Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, February 25 – A Visit to Singapore: Today we returned to China. While at the Singapore Chiangi Airport, we visited the Peranakan display since we hadn’t made it to the Peranakan Museum. The Chinese Peranakans, also called “Straits Chinese,” are the descendants of the wealthy merchant immigrants who arrived in Singapore in the 1600-1700’s, then stayed and married local women and raised families. Peranakan is a Malay word which means “local born”. Today they continue to have a unique culture of food, dress and a beautiful type of porcelain which the large replica (probably 6 feet high) in the picture represents (but the REAL porcelain is far more beautiful than this replica!). The other picture shows a Peranakan bridal couple in the late 19th to early 20th century.
A visit to Singapore: Today we visited the Singapore Zoo and the River Safari. In the Yangtze River exhibit, there was a Chinese Giant Salamander. Can you find it in the picture? It looks just like one of the rocks! These are the largest living amphibians today: They can grow up to over 5 feet long and weigh well over 100lbs. They supposedly make a noise like a crying baby, so in Chinese, they are called “wawa yu” or “baby fish.” Unfortunately, they are critically endangered because they are considered a luxury food item by the wealthy Chinese. There are many salamander farms, but the ones in the wild also continue to disappear.
Many countries around the world drink raw sugar cane juice and China is one of them. Most often, we see vendors who you can buy a piece of sugar cane from. They cut the outer part off, then you chew the pulp, suck the juice out, and spit the pulp back out once you’ve gotten all of the juice. I tried it years ago and wasn’t crazy about the pulp chewing. Sometimes, you see stands where they have machines to extract the juice, then you can buy a cup or bottle and just drink it. It’s really not bad, and is actually lower than Coca-Cola on the glycemic index! Coke is in the 60’s, raw sugar cane juice in the 30’s -40’s. This stand is at a Food Festival at the shopping plaza near us. We bought a small bottle for 5rmb ( 75 cents usd). Just took a few sips, but I’m going to try it as a sweetener in some baking.
Roasted chestnuts! I wish I could take a picture of the way that warm little paper bag feels and smells! But, sorry … I can’t L Roasted chestnuts are my second favorite winter street food after sweet potatoes. I’ve thought of trying to roast them myself and then I think “Why??? These are readily available (except for last night when I asked Jim to get me some at 9PM on a chilly Monday night and the vendors had finished for the day!). So, today when Leah and I were out, we got some. They have a wok style pan with a rotating blade in which the chestnuts are roasted with little black pebbles, supposedly to keep the temperature even. A paper bag full (contents on the plate pictured) costs 15rmb or about $2.30usd. The Chinese also use chestnuts in cooking and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Being gluten intolerant, we regularly use chestnut flour for our baking.
Pomelos are very popular during Chinese New Year because the Chinese word for pomelo sounds like “to have.” It is also used as a decoration in people’s homes and symbolizes “family unity.” It is a large citrus fruit, native to southeast Asia, and tastes kind of like a mild grapefruit. Great for eating fresh, I like to score the peel in quarters, peel it off, then separate the sections, peel the membranes off, and enjoy the fruit! I’ve read that it is good sprinkled with salt, but I haven’t tried that. It has a very thick skin which can be dried and used, often candied or made into marmalade. I remember on one of our trips in China, we saw a fence full of pomelo peels hanging to dry. I enjoy a Korean tea made from pomelo peels (another picture some day!). The fruit is also made into a paste for cooking. I paid 7.80rmb, or $1.20usd for the pomelo pictured, we used it with breakfast two days and still had some for snacking.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 13 - Saturday Night at the supermarket…. A giant live Kinder egg, pandas having hot pot, furniture polish without the spray cap (we had to go to customer service and have them get it and put it on?), and chocolate covered taro candy …. there’s ALWAYS something new to find when grocery shopping in China!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 12 - Today is the 5th day of the Chinese New Year and the day considered to be the birthday of the God of Wealth. In many places, the day is welcomed in with abundant fireworks to honor and please this God. He is seen frequently in Chinese New Year decorations, often with coins or yuanbao. Many people will also eat dumplings called jiaozi today because they are shaped like yuanbao. (check picture from Jan. 21)
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 9 - If you’ve read what I’ve previously shared about gold and fish… I’m sure you'll understand why goldfish are considered to be “lucky fish!” What better activity for kids (and adults!) at a New Year’s celebration than fishing for goldfish! There is a food fair, with some carnival type games, at our nearby shopping plaza and this “fish pond” is set up there. I’ve seen fishing like this at quite a few other places throughout the year, but in much smaller pools!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 7 - One of the most popular sayings for Chinese New Year is “Nian nian you yu 年年有余” The basic meaning of this is “May you have abundance through every year.” The word for abundance, surplus, or plenty, is “yu余.” This sounds the same as the word “yu魚 ” which means fish, so, you can see why fish are such popular decorations during Spring Festival! Today is New Year’s Eve in China and families will gather for their “reunion dinners.” A very important dish to serve is fish, usually served whole as a symbol of prosperity, with the head and tail representing the beginning and ending of the year. A portion of the fish is saved for finishing in the new year, indicating that there is “surplus” for the New Year!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 4 -Today we went to the Dongguan Spring Festival Flower Market or Flower Fair. I love these because there are so many beautiful flowers and other interesting things to look at! Since flowers represent the arrival of spring, they are a very important part of the Spring Festival celebration. Probably the most popular flowers are orchids and daffodils. The daffodils aren’t blooming yet, because they are supposed to bloom for New Year’s Day. In addition to flowers, there are Spring Festival decorations, gift items, toys for the children, cuttings from fruit trees, orange trees, nipplefruit “trees”, snacks and more! This particular fair is only open for one week. I bought some daffodils, colored pussy willows, a small plant that translated to “long life plant”? and some small hexagonal lantern decorations. It was really hard to choose a few pictures to represent this! If you are interested in seeing more pictures of the Flower Market, my daughter has started a blog and has quite a few pictures she posted. https://meitianadventure.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/dongguan-flower-fair/
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 2 -Some things in China really aren’t that different from home. This was a musician I saw performing today, and I thought that he could have been doing the same thing in the USA and fit right in. He sounded pretty good, but I’m not sure what he was singing about since it was in Chinese (Ok…maybe a little different than the USA!). He was next to a bus stop near our shopping plaza, an area that probably gets the largest amount of people here. Guitar case open to collect money, probably trying to raise some extra cash for Spring Festival, so I threw the six 1yuan notes I had in.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 1 - How many years have I been looking at this in the markets and didn’t know what it was???? Well, I finally learned! Most commonly, it is called “celtuce” or “stem lettuce,” and “wosun” 莴笋 in Chinese. It is also called "asparagus lettuce".
I learned that the thick stems are peeled and then sliced or chopped for stir-fries (or steamed), and the leaves are good for soups. So, we did just that! A stir fry with pork, mushrooms, and celtuce, turned out very good… celtuce has a mild taste, somewhat like celery (I didn’t think it tasted like asparagus like some said), and it kept a nice firm, crispy texture. We added the leaves into vegetable beef soup, and although I can’t say they added much flavor, they added a nice dark green color. I read that they can be bitter. Supposedly, the young stems and leaves can also be used raw in salads. Found in most (southern) Chinese stores/markets with produce (not sure about other areas?). For those of you outside of China, check your Asian markets!
Grocery shopping in China …. sometimes the groceries try to run away! RT Mart in Dalingshan, China. Photo by Leah
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 28 - The traditional belief of the Chinese is that during the year of your zodiac sign, you will have bad luck…. But, you can wear red all year to change this! As you should know by now, red is THE color for everything lucky during Chinese New Year! In modern times, many people no longer believe as strongly in the traditional beliefs, but this one is fun :-) Luckily, red looks great on Chinese people, and, if they get tired of wearing red clothes every day, hopefully they have their red undergarments, socks, or jewelry. The key to these red items changing bad luck to good, is that someone else buys them for you; It doesn’t work if you buy them for yourself! The upcoming year will be the year of the Monkey, so, if you are close to a monkey, join in the Chinese celebrations and buy them some red underwear!
Years of the Monkey: Feb.20,1920-Feb.7,1921, Feb.6,1932-Jan.25,1933, Jan.25,1944-Feb.12,1945, Feb.12,1956-Jan.30,1957, Jan.30,1968-Feb.16,1969, Feb.16,1980-Feb.4,1981, Feb.4,1992-Jan.22,1993, Jan.22,2004-Feb.8,2005
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 27 - Oranges, tangerines, and kumquats are popular decorations at Chinese New Year for a couple of reasons. First, their color is associated with gold, therefore representing abundance and wealth. Second, their names in Chinese sound similar to the words for “luck” and “wealth.” Orange trees are grown in pots especially for display in, or outside of homes and businesses at Chinese New Year, or to be used as gifts. They are often decorated with red envelopes and small lantern decorations. Because these are grown quickly with large amounts of fertilizers, it is not recommended to eat the oranges grown on these decorative trees. We have a small park area within our housing community where there are orange trees growing, and it seems that people have been enjoying the oranges!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 26 - Getting a haircut in China is very enjoyable: You lie flat on a table, and while getting your hair washed, with lots of suds, you also get a nice scalp, neck, and upper back massage, lasting about 10 minutes. I pay an extra 25rmb/about $4usd, to have a special ginger hair treatment, which makes my scalp tingle like crazy, but feels good, and gets me another 5 mins of scalp massage :-) Then you get a 10 minute arm, hand, shoulder and back massage, and finally, you are ready for your haircut! In this picture, there is another table on the other side of me, plus 6 on the other side of the room. This is an upscale salon, and to have a senior stylist do my haircut and blow dry, I pay 132rmb/about $20usd, with a VIP card. Standard salons are much lower priced. Thanks to Leah for taking the picture.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 24 - We are currently having extremely cold temperatures for our area. We have heat in our apartment, so we’re not bad, although apartments with thick concrete walls do get really cold! However, many people in south China have no heat at all and I KNOW they are freezing right now! Our normal low in winter is about 10°C/50°F, and today we had snow, sleet and hail, so you know it was MUCH colder! I think my most valuable possession on cold days, other than my teacup, is my electric hot water bottle, especially the one with the hand warmer pocket. In China, you can even get them with cute animal designs :-) I LOVE mine and even take it to bed with me on cold nights. If you decide to try one, be sure to purchase from a reputable shop, as there are some safety concerns.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 23 - Last night, Jim brought home three cans of “liang cha,” or herbal tea, which people had given him throughout the day at work. This is a very popular drink in China, and because of the cans being red with yellow writing, and the meaning of the names, it becomes especially popular at Chinese New Year. There are two brands, basically the same drink. “Wanglaoji” means “King Old Luck,” and “Jia Duo Bao,” or JDB, means “Add More Treasure.” It is supposed to be good for sore throat and dryness in winter, and helping your body handle the heat in summer. The ingredients are water, white sugar (LOTS of it!), herbal jelly, plumeria, chrysanthemum, honeysuckle, common self-heal, licorice root and microcos leaf. I like the taste, but don’t drink it too often because of all the sugar! My thanks to Leah today for her help with translations, and to Peanut for helping to make the picture more interesting :-)
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 22 -We like to try different fruit when we can; I figure it’s a safe food to experiment with! This morning, we had “pepino dulse” for the first time. It’s originally from South America, and is also called the pepino melon or melon pear. “Pepino” is Spanish for cucumber, and it did taste like a cross between a cucumber and a melon. Although the skin is edible, it isn’t usually eaten, so it’s recommended you take it off before eating. Unfortunately, we didn’t really like this fruit, so probably won’t buy it again. But…if you love cucumbers, and happen to see it wherever you live, give it a try!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 21 -These are gold “yuanbao”, a symbol of wealth and prosperity to the Chinese, and very popular during the Chinese New Year Festival. Today, the Chinese currency is still called the “yuan,” and “bao” means “treasure.” The shape, which is supposed to resemble a boat or shoe, represents ancient gold or silver ingots, then called “sycee.” You can also see some ancient coins, round with square centers, represented in the pictures, and on the top right, the God of Wealth is sitting on the yuanbao. I’ve seen people rub the mound in the center, so although I can’t find anything written, I assume this is supposed to bring good luck.