Tag Archives: chinese

Ai Wei Wei at the Hirshhorn

Contemporary art as social commentary is certainly not a new concept, but Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei seems to elevate this particular niche of contemporary art into a different level. Ai has been critically acclaimed worldwide for his work, but in recent years has become a force unto himself – making him a phenomenal figure in the art world, and a mover and shaker of social issues, particularly in his native China.

Some consider him to be one of the most famous living artists today, particularly due to his visiblity in the media. This is part of stand on social issues in his homeland, particularly in regards to one’s freedom of creative expression. Much of his work has been defied by the Chinese government, leading to an imprisonment in 2011. He was also detained in China right before the exhibition opening and was not able to attend. He has become the voice of a new generation of Chinese creatives yearning for the right to express themselves.

The show currently on view at the Hirshhorn museum and sculpture garden in Washington, DC, is the first American exhibition showcasing Ai’s work, which includes multiple installation pieces, a photographic survey of his artistic journey thus far, as well as new work commisioned by the museum for the show and an installation in the museum’s courtyard.

The beauty of Ai’s work lies not in their aesthetics but in the stories they tell, yet they grab you from the beginning with their intense visual impact and impressive scale. The vastness of the scope of his work, coupled with the underlying stories, create a unique balance between content and form, while continuing to ask questions about the role of art in contemporary society (partcularly China).

Throuh his art and work, Ai Wei Wei brings to life realities that might slip us by, perhaps because we are removed from the situation in China and the other side of the world. In a way he is admirable because regardless of his constant criticism of his homeland and its government, there is a hint of patriotism  and  love of culture present in everything he does. Perhaps one day, others in China will finally grasp the importance of his message, and maybe we can also take something from him – and be able to make the most of our creativity and passion as he continues to do.

All images original

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Autumn Festivals

Oktoberfest in Munich Tent

Image vie Wikia Travel

Autumn is a great season for festivals. Around the world, autumn heralds different types of celebrations according to place, religion, and culture. While most autumn celebrations are specific to the temperate climate, they usually have something to do with the harvest season and have roots in the culture that celebrates them.

In the United States, the most well-known celebrations equated with the autumn season are Halloween and Thanksgiving, which are both very soon! Their approach reveals the imagery traditionally associated with the autumn season here, including pumpkins, pie, turkeys, and of course, the warm colors of foliage.

Around the world as well, there are a number of festivals that happen during the later months of the years, which can be specific to a culture or religion. Here are a few, some well-known and perhaps less known festivals celebrated this season.


An aerial view of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Image vie EzineMark

This German festival is for beer lovers. It is usually held from the last few days of September until the middle of October, where it derives its name from. Throughout different cities around the world, people gather to celebrate the harvest by drinking beer throughout the days, especially seasonal brews that are introduced for the occasion. Although the festival is celebrated worldwide today, it originated in the city of Munich, where the main festival continues to be held faithfully every year.

Waitress with mugs of beers

Image via EasytoBook.com

In the Munich festival, the name “Oktoberfest” also refers to type of beer served, which is specific for the occasion. The beer served is known as Märzen or Märzen-Oktoberfestbier, and is brewed within the city limits of Munich. The beer typically has medium alcohol content (5-6%), and have a rich and toasty flavor. It has a specific, specialized brewing process that begins in the spring and continues over the summer until the festival in the fall.

Mooncake Festival

Mooncakes for sale

Via The Accidental Wino

From the other side of the world is the Chinese mid-autumn festival, or mooncake festival. Despite its name, it is also usually celebrated early in the season, around September. The mid-autumn it derives its name from is the season in the Lunar calendar.

Image via Grand Centre Point

The harvest moon is celebrated at this festival, and people eat mooncakes baked with bean paste filling.

Jewish Sukkot

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Celebrates Sukkot

Image via Zimbio

This Jewish festival follows the solemn celebration of Yom Kippur, one of the biggest holidays in Judaism. It commemorates the years the Israelites spent in the desert, and also has an agricultural significance.

Image via The Big Picture

During the holiday, Jewish families build temporary shelters called Sukkah, where they eat their meals for the duration of the seven-day long holiday. Some families sleep in these structures as well. As family event, it has connotations similar to the American Thanksgiving holiday, especially since it takes place after Yom Kippur.

Image via Treehugger

The Sukkah shelters are very iconic of the holiday, and have come to be the architectural representation of this tradition. You could say that it is similar to the modern pavilion – and in 2010, an exhibition called Sukkah City took place in New York that showcased modern conceptual designs of these little habitats.

Autumn is certainly a season of pleasantries, with good food, drink, and quality family time in abundance. No matter where you are in the world, the celebrations herald the forthcoming holiday season, making the season a certainly festive one.

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The Asian Kitchen

Asian food is as diverse as the cultures across the continent. Each country and its regions have its own style and method of food preparation, that have a significant impact on the type of cuisine and the flavors in each dish.

Integral to the whole food preparation process are the utensils used in preparation, which can vary as much as the regional tastes of each country. While most traditional Asian cookware have contemporary, modernized counterparts, sometimes the traditional materials add a sense of authenticity to the flavors and overall gastronomic experience.


Chopsticks are most commonly seen as eating utensils, but in most asian countries they are one of the fundamental kitchen tools, that serve multiple functions. They can act in the same capacity as tongs, whisks or beaters, and ladles. Cooking chopsticks are usually longer than the regular dining kind, and made of a durable wood such as bamboo.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Daily Icon

Mikiya Kobayashi’s Ukihashi might be dining chopsticks, but have a slight angle at the tips so that the end that touches the food never touches the surface it rests on. This slight modification makes the traditional rests unnecessary.

Bamboo Steamers

Image via The Kitchn

While these commonly seen tools originate from China, they are used throughout Asia for steaming food. Bamboo steamers differ from modern synthetic material steamers because they absorb excess moisture and prevent condensation from touching the food – which is why dimsum dumplings look perfect every time! They were also traditionally used for space and time saving reasons – by stacking the steamers you can cook several types of food at once over the same heat source.

Image via Design Milk

This take on the steamer, designed by Office for Product Design for JIA Inc, rethinks and streamlines the steamer’s stacking capabilities, combining it with stoneware components so you can cook and steam at the same time.

Clay Pots / Palayok

Image via Edible Communities

The Palayok is the Philippine incarnation of the clay pot. In Filipino cuisine today it is mostly used for serving traditional dishes, but it was originally used to cook food over a fire. The pots are still widely made today and are a Philippine cultural icon. The pots are used mainly to cook soups or stew-like dishes over a charcoal fire stove. They can also be used to cook rice.

Image via Purple Yam

Rice cooker

Image via Appliance Wise

Speaking of rice, rice cookers have now become a typical household appliance, but are usually associated with asian cooking since rice is the main staple in most asian countries. Rice cookers these days however have gotten more sophisticated and are almost like mini-computers.

Image via Squidoo

You can program certain types with a timer to start cooking at a certain time of day, and most have functions that allow you to chose between regular rice, or rice porridge (congee). Some come with a steamer add on that converts the cooker into a steamer, and some can even make bread.

Most of these tools and appliances have made their way into the mainstream kitchen, and have proven to be useful and effective tools that transcend cultural origins. Whether you’re cooking asian food or simply adapting a method, these tools will surely enhance your kitchen experience!

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Got Kung Fu?

“I seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions.”
(Caine, “Kung Fu” Pilot episode)

The word "kung fu" in Chinese calligraphy. Image via Oriental Outpost.

We may have assumed that kung fu is just about Chinese martial arts, but it’s not. The term itself is compound of two words — kung (功) which means “achievement” or “work”, and fu (夫) which means “man”. So translated literally, the term we have taken to equate with Bruce Lee or Jet Li’s style of cinematic of ass kicking actually means “acheivement of man”, and is so much bigger than mere martial arts. Kung fu can refer to any skill, study, or craft that is achieved or perfected with copious amounts of passion, time, and (gasp!) hard work. To have kung fu entails commitment to strengthening body and mind, and learning and perfecting one’s chosen discipline.

Therefore, one can have kung fu in many things other than martial arts — such as in cooking, calligraphy, sports, and even in the preparation of tea, or just about anything that one spends energy and time on in order to master.

The accoutrements of gong fu cha -- the Chinese tea ceremony. Image via Ling Training.

Calligraphy master Bao Desheng performing his craft with a humongous brush and a bucket of water on a concrete pavement. Image via Metro.

These are images of an actual soccer team comprised of Shaolin monks. Images via Incredible World.

Contrary to the myth perpetuated by the Matrix films — you can’t just download kung fu. This, I think, is valuable insight, especially in this age of instant gratification, lightning fast internet connections, TV dinners, and crash courses in just about anything. My takeaway from all this, what I personally want to apply in my life is that perfection requires time, effort, and needless to say, commitment. Now I certainly ve got a lot of resolutions to make.

I used to find it absurd (in a good way) when Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow combined kung fu with cooking or soccer in his films. They make more sense to me now, with this explanation, but no less funny and enjoyable. Here are a couple of scenes from Kung Fu Soccer (a.k.a Shaolin Soccer).

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Massage, Asian Style

Chinese Tui Na Massage

Tui Na Massage. Image via City College of Acupuncture.

There are not a lot of bliss-inducing activities that would equal a good massage. The cares and worries fade away and the world is reduced to the another human’s touch.

We all need to be touched — and it isn’t just a psychological need, but a deep-seated biological need. Babies need it to flourish, and grown-ups are no different. Asian cultures accept this and have embraced massage not as a relaxation technique, but as a healing tool.  It was considered part of health care in China as far back as 3,000 BC. Massage is said to unclog or unknot the body’s life force, or Qi (chi), thus restoring health and well-being.

Massage, the way Asians do it, is a product of centuries, even millennia, of learning and developing. No wonder it feels so good. And there’s a certain simplicity and unfussiness about it — no special beds or tools, no oils are applied to the skin, and you stay fully clothed.

Chinese painting depicting Tui Na massage. Image via Lands of Wisdom.

Tui na (“push”, “grasp”), is part of the arsenal of traditional Chinese medicine, and involves touching and kneading key points in the body, using a similar anatomical road map as acupuncture.

Japanese doctor giving anma massage. Image via Yotsume Dojo.


Shiatsu massage. Image via Zen Shiatsu.

These Chinese techniques eventually found their way to Japan, which is geographically a stone’s throw away. Japanese an ma (“press”, “rub”) which later gave birth to shiatsu (which translates to “finger pressing”) massage, is largely derived from the Chinese way.

Thai Massage. Image via Worldwide Health.

Illustration of Thai massage points. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Thai massage is locally referred to as nuat phaen boran, which means “ancient-manner massage”. This one’s my favorite — mostly because it feels like doing yoga, only somebody else is doing it for you. It is sometimes called “yoga massage”. Thai massage draws on different massage traditions from different parts of Asia, but its Chinese and Indian origins are the ones most clearly felt.

The interior of a Thai massage spa. Image via Trip Advisor.

Giving a Massage

If you want to try giving a massage, there’s no reason why you can’t be good at it. Touch is a universal language, and you only need practice in order to speak it well.

I am by no means a professional masseuse, but in my family, I am the go-to girl for massages. So here are a few pointers I’d like to offer for a successful first try:

  • Set the atmosphere. Get help where you can. The recipient of your massage will more likely not notice your inexperience if their other senses are involved. Create a spa-like ambiance. Dim the lights, light up a scented candle or incense stick, play some soft music.
  • Get a few massages yourself. They’ll familiarize you with what feels good.
  • Massage muscles, not bone — this is wisdom from my Dad. Muscles appreciate a massage more. Concentrate on fleshy parts — butt, calves, shoulders. Don’t press on the shoulder blades, but rather the muscles around it; not on the spine, but on the parts on either side of it.
  • Remember that pressure is distributed equally in the area of contact. So use more when using your palms or the length of your forearm. Ease up when using smaller points, such as thumbs, fingertips or knuckles.
  • Look out for reactions. They’ll give you hints on whether what you’re doing feels good or not.
  • Read up and watch videos. Whatever massage style you’d like to try doing, there are tons of how-to vids and articles out there.

So that’s my two cents’ worth on this. Good luck and enjoy your massage! I had a blast “researching” for this post!

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