Tag Archives: traditional

Happy Black Day

Photo credit AspectVisuel via AsianOffbeat.com

We all know about Valentine’s Day, love it or hate it, come February try to escape the ubiquitous drug store candy.

Our neighbours to the east celebrate just a bit differently:  February 14th sees the celebration of couples for sure, but its women who gift tokens of affection to those that make their  hearts skip a beat. On March 14th, known as White Day, the tables turn and it’s the men who celebrate their loves.

Image credit Park Shin Hye

But in Korea it doesn’t stop there.  April 14th, today, is Black Day, a day for singles. Donning dark clothes those less lucky in love congregate in local restaurants over bowls of noodles covered in black bean paste called jajangmyeon for some lively commiseration.  It’s a mainly fun affair and a signal that youth are shedding traditional views on the importance of early marriage (and shame over singlehood).  On the other hand, a friend reports that it’s been a total boon for the dating services industry.  Ahh well…

But today, if you’re single, here’s to your fabulous self!  Consider celebrating you, with or without the noodles!

Five Chinese New Year Attitudes You Can Take On

Chart for the Chinese zodiac

All around the world right now, people of Chinese ancestry are caught up in the celebration of this most important holiday. The frenzy and revelry of Chinese New Year–also called Spring Festival — go on for a whopping 15 days! Whew, they sure do know how to party! And the best kind of partying too, for it’s all spent with family, relatives, and friends.

So if you want to mark this day with some Chinese New Year vibe, here are 5 wonderful attitudes you can adopt.

1.  Squeaky Clean and Spanking New

The excitement begins in the last few weeks of the year, building up to a storm as the day draws near. Everyone just wants everything perfect and in place by New Year’s Eve. Homes are swept, dusted, and cleaned of all dirt and grime. Once the new year begins, no cleaning is allowed for the duration of the Spring Festival, because one might sweep away the good luck.

Sweeping away Green Hills

Chinese artwork depicting house-cleaning

Then there’s the flurry of shopping frenzy for food and new things, which is always fun. It’s out with the old, in with the new. New clothes are a definite must, to attract good fortune for the new year.

All so as to welcome the brand new year with a clean slate, and make a fabulously fresh and sparkling start!

2. Lots of Food and Family

New Year’s Eve is typically spent surrounded by food and family–the best way to start the year, if you ask me.

By “family”, the Chinese typically mean extended family, which spans generations and encompasses several branches. People really expend considerable effort and resources just to make it back to their hometown by New Year’s Eve. In the succeeding days, families go and pay respects to their ancestors, and visit friends and relatives.

“Food”, on the other hand, means a huge banquet, a table heaping with gustatory delights that look like good things (e.g. dumplings that look like gold ingots) or have names that sound like good words (e.g. the word for fish sounds like the word which means abundance). Also, welcoming the new year with pantries filled ensures that they remain filled all year through.

Lucky dish

Having a whole steamed fish means always having more than enough. Image from steamykitchen.com

Good luck dumplings

A lot of these dumplings are consumed during Chinese New Year. They are said to bring good luck because they look like Chinese gold ingots (below). Image from i-chinastyle.com.

gold ingots

Chinese gold ingots

Want to welcome the first new moon of the year with a fantastic spread? Check out the awesome luck-beckoning Chinese New Year Recipes at Steamy Kitchen. http://steamykitchen.com/13241-chinese-new-year-2011-recipes.html

3.  Word Watching

The Chinese have a keen understanding of how powerful words are, how they bring good or evil. That’s why for the duration of the New Year’s and Spring Festival celebration, no negative words must pass the lips, lest they attract bad luck. Curse words are forbidden; only kind words, blessings and wishes for good fortune must flow.

It is a wonderful practice, one that would be great to keep all year long.

Good luck sign

The Chinese word "fu", which means "luck". This word can be found in all places where Chinese New Year is celebrated. Hanging it in the home or place of business invites good luck to enter. Image from brianlinton.com

gong hei fat choi

The traditional Chinese New Year greeting in Cantonese: “Gong Hei Fat Choi!” which means “Congratulations and wishing you prosperity!”

4. Generous Gifts

This is a season of gift-giving, a time when people are at their most generous. Red envelopes seem to fly everywhere as they exchange hands. These packets contain monetary gifts that are given by adults to children, employers to employees, married couples to single friends. Peers, on the other hand exchange gifts of fruit and other edible goodies, as these are symbols of good health and good fortune.

Gift envelopes

The ubiquitous red envelope

red envellope

5. Red and Fabulous

It ain’t Chinese New Year without plenty of bold and flashy red! Legend has it that there used to be a monster that would terrorize a certain Chinese village on the first day of the year, devouring pets, livestock, and people even. But then they discovered that the monster was afraid of loud noises and red things. And that’s why we see a lot of red during Chinese New Year, and also why fireworks and firecrackers are customary. But even if red didn’t have monster-repelling powers, the vibrancy and passion of the color would be enough to attract plenty of good vibes.

red paper lanterns

The 15th and last day of the New Year’s celebration is a Lantern Festival, wherein families carry lit lanterns down the streets, so that lost and stranded spirits can find their way to their home.

Lit red landern

More lanterns

Traditional Chinese dress

Girl in traditional cheongsam dress

red cheongsam

Image from asian-culture-shop.com

Lucky color

Red vases from myfancynancy.com

Chinese inspired boots

Fun and funky boots! Chinese red lotus crunch boots from Asia iCandy.



Tea Lovers Go to China

Young tea leaves

The most widely consumed beverage in the world comes from leaves such as these.

Tea variants

Chinese tea variants differ in fermentation, or lack thereof. Image from lalongtea.com

The Chinese are romantic about tea—not that tea is used as a means to create romance, but that tea is the end in itself. China’s love affair with tea spans nearly 5000 years, from the time the first tea leaf serendipitously landed in Emperor Shennong’s cup of hot water in 2737 BC. Since then, their stories and their histories have been inextricably linked. Tea was medicine, imperial potable, mode of currency, object of trade, national drink—it has become become a soothing, comforting presence in Chinese life.

In the simplicity of Chinese tea-drinking ritual, an intimacy between the drinker and the beverage is forged, so that tea seems to become the object of romance, devotion, and commitment.

Attention is lavished on the tea. For it really is all about the tea, its tastes and smells. It is the the center around which the ritual revolves. There are no scones and cucumber sandwiches to distract from the drink, no milk nor honey to hide its true essence. There is no arbitrary prop, process or flourish to steal the show. Every single step and utensil is meant to bring more focus and enjoyment to the drinking experience.

The tea is gently wooed and coaxed to surrender its flavors. Before the actual brewing, the pot and the cups are heated by filling them with hot water, then emptying them. Tea leaves are then slowly swept into the teapot. The tea is then roused from its slumber when the pot is filled with hot water and almost immediately emptied out, thereby cleansing and priming the leaves for the first of many infusions. And with each successive steep, the tea leaves expand and unfurl, giving up its secrets, revealing ever new nuances, enriching and deepening the enjoyment.

Chinese yixing teapots

Yixing teapots are made of a special clay that keeps the heat and the flavors in. Image by Nathalie Mariano.

Pouring tea out of a yixing teapot

The Chinese way of tea is punctuated by quite a bit of pouring and emptying, hence the slatted tray. Image by Nathalie Mariano.

Rinsing a yixing teapot

Image by Nathalie Mariano.


The brewing and consumption of tea make a spiritual experience. The tea drinker’s eagerness is tempered by the slowness and deliberate-ness of the brewing process and the smallness of the vessels. The cyclic filling and emptying becomes a metaphor for the soul’s periodic gorging and purging, and one just lives and breathes the tea. Patience and discipline are learned; gong fu—excellence in the art—is earned; intimate knowledge of the tea is reached.

More about Chinese tea culture::

Strange Finds: Acupuncture Training Dolls

Acupuncture Training Dolls

I came across this fine looking couple several years ago in the “Dirt Market” in Beijing. It gave me great solace to find out that before poking away at humans, doctors in training had these willing figures to work on. These models were used by instructors to assure that students clearly understood the channels of energy running through the body – referred to as meridians. The ultimate task came during the final Detail of Acupuncture Training Dollsexam, when the instructor required you to diagnose and treat several symptoms on a full size model. The statue, like these, was made of wood, with the holes running along the meridian lines, each covered in wax. You’d need to place an acupuncture needle into the correct part of a meridian to pass the exam. If successful, your needle would go into the hole, and water would pour out. If you picked the wrong spot, your needle would come up dry. Exams were set up like this around 1000CE as the Chinese Emperor wanted to make sure that all students were educated at the same level and used the same standard acupuncture points. The dolls came with a manual, written by a famous court physician, Wang Weiyi. When this particular model was made (mid 1800′s) medicine in China had already changed with acupuncture being mostly replaced by herbal medicine and massage. So the Emperor had small models like this one made and sent to important members of the medical profession, encouraging them to promote acupuncture again.