Chinese New Year, in all it’s Glory

Posted in Local Customs at 4:05 pm by Benjamin Ross

There may be no other moment in time in which the sheer madness of the environment eclipses that of the Chinese New Year.  For during this brief moment (and by brief moment I am also including the half hour before and after midnight), the Chinese landscape erupts in barrage of explosions, which bears semblance to a large scale all-out ground and aerial assault. With fireworks exploding from every direction, the moment is like no other as 1.3 billion people (minus several minority groups who don’t celebrate it) ring in the new year.

There is a common word in Chinese, 热闹 (re4 nao3), which has no exact English translation. It can be used as both noun and verb refers to hustling, bustling, and noise all about, only with a positive connotation, as opposed to a negative one which most English translations for 热闹 imply.  At no other moment is this adjective more appropriate as when the Chinese New Year arrives.  Two years ago, when I was still living in Fuzhou, I shot this video in order to capture the 热闹 at the stroke of midnight.  I’ve often marveled at the fact that if you didn’t know it was fireworks, you might think it was a battleground scene.  Think I could sell this to some tabloids?

The video can be viewed here.

By the way, the reason I didn’t embed the video directly into this post is that whenever I copy and paste the code from Youtube into WordPress, WordPress’s handly little Rich Text Editor decides to modify it so that the video will not display.  I have already disabled the Rich Text Editor in my wordpress settings, yet it continues modifying my code.  If anybody has experienced similar problems and knows how to solve this, please send me a personal e-mail at bensinchina at yahoo dott com.  Thanks.



Merry Jewish Christmas!

Posted in Festivals and Celebrations, Food and Drink, Local Customs at 9:15 pm by Benjamin Ross

Once again Christmas is here, and for all you fellow Jews out there, that means Chinese food and a movie.  See, while America’s majority Christian population celebrates the Christmas season, Jews (as well as other non-Christian groups) are left with the most boring day of the year.  No work, no school, no shopping, no access to public facilities.  Even restaurants are closed!  That is, except for the Chinese ones!  This makes for another example of the historical cooperation between two of the most culinarily oriented cultures the world has ever seen…the Jewish-Chinese Christmas.

Chinese cumin beef
Chinese red cooked eggplant
All I want for Christmas is 孜然牛肉 and 红烧茄子

Going back to when I was just a little boychick, I have fond memories of celebrating Christmas with crab rangoon, sesame chicken, and good ol’ General Tso.  Yup, nothing tops American Chinese food on the day when most other Americans are home with their relatives, exchanging gifts, and enjoying the spirit of the season.  After Chinese food, the Jewish tradition is to visit a local movie theater, one of the few establishments other than Chinese restaurants which remain open on the 25th.  At the theater (and at the restaurant) it’s not uncommon to bump into other Jews from the community.  We ask each other where we ate Chinese food, complain about the weather, and wish each other a Merry Christmas.  It’s all in the spirit of the season.

So to those who do celebrate Christmas, may you have a joyous holiday season and a 圣诞节快乐, and to all those who don’t, enjoy your Chinese food and your movie.  You are part of a tradition which is sure to last for years to come.

And in the meantime, why not check out my own personal favorite Christmas-related website.  It’s called How To Order Chinese Food Dot Com.  Enjoy your holiday season…whatever that may be.  I’ll be in Chinatown, celebrating the season with some 孜然牛肉 and 红烧茄子 .



One Village, One Surname, and China’s Oldest Family Tree

Posted in Local Customs, Travel Log (Asia) at 4:08 pm by Benjamin Ross

Nestled down a winding, hilly, single-track road in southern Hebei, the Village of the Yu’s (于家村)feels as if it were located on an entirely different planet than glitzy Beijing, less than 200 miles away. Out here days are long and life is slow. Locals reside in houses comprised entirely of stone, and built during the late Ming and early Qing Dynasty. Little has changed since those times in the Village of the Yu’s, and even today the only automobile one sees is the bus which comes every two hours to transport villagers to the neighboring town of Jingxing.

清凉阁 fragrant pavilion
The 清凉阁, or “fragrant pavilion,” representative of the Yu Village’s architectural style

The Village of the Yu’s derives its name from its original progenitor 于谦之(yu2 qian1 zhi1), who migrated to the area 500 years ago. Along with his five sons, he founded the village which was to become the Village of the Yu’s. Per Chinese tradition, the sons of the Yu Village would marry and remain within the village in order to take care of their parents in old age. The daughters, on the other hand, would be married off to families in other villages. Thus, even today, 90% of Yu Village’s 1600 inhabitants still carry the surname Yu.

What makes the Yu Village unique however, is that it is in possession of the longest-known continuously updated Chinese family tree. Using the family tree, every resident of the Village of the Yu’s can trace their roots back to one of Old Lord Yu’s five sons. The family tree currently lapses over 26 generations, and takes up five floor-to-ceiling canvases, one for each son. The canvases are hung on three walls of a rectangular building, specifically constructed as its enclosure.

Like many of such villages in China today, the Village of the Yu’s is almost completely void of people in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. “They’ve all gone to Shijiazhuang to work. There are many more opportunities there. There’s nothing to do here except farm,” one villager told me. Even middle school and high school-aged children are rarely seen, as the better schools are all located in Jinxing, where many students board. This leaves a population mainly of the elderly and children, with the working adults only returning during the Spring Festival. It also serves to preserve the lifestyle and character of a village which still feels like China from back in the day. Regardless, I would imagine Old Lord Yu would be quite proud today to see his village and his progeny still subsisting of off the land he originally settled. The following are some of the pictures I took during my day in the Village of the Yu’s.  Enjoy.

Most of the Yu Village is constructed out of humble stone houses such as these.
On the outskirts of the village are stretches of lush farmland, growing crops such as corn, rice, and 红薯 (red potatoes?).
The small building in which the family tree is housed. Currently it is under renovation, and the tree is on display in a building next door.
The following shots are all taken from inside the building which houses the family tree. In the center is the portrait of the late, great, Old Lord Yu.
It was his five sons from which all of the Yu Villagers descended.
The family tree was broken into five large canvas sections. Each for one of the Yu sons.
At the top of each canvas was an ornate border depicting various scenes.
Below the border the canvas was broken into small cells. Each horizontal row demarked one generation.
In each individual cell was the name of one individual.
Here’s a closeup of one of the border scenes.

…and another
The family tree was remarkably well-kept considering its age. I didn’t ask specifically, but I have a feeling that although the record is likely 26 generations old, the physical document may have been reproduced at several points throughout history.
more scenes from the family tree



Daylight Savings Time in China???…没有了!

Posted in Culture Clash, Local Customs, Travel Log (Asia) at 10:48 pm by Benjamin Ross

Today was the most dreaded day of the American calendar year. Spring forward day—the one Sunday per year which lives for only 23 hours. This leads to a frequent question. “What’s the time difference between China and the US? “ It’s not an uncommon question to get asked by Chinese friends who live a metaphorical dig through the center of the earth away from us. However, for a Chinese asking an American about the 2 countries time difference, he will get an answer similarly complicated from the one an American would receive after asking a Chinese his age.

The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, there is no daylight savings time in China. If Fuzhou is 14 hours ahead of Chicago in December, then it would stand beyond all possible explanations that Fuzhou should be 14 hours ahead of Chicago in July as well. Time in China doesn’t change. The idea of daylight savings time is totally foreign to the Chinese. You never spring forward nor fall back.

The other difference is that China is on a single time zone, unlike the continental US which is on 4. Since the vast majority of China’s population lives along the east coast, which would presumably be, if China had one, the Eastern Standard Time Zone, China’s lack of time zones doesn’t bear much effect on most of the country.

A quiet alley in Kashgar’s Old City. 9:45 PM.

Where it is most noticeable is Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China’s Northwest. Going to Xinjiang in and of itself is a unique experience. With it’s rich Uighur/Muslim traditions, and Han Chinese minority (outside of the capital), it is easy to forget you are still in the Middle Kingdom.

But one of Xinjiang’s most unique features may be its time, nowhere more so than China’s westernmost city, Kashgar, which just miles from the borders of Tajikistan and Krygistan, is over 2000 miles due west of Beijing. During summer nights in Kashgar, the sky doesn’t get completely dark until nearly 11 pm. Sunrise occurs predictably late as well. This extended evening daylight, combined with the arid climate, makes Kashgar an excellent summer travel destination. You can do your sightseeing for the day, stop for meal of 抓饭 and 烤肉, (Xinjiang rice and shish-kebob), and then still have 5 hours of daylight to explore the sites.

But what about those who have more business in Xinjiang than backpacking around the region’s tourist attractions and tasting its Hallel culinary delights? What about those who live in work in Kashgar, and must keep some semblance of a reasonable time schedule?…enter Xinjiang Unofficial Time.

Since China does have only one official time, all government related operations (i.e. banks, post office, courts, etc.) run on Beijing Standard Time. To compensate for this time difference, work hours for most Xinjiang government employees begin around 9:30 or 10, rather than 8.

But for residents of Kashgar, they prefer to use “Xinjiang time,” which is 2 hours behind Beijing time. So 8 p.m. Beijing time would be 6 p.m. Xinjiang time. Since most people prefer to use Xinjiang time, but the government runs everything on Beijing time, this creates a potentially confusing situation, as “6 pm” to one person may refer to an entirely different time to another. Therefore, when making plans in Xinjiang, locals will not only agree on what time they will meet, but also what time they are using.

Person A: “What time do you want to get dinner?

Person B: “How about 6 pm?”

Person A: “Will that be Xinjiang time or Beijing time?”

Person B” “6 pm Xinjiang time.”

To me both countries’ respective systems make sense. It is quite complicated having a single country on 4 different time zones, (and I’m sure millions of other people in the Central Time Zone who have at one time set their VCR’s to 8:00, to record a program which was on at 7:00 would concur). Yet, with our population spread out along both coasts, there really isn’t much choice but to break up the time zones. With China having roughly 90% of its population fitting into an area which could conceivably fit into a single time zone, it would almost be more trouble than its worth to break it up, regardless of other subtle inferences could be drawn by breaking up the country into another regional divide. So instead they keep the country on a single time zone, and let the locals make up their own time if they so desire. As for the laowai travelers, it’s another great reason to go to Xinjiang.



The Year of (Eating) the Rat

Posted in Festivals and Celebrations, Food and Drink, Local Customs, Personal Anecdotes at 7:17 pm by Benjamin Ross

In 2007 we saw the coming of the year of the pig, the main source of protein for China’s mass population. In 2006 it was the year of the dog, and dog ownership in China skyrocketed like never before. 2005 brought us the year of the “cock,” and I don’t even want to go there. But what do we get from the latest beast, the rat, which the Chinese Spring Festival has dragged through the gate? What can be done with a small rodent which for most of human history has been regarded as nothing more than a pest?…The answer is the same as what you do with most animals in the Middle Kingdom…you eat ‘em!

Yes, you heard me correctly. I said you eat the rats. Although most of the world (as well as most of China) would never even consider eating these small furry rodents, the practice does go on in some areas. One of which is Western Fujian in the cities of Sanming and Longyan.

Chinese pork gall bladder jerky
When bought in a store, rat jerky usually comes packaged like this bag of pig gall-bladder jerky (another one of the “8 big jerkys.”)

To be fair, I should add that the word for “rat” in Chinese 老鼠 (lao3 shu3) in common speech is an umbrella term which includes both rats and mice. The “rats” most commonly used for human consumption in Fujian are what we would refer to as “field mice” rather than the sewer rats which are so common in most Chinese urban centers.

My ex-girlfriend was from Sanming and had told me that one of here favorite childhood memories was “eating rats.” Mice would be trapped in fields, killed, dried, and then made into “rat jerky” (老鼠干) which is considered one of the “8 big jerkys” (八大干) of Western Fujian. I had remained incredulous, so when we took a trip back to Sanming last spring, she promised me she would inquire if rat jerky was still around.

On our first day back we asked my ex’s grandma if there was some place in town where we could buy rat jerky. She told us that these days it is becoming less and less safe to eat the stuff. Because most of the field mice have been killed in recent years, scrupulous farmers have begun making jerky out of sewer rats, which are prone to disease. However, it turned out we were in luck, because earlier in the week, she told us, she had gone to a market in a neighboring town and picked up some fresh (non-jerkified) rat.

frozen mouse to eat
The mouse which came out of my ex-girlfriend’s grandmother’s refridgerator

Cultural sensitivities aside, I’m not sure I was prepared for what I was about to see, as the old woman pulled a completely intact frozen mouse out of the freezer. It was about 3 inches long, and placed on the table, it looked just like one of those mice I used to chase out of my apartment when I was in college.

That night for dinner, the mouse was chopped up into morsels, and cooked into a dish with hot peppers and garlic, and it tasted surprisingly wholesome…like beef, but with much smaller bones. Had I not known what it was I would have had no idea I was eating a rodent. Who woulda thunk? 祝你鼠年快乐Happy Rat Year!

Addendum: At the tail end of my trip to Sanming I was able to find several stores which sold rat jerky, and later on a Western Fujian specialty shop in Fuzhou which sold it as well. It comes in several flavors, most of them spicy, and is usually priced at least twice as expensive as the equivalent weight in beef jerky.



Hunting Wild Bamboo

Posted in Food and Drink, Local Customs at 12:02 pm by Benjamin Ross

One of my favorite new culinary discoveries in China has been edible bamboo (笋 sun3) . It soaks up flavor like meat, but has a rough texture that is unlike meat or vegetables. Bamboo comes in several varieties including 春笋 chun1 sun3 (spring bamboo), 冬笋 dong1 sun 3 (winter bamboo), and 苦笋 ku3 sun3 (bitter bamboo). There are many ways to cook it, but if you want to sample it, I highly recommend trying it dried, and cooked along with pork and hot peppers (辣椒笋干炒肉丝 la4 jiao1 sun3 gan1 chao3 rou4 si1). This dish should be available in most parts of Southern China. If by chance you are in Western Fujian, be sure to try the winter bamboo with processed (almost baconlike) pork.(冬笋炒腊肉 dong1 sun3 chao3 la4 rou4).

After consuming bamboo on a regular basis for over two years, I still was not totally aware of what part of the bamboo I actually was eating. I found out last week, in the little village of 村头村 (Cun Tou Cun) in Western Fujian.

Cun Tou Cun is a small village of 145 people located 10 minutes up the mountain from Gaiyang village. It’s also Melody’s paternal grandfather’s hometown. The village it situated in the middle of a picturesque bamboo forest.

I never was able to understand how a plant like this could end up on my dinner plate. This is because when we eat bamboo, we do not consume the mature plant. We eat its young offspring. Bamboo grows very quickly, and even a sample such as this which is only a few months old, is to mature.

The ideal bamboo plant to eat is just a tip sprouting above the ground. It should point straight up (not leaning to either side), and the leaves should still be green or yellow, having not yet turned to black.

After “hunting” around the forest with Melody’s relatives for about 10 minutes, we found our prey, and began the dig.

Bamboo has strong roots, so to dig it out requires a shovel with a sharp, slicing, edge.

Finally, success. (I’m thinking of sending this pic into Bass Pro Magazine)

The skin is chopped off, and the bamboo is ready to be sliced up and cooked.

Add some pork, hot peppers, salt, sugar, MSG, and soy sauce and you’re ready to go.



Boom! Sweep the Tomb

Posted in Festivals and Celebrations, Local Customs at 10:00 am by Benjamin Ross

This past week was Chinese Qing Ming Jie which in English is referred to as “Tomb Sweeping Day.” The Chinese have always placed much emphasis on honoring their ancestors, and Qing Ming Jie is when people visit their ancestors tombs and tidy them up.

Melody’s great-grandfather’s tomb is barely recognizable before our “sweeping” begins.

These days in China, burying your dead is illegal. When you already have 1.3 billion people, and land is in high demand, devoting a small plot to land to each recently deceased member of the population is highly unpractical. Therefore, most bodies these days are cremated after the funeral.

Before these laws went into effect, dead people were buried in large, round, cement tombs. This still happens today, illegally, but not to the extent as it was in the past. According to Chinese tradition, to ensure a proper afterlife, the tomb must be placed in a proper location, and facing a proper direction. This typically requires a feng shui consultation, which usually produces a location on the side of a mountain, in an otherwise difficult to reach location.

This year for Qing Ming Jie, I went with Melody to her home village of Gaiyang.

Gaiyang is about an hour away from Mingxi (the nearest small town) which is about an hour away from Sanming (the nearest city), located in Western Fujian. Along with her dad, her aunt, her grandpa, and her dad’s cousin, we rented a jeep, and drove from Mingxi (where we were staying) to Gaiyang. After driving 15 minutes outside of Gaiyang on a dirt road, our jeep stopped where a small barely visible path had been worn in the brush. We jumped a small creek, and headed up the mountain. After walking up about 100 meters on a path which didn’t really exist we reached a clearing where a large dirt mound encircled a small brick wall beneath it. It was the tomb of Melody’s great-grandfather who had died when she was 8 years old.

Melody’s dad’s cousin begins the weed clearing.

The site of the tomb made me realize why there is a special day in China for tomb maintenance. In a country with no cemetery grounds keeping staff, and where most tombs are located in hard-to-find places, a tomb easily succumbs to the effects of the natural environment. When we first ascended, the tomb was barely noticeable. The clearing was covered with brush and the mound of the tomb was overgrown by grass and weeds. This was going to require a little more than just some casual tomb sweeping. It was to be a full-fledged tomb weed-whacking and brush clearing affair. Melody’s father’s cousin began clearing the brush with a backhoe as her aunt pulled the weeds from the mound. Melody and I joined in the weed-pulling until her grandpa told us that we were doing it wrong. Our weed-pulling had been causing mud to fall down the mound. This was a bad sign and could negatively affect the fortune of his deceased father.

Food and incense are placed in front of the tomb.

After half an hour of weed-whacking, the outline of the mound was once again visible, and the clearing in front of the tomb was cleared of brush. With the tomb now properly maintained, Melody’s grandpa began the memorial ceremony.

First, a plate of food was placed at the foot of the tomb. Then her grandpa lit a handful of incense sticks and passed them to all of the relatives. They each bowed several times while holding the incense and facing the tomb. Then each person placed all but one of their sticks into the ground in front of the tomb. The remaining sticks were placed in a line adjacent to the tomb. This was followed with the burning of fake money. It is believed that items burned for the deceased will be of use to them in the afterlife. Presumably, the burnt money would bring fortune in the afterlife. Like most Chinese traditions, festivals, or life-cycle events, the day was not complete without fireworks which are ignited in order to scare any evil spirits which may be lurking near the tomb.

Money is burned to bring good fortune to the deceased.

After an afternoon of grounds keeping we descended back down the mountain. It’s unlikely that anybody will go up the path or see the tomb until next year’s Qing Ming Jie, or possibly later. But at least for now, I know I have done my share of honoring my Chinese “ancestors.”




Paper or Plastic? (Update)

Posted in Culture Clash, Food and Drink, Local Customs, Society at 7:41 pm by Benjamin Ross

Continued from Paper or Plastic?

Last night I was at a store which sells specialty products from Western Fujian. I was picking up a single pack of pig gall bladder jerky (not for my own consumption I might add), and after I had paid, the shop owner asked me “Do you want a bag?” I was overjoyed to find that I am not the only person in China who thinks that wrapping a single item which is already wrapped in plastic, inside an additional layer of plastic is not absolutely necessary all the time.

Unfortunately, when he asked me if I wanted a bag or not, I replied “yes,” possibly out of the shock of being asked, or possibly out of the fear bystanders would know I was holding pig gall bladder jerky on my person. This of course is nothing to be embarrassed about in China, but hey, I’m a Westerner, and sometimes I just can’t help it.

pork jerky mouse jerky Chinese snacks
Western Fujian has eight famous varieties of jerky including pork jerky, mouse jerky, and bamboo jerky. This is the pork gall bladder variety. They are all quite tasty.



My Non-Denominational List of Top Ten Holidays and Festivals

Posted in Festivals and Celebrations, Local Customs at 4:20 am by Benjamin Ross

In less than 24 hours, Fuzhou will transform into a veritable war zone as an arsenal of firecrackers explodes on every street, hallway, and inch of space in town, signaling the final moments of the year of the dog (last year it was the end of the year of the cock) and welcoming in the year of the pig. This is the beginning of what was probably, before the international whoring of Christmas, humanity’s most widely observed celebration, the Chinese Spring Festival. The best analogy I can provide for Spring Festival is that it is like New Years, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July all wrapped into a 15 day-celebration. During Spring Festival it is tradition for Chinese people to return to their hometowns, eat a glutinous New Year’s feast with their families, light a lot of fireworks, and watch the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, China’s own version of the Super Bowl, except there is no football, and the commercials suck.

fireworks Chinese Spring Festival
Leftover Spring Festival carnage in a stairwell in Fujian.

Spring Festival for me also marks the traumatic finale of a massive season of Chinese, Western, American, Jewish, and Christian holidays, all of which generally necessitate some form of multi-cultural party or get-together when you are a foreigner living in China. The festivities began with Thanksgiving, then my birthday (Dec. 18), Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, Valentine’s Day and now Spring Festival, not to mention my friends’ Clarence and Mandy’s engagement celebrations. All of this partying and celebrating got me thinking…Not all holidays are created equal. When I broke down all of the holidays and festivals which I encounter on a yearly basis, I come up with a fair collection of winners and duds. Here they are, My Non-Denominational List of Top Ten Holidays and Festivals.

10. Mid-Autumn Day

Mid-Autumn Day is the Chinese equivalent of a diluted Thanksgiving, except there are no Pilgrims, no Indians, and no blankets intentionally infected with small pox. But it’s the multi-flavored moon cakes which propel Mid-Autumn Day onto the list.

9. July 4th

Just as the Spring Festival is better observed in China’s countryside, there is nothing like July 4th and a place with a lot of country folk, such as…say…Missouri. Never mind that today our country’s values put world security in jeopardy, Independence Day is still all about the beer, the fireworks, and the ol’ stars and stripes.

8. Wacking Day

Okay, so maybe it was only invented on The Simpsons, but is there anything negative to say about a day where mob mentality rules and angry crowds prowl the streets with sticks beating the life out of the city’s snake population?

7. Yom Kippur

You might find it strange I have included such a solemn day on my list of Top Holidays and Festivals, but there are few concepts more cross-culturally applicable than dedicating one day a year to fasting, and repenting for all of the sins you committed throughout the year. This concept transcends religious beliefs, and it is the only Jewish holiday I regularly observe in China.

6. Your 21st birthday (applies for Americans only)

This isn’t technically a holiday or festival, but Americans love to abuse alcohol, and there is never a better reason to celebrate than the day where you can actually drink for the first time, legally? My 21st birthday was on a Monday night, and to this day I have yet to level that night’s levels of intoxication. Non-Americans simply don’t know the feeling.

5. New Year’s Eve (Western)

The Chinese New Year may be more multi-dimensional, but there is no bigger party than New Years Eve in the West.

4. Thanksgiving

Family, food, and football, nothing is more wholesome and American, and that’s why the final Thursday in November has always been on my list. A bantering John Madden with a turkey leg in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other doesn’t hurt either.

3. Spring Festival/Chinese New Year

You’ve heard the stereotypes, and they’re right on the money. Chinese food is great, and fireworks are plentiful in the land of chopsticks. What could be better than wrapping it all together under the backdrop of a family reunion? Spring Festival’s a keeper.

2. Halloween

When Chinese people ask me about my favorite “American” holidays Halloween is always the first to come to mind. Whether it’s going out trick-or-treating, having a drunken costume party, or just staying home with the Frankenstein and Osama bin Laden masks, handing out candy to children, Halloween is a pagan festival that people of all ages can enjoy.

1. Shabbat

It might sound cliché, but to me, the granddaddy of them all is the one that occurs 52 times a year. Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, but not just rest in the physical sense. Shabbat is the day to clear the mind of all the pressures which otherwise cloud it 6 days a week. It’s a day to leave work and technology behind, and instead focus on what makes us human, our communities, our thoughts, and depending on your beliefs, the man upstairs.

Honorable Mention

St. Patrick’s Day. Is there any group of people other than the Irish which throws a better party in honor of their own nationalism and pride? If Jews did that, the whole day would consist of eating kougal and fixing up the younger generation on blind dates.

Not all holidays made the Top 10, and frankly some celebrations are simply overrated in my book, so now we have the Top 5 List of Most Overrated Holidays and Festivals.

5. Columbus Day

Christopher Columbus was a raider and a tyrant, who in the process of spreading syphilis and raping Indian women, managed to discover a land which had already been discovered 500 years before. Celebrating Columbus Day in America is like celebrating Dick Cheney Day in Baghdad.

4. Labor Day/National Day (China)

Several years ago the Chinese government decided to give the people two “golden weeks” per year in order to encourage traveling and spending. The result is that most of China’s tourism is occurs during these two weeks, making any worthwhile tourist attraction, pathetically unattractive during this time period. What’s worse, people have to go to work on the weekend before the holiday, so each “golden week” in reality nets only 3 days off.

3. Labor Day/Memorial Day (US)

Can anybody seriously tell me the last time you did something to honor either labor or fallen soldiers which didn’t involve jet skiing or golf. These “holidays” should both be renamed “National Get the Day off Work and Go Vacationing in the Ozarks/Hamptons/Mountains Day.”

2. Hanukkah

Christmas ain’t all that great, and Hanukkah is Christmas’s little bastard Jewish cousin. What was originally a holiday no more significant that President’s Day, has now, under the influence of Christmas, become one of the most over-hyped Jewish festivals on the calendar. I’ll take Pesach over Hanukkah any day.

1. Christmas

As a Jew, I’m a little biased, but I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas. What was originally the celebration of the birth of a man who healed the sick and died for the sins of his followers, has evolved into a frenzy of materialism and overspending. Americans now spend more money each year on Christmas than the entire GDP of Namibia. (sources available upon request)



Paper or Plastic?

Posted in Culture Clash, Local Customs, Society at 5:19 pm by Benjamin Ross

Today I went to the market and bought an onion. The seller wrapped it in a plastic bag. It was the only thing I bought, and I wasn’t really sure what kind of difficulty carrying an onion possesed, which would require me to seek the assistance of a plastic bag. The Chinese have a peculiar fixation with plastic bags. Every item, no matter how small or easily carried is wrapped in the obligatory plastic. It’s almost as if anything purchased in China must not leave the store without being first wrapped in plastic.

Don’t get me wrong, plastic bags are an incredible invention and certainly have their place in society. Try living a week without using a plastic bag, and see how far you get. The strange thing in China is that their use is almost more compulsory rather than functional, as if you don’t get your item wrapped in plastic, you are somehow being ripped off. I’m not talking about going to the grocery store, buying a week’s worth of groceries and having them wrapped up. What I am talking about is walking into a store empty handed, buying a single item, such as toothpaste, a bottle of water, or beef jerky and having it wrapped in a bag. The other day, I even went to the store to buy a pack of trash bags, and those were wrapped in a bag. Even items which already come in a bag such as bread and laundry detergent are wrapped in another plastic bag when you buy them.

To me this all seems a little ridiculous and wasteful. I am no major environmental activist, but this got me thinking…Imagine the ecological effect if everybody in China (there are 1.3 billion people officially) used one less bag per day. That’s 1.3 billion bags per day which don’t end up in the incinerator and floating around the atmosphere, (which is what happens to most trash in China). Actually, I began thinking about this over a year ago, and since then whenever I buy less than 3 things, I ask for no bag, and my savings have easily eclipsed one bag per day. The shop attendants look at me funny when I tell them I don’t need a bag, as if I’m telling them I don’t need my change back or something. Then I simply politely tell them that it’s wasteful to wrap a single item in a bag, and that it’s just as easy to carry it in your hands. Usually they agree, but still continue their policy of wrapping single items in bags.

continued 3/24/07 in Paper or Plastic? (update)

china china china mandarin mandarin mandarin beijing beijing beijing shanghai shanghai shanghai chinese chinese chinese China Chinese Mandarin Taiwan Beijing Shanghai Taipei Lhasa Tibet Asia China travel Chinese lessons Mandarin lessons learn Chinese Hong Kong Xi'an Great Wall China tours