it from Beijing to Nanjing, then take a train to Zhengzhou in Henan to visit a friend of ours who was travelling home for the holidays. Next stop, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, followed by Yangshuo, Guilin and back to Beijing. Surprisingly, we actually made it to all of these destinations and managed to stick to our plan.
We spent the actual New Year days in a small village named Jiaozuo outside Zhengzhou. Not really knowing what to expect when our friend invited us to his home to celebrate the New Year, we hopped on a train from Nanjing ready for an adventure. Unlike the other trains we had taken, this one was old, loud, and uncomfortable. Five hours later, after having endured questioning by almost every other passenger in the cabin (what are you waiguoren (foreigners) doing in this part of town??), we finally arrived in Zhengzhou at around midnight.
A bumpy bus-ride and a daring motorbike-ride later, we made it to our friend’s family’s home and were warmly welcomed by his parents and grandparents. There was a lot of chatter in their local dialect, of which we couldn’t understand anything, but it looked like they were happy to see us. After we were presented with some soup and nibbles, our friend and his father gave us a tour of the village and their land. As we walked through the old streets (no skyscrapers here!) we were followed by a group of curious children, who had probably never seen a non-Chinese person in their life. We visited the family’s other property and hung up couplets on the doors and arches and bought fireworks and firecrackers in preparation for the evening.
By sunset the first firecrackers were set off, and the blasts did not end until the early morning hours. There were home-made jiaozi (dumplings) for dinner and soup, followed by a game of majiang of course!
The next morning, offerings were made to the temples nearby and firecrackers were set off on the fields to welcome the harvest. It was truly an unforgettable experience to see everyone together, singing, laughing and celebrating. The only way I could describe it is the warm, fuzzy feeling we have at Christmas.. just more explosive.. 🙂
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China – the Kingdom of the middle- had a wide influence in Asia. In almost every neighboring country of China you can still find traces of Chinese Civilization from hundreds of years ago. However, you can also discover external influences in Chinese culture – customs, habits, products or even whole lifestyles have been imported from abroad and been integrated into Modern Chinese Culture. One of those neighboring countries which China always had a very special relationship to, is Japan. I had the chance to get a return flight for only 3.000,- RMB to Tokyo so I took advantage of it and explored a beautiful and fascinating place not far from China.
Even though, Japan is geographically located close to China, the cultures are differing a lot from each other. As a German I can see the parallels rather between Japanese and Germans… but then on the other hand, there are a lot of concepts and ideas which are shared by the Japanese and the Chinese and make them very similar from a Western perspective!
To give you an idea of similarities and differences between Japanese and Chinese Culture, I want to share my experiences and observations with you.
Traffic: A lot of foreigners perceive Chinese traffic as more chaotic than organized (see our blog: http://internchina.com/surviving-in-chinese-traffic/). When I arrived in Tokyo, it was the complete opposite picture. Even though, more people seem to use public transportation at the same time, everything was very organized, calm and people act very polite. For Chinese people it seems normal to use their elbows, don’t cover their mouths when they are coughing or sneezing in public and shout into their mobile phone on any possible occasion – Japanese people prefer their little space around themselves, nobody talks on the phone in the subway and avoid under any circumstance to run into each other even if it is crowded. It was very interesting to see that crowded doesn’t necessarily mean chaotic.
***Be aware though, that in Japan cars go on the left side of the street!
Language: Japanese on the first glance seems to be much easier than Chinese because you don’t have any tones that you need to take care of. If you know Chinese, you already can read a good part of the Japanese characters (not the pronounciation though, but you can guess the meaning!) which is very helpful in a country which is not using Latin letters. However, on a long-run mastering Japanese language seems to become a lot more complicated and rather difficult to master as grammatical rules are similarly difficult to German grammar. If you want to make quick progress on speaking learning Chinese seems to be the better choice (see our blog: http://internchina.com/china-vs-europe-reasons-to-learn-chinese-in-china/).
Saving/Losing face: Being in China for three years now gave me confidence to understand the idea of saving or losing face. For many westerners it is something very difficult to grasp and accept as a part of the Eastern Culture. It means a lot of rules, such as avoiding to name problems, not to negate or refuse anything directly or using a very flowery language. In business situations this can cause a lot of misunderstandings if you don’t understand these rules or are not be able to read between the lines. Japanese seem to follow this concept to an even further extent than the Chinese, so I can imagine that for Westerners doing business in Japan is even more difficult to adapt to than doing Business in China. More about cross-cultural communication: http://internchina.com/cross-cultural-communication-in-china-west-vs-east/.
Eating and drinking: Japan offers a wide variety of traditional Japanese dishes, but also international influences can be found. There are many restaurants offering fusion kitchen and the Japanese interpretation of “Western Food”. Very similar to Chinese food, you can offer several dishes, which you can share with your friends. Of course, the best way is to get up very early in the morning and enjoy the freshest sushi in the world at the Tokyo fish market. However, excellent sea-food can be found in China as well – especially in coastal cities (e.g. Qingdao) sea-food will be offered and is part of traditional dishes. In the West we hold the prejudice, Chinese and Japanese wouldn’t drink a lot as they are lacking an enzyme to process alcohol. It is true, that the digestion/processing for a lot of Asians is difficult, but that doesn’t keep them away from consuming good amounts of beer (e.g. Asahi in Japan, Tsingtao-Beer in China) and rice wine (Baijiu in China, Sake in Japan). “Cheers” sounds very similar in Japanese (“Kanpai”) and Chinese (“Ganbei”). More info about eating and drinking customs in Asia: http://internchina.com/how-to-say-bon-appetit-in-chinese/.
Religion/Beliefs: Chinese traditional beliefs are rooted in Confucianism, Daoism and the Buddhism which originally came from India to China. Japanese are traditionally Zen-Buddhists and Shintoists. Shintoists believe in “kami” (= spirits) which live in every tree, stone, house etc. Animism is a big part of Shintoism, which means, that each animal has its own spirit. That’s why you can find in Japan numerous parks with temples and shrines where people can pray to certain spirits. In China, there are only a few places left where Daoists and Buddhists can practice their traditional beliefs, modern culture dictates a very practical approach of practicing Buddhist and Daoist traditions. I was very fascinated by the parallels between Daoist beliefs and Shintoism. In both beliefs, unity and harmony of humans and animals and nature in general play a significant role. Each country though developed their own interpretation of a universal truth. More about Daoism: http://internchina.com/a-visit-to-qingyang-temple-back-to-the-roots-of-daoism/.
All in all it was a very interesting trip to Japan and I am sure to come back at a later point to enjoy the blossom of the Sakura trees (cherry trees) as it is said to be one of the most beautiful events in the world!
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Last week I probably did my last trip during my time here in China. After being to Shanghai during Golden Week and visiting one of the holy mountains of China, Taishan, I definitely wanted to see the capital of China – Beijing.
Before the trip started my good friend Aubry came to Qingdao two days in advance and I had time to show him Qingdao (which has been my home for the past 5 months). I showed him around in our beautiful old part of the city, as well as our nice beaches.
On Thursday our trip to Beijing could finally start. We decided to stay in a hostel called Sanlitun Youth Hostel, which I can really recommend to you, if you want to stay in Beijing for a few days or even a while. It has cheap prices, a warm atmosphere, clean rooms and even offers some nice food – I can definitely recommend you the big Swiss breakfast.. yummy! Besides that, you have a young, open minded and very international audience that we liked to hang out with.
The next day we took a trip to the Great Wall which I have really been looking forward to. It was a great experience to walk up all the way on our own and enjoy the landscape. Also the wall itself was quite impressive. At the end of our walk on the wall we found a part which has not been restored – this is where you can have the nicest of all views!
The following day we started exploring the city a bit more. We visited some of the more famous sights of the city as the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. A personal tip here is to go to the Jing Shan Park near the Forbidden City. It is not very much crowded and is a really nice area. If you go up the little hill inside the park you have a great view above the Forbidden city and also the city in general.
After we explored much more of the city area, we decided to find ourselves a nice place to eat. We found out about Sanlitun village which is a big complex with lots of restaurants and shopping. The place you should not miss if you like some Mexican food is the Cantina Agave. Atmosphere and food there are top notch. Near Sanlitun village is also huge bar street where we had some drinks in various bars.
All in all it has been a nice experience and Beijing is a city that is worth a visit. We had a decent time and I guess we have really been lucky with the weather, as it was sunny all day and there was literally no smog at all. Beijing is a bit more Chinese than Shanghai in a way but is also just as lively. Nothing more to say than – bye bye, Beijing!
You may already be convinced on the idea of coming to Qingdao. Or you may be thinking about it – you want to do a big trip and make new experiences but you’re not sure if China and especially Qingdao is your thing. Below are some valuable reasons I think you should come to my current place to be, Qingdao.
Chinese food is delicious, cheap and spicy. You should better learn to eat with sticks too. If you are prepared for that you will have some great culinary experiences. In Qingdao you should especially not miss the seafood. On my first night I had a big Chinese BBQ. You can find it on nearly every corner of the city. Just be open-minded and enjoy.
In Qingdao you can really enjoy the nature. On the one side you have the sea and the beaches. It is great to walk along the beach and watch the sea or spend a chill out day with friends. On the other hand you have a lot of nice mountains to climb. The most famous is Laoshan. It is a great experience to go up and you can truly enjoy the view.
Qingdao can also offer you some nice sights and cultural experiences. Come and check out some more interesting spots in Qingdao. For example Zhanshan temple: it is a Buddhist temple located on ZhiQuan Road. Especially during summer it is great to just go there to picnic and enjoy the day. Another good place to go is the Zhongshan Park. This is the main city park. Inside there is an amusement park, nature garden, carnival and petting Zoo and a Botanical Garden. Besides that Qingdao offers many other great places. Go out and explore!
Another big reason for coming to Qingdao is the lifestyle. You have a big city where you can always find a place to go out. You have great restaurants and the previously mentioned barbecue. For fans of the nightlife you have bars like LPG and Charlie’s as well as nightclubs like Muse and Ye Zhao. You will get to know a mixture of Western and Chinese people there. At the same time you have the opportunities to chill out on the beach or in the park. So whatever mood you are in, in Qingdao you can always find a place that makes you happy.
Last saturday InternChina organised a Laser Tag event at the Zhongshan Park in Qingdao.
I’ve already played some laser tag games in France, and every time I played, I had to run into a dark labyrinth with loud metal music. So I imagined that in China it would be the same, but I was totally surprised to hear that actually we would play a laser game outside and in the afternoon.
So we arrived at the place around twelve and we directly divided the whole group in two teams, one led by Jack the other one by me. Both teams had to wear special outfits with some targets on them for the laser guns, Jack’s team had dark outfits and in my team we were wearing camouflage outfits.
The organiser told us the first team has to go into the park and hide, and the second team will attack them. So that was quite funny, because this park is really popular in Qingdao and in the afternoon there are lots of people there.
So, while we were playing the little soldiers and crawling on the floor, two meters next to us there were many Chinese families having a relaxed afternoon picnic in the park, or old people sitting on a bench and thinking “What are these strange foreigners doing here?!”
We organised two games, after which we decided to do an InternChina staff team against interns, there was a kind of temple on the top of the hill in the park and the game was named “Defend the temple”. InternChina had to defend it. But 6 against 18 was quite unfair and it didn’t take long for our opponents to beat us.
At the end when we decided to pay and stop playing, everyone came back to the meeting point and then we noticed that someone was missing.
The best player of the day was certainly Mathias, a German intern. He was so involved in the game and so well hidden that it took us about half an hour to find him! Saving private Mathias…
As Jack was playing with him in the same team we asked him to call Mathias, the dialogue sounded like this:
Jack: “Mathias, the game is over, you can stop hiding now and come back.”
Mathias: “They’ve got Jack, it’s a trap, they’ve forced him to say that.”
Finally our super warrior came back and asked “Is the game already over?”
Playing Laser Tag is really funny but also tiresome and some of us had a nap during the waiting time…
After we found our missing soldier we all decided to have an ice cream together to celebrate a real nice day.
Last Saturday, the Intern China Zhuhai team and some of the Zhuhai interns attended the Beishan World Music Festival. This is a two-day festival that takes place every year at the Beishan Theater, which is part of an old temple complex in the Nanping area built during the Qing Dynasty. The festival usually hosts an eclectic mix of musicians from all around the world; from jazz and blues to Bossanova and folk. It is becoming a staple of Zhuhai’s cultural scene and one of Intern China’s favourite events!
The original plan was for the interns to volunteer at the event – they have done it in previous years and it’s a great opportunity to be part of the action and excitement. However, this year they had plenty of volunteers so we were not required, but the organisers were very kind and gave us a few free tickets. Our very own Brigitta did get to participate, though, and in a big way: she was chosen as one of the co-hosts for the show! They decked her out in a flowy, sparkly ballgown and did her hair up in a fancy bun – she looked the part and definitely played it well.
Meanwhile, the rest of us walked around, listening to the music for a while and checking out the different vendor stalls, which were selling food and drinks from some of the best Western and Asian bars and restaurants in Zhuhai. There is nothing better than a pint of German beer, a few grilled sausages and a sugary crêpe to enjoy an evening of great music and good friends. We even ran into some of our former interns, currently working in Shenzhen, who didn’t want to miss out on the festival and came out to Zhuhai for the weekend.
After the programme was over and all the acts had gone on stage, we decided to keep the party going and headed over to bar street, where we danced for a few more hours before getting some street barbecue dinner and calling it a night.
Chengdu is a dynamic city – some people say it is the fastest growing city in the world! Skyscrapers and shopping centers are being built up quickly everywhere in the city. However, there are still some peaceful places left, where you can rest your stressed soul.
One of them I visited last weekend: Qingyang Temple – the place where Laozi is to be said that he spoke the Tao Te King (also: Dao De Jing 道德经) to one of his disciples, which is one of the main books (besides the famous I Ching/Yi Jing 易经) of Daoism.
If you are a little familiar with Chinese culture, you might know, that Daoism is a deep-rooted concept in Chinese history and Chinese daily life. Even if you haven’t heard of Daoism yet, you might have seen the black and white yin yang symbol before, or have heard about Taiji, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or feng shui.
As these concepts are becoming more popular in the West now as well, a lot of people are living a part of the Chinese culture in their daily lifes already. Now, where is this all originating from?
Chengdu is the center of the West of modern China. However, in ancient times it was part of a kingdom during the Warring State Period. There was a wise man (some say he is more a mystical figure, but it seems like there is prove that he actually lived): called Laozi (老子). He was said to have lived at the same time as Confucius (or Kongzi 孔子), who is well-known in the East and West for his quotes about state-philosophy and the relationship of family members. Laotse was a follower of the way of Dao and formulated the 81 core principles of Daoism. The book has inspired hundreds and thousands of commentators and has been translated and interpreted in many languages. In honour to the place where he was said to have read these principles to one of his disciples, a temple was built. Today, it is called Qingyang Gong (The Green Goat Temple 青羊宫).
The temple has been built during the Chunqiu Period and has been revived under the Tang Dynasty. Parts of the temple have been renovated during the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century. It has been one of the few Daoist temples which was allowed by the Chinese government to open its doors again in the 1980’ies.
Today, it is a centre of peace and relaxation. A teahouse on one side forms a place for socialization of local people, whereas within one of the yards you can watch young disciples training Wushu and older disciples training Taiji. Everywhere you can see Daoist nuns and monks, who stroll around in the park and help keeping the incense stick holders clean.
In several places, you can find references to the Daoist astrology, namely the 12 animal zodiac signs (mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse. Goat, monkey, chicken, dog, pig): May it be engravings on the floor or little sculptures on stone walls. Also look out for the big yin-yang symbol which is engraved in the stone floor in one of the yards. The symbol looks simple, but is highly complex, therefore I just want to give a brief summary: The yin is represented by the black part which is carrying the white seed, the yang energy, and the other way around. Yin energy is often anticipated with the female, the moon and the earth, whereas yang energy is often anticipated with the male, the sun and the heaven. In combination and interaction they are creating life or also called the ‘Qi’. Qi is everything which moves, wherever is movement, there’s life. Where ever movement stops, there’s no life anymore. The ideal balance of yin and yang always creates life.
Many people I know, say, that if you have seen one Chinese temple, you know them all.
I have to refuse since I know Qingyang Gong. Buddhist temples in China, that might be, often end up as tourist attractions selling lots of souvenirs, snacks and drinks. I even found a Starbucks once in a temple area. Buddhism in China has sold itself out, maybe. I am glad to say, that if you are looking for a true place for spiritualism, you can come to Chengdu and visit Qingyang temple. Pay the 10 RMB entrance fee, get some incense sticks to send prayers to your ancestors, family and friends and enjoy a happy and relaxed day by get your yin and yang in balance!
There are more aspects than Chinese modern business culture, that you are interested in? Our team in Chengdu is happily arranging visits to temples or organizes other cultural activities to help you understanding the Chinese culture better.
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