Dragon Raises its head

The Lunar New Year period is officially over. Today, the second day of the second month on the Chinese lunar calendar ( really a solar-lunar calendar, but let’s not get too technical). 二月二  er yue er – is the date of the Long Tai Tou 龙抬头  Festival。

Traditionally this was the day that farming and fishing work began for the year, believed to be that the Dragon King woke from his long winter sleep, lifted up his head, and brought rain to fishers and farming folk.

Fried beans are a popular food on Dragon Raises its Head Festival.They are said to resemble dragon seeds. Photo courtesy of chinadaily.cn

As the dragon’s raising his head, it’s good to eat dragon-type food, like pig’s feet and shrimp. Special dishes even have the word “dragon” added to their names, to make them auspicious. Noodles become dragon’s beards, dumplings become dragon’s ears, spring rolls are dragon’s scales and popcorn becomes dragon seeds!

Getting a haircut to ride the dragon’s luck this year! Photo courtesy of chinadaily.cn

It’s considered lucky to get your haircut on this date, so you can ride on the dragon’s luck in the coming year. If you haven’t already had your hair cut, today, quick, there is still time! It’s one of the busiest days for hairdressers in China!

The Dragon Raises its Head festival is also sometimes called the Blue Dragon Festival, and dates from the Tang and Song dynasties. Oddly enough, a few years back a real blue dragon landed in Australia. Maybe it swam over from the South China Sea.

This Blue Dragon ( related to jellyfish) can fit in the palm of your hand!
Image courtesy of shandongdaily.com

Here, people in the Shandong city of Weifang ( famous as the home of kites) come to pay their respects to the Dragon King on Longtaitou.

Shanghai’s finest Xiao Long Bao dumplings

It’s New Year   – the fourth day of the New Year of the Dog, in fact. Around New Year – and especially at midnight on New Year’s Eve – it’s compulsory to eat dumplings.

There’s all sorts of dumplings, but one of the finest is Shanghai’s traditional xiao long bao. Xiao long bao  differ from other dumplings because of the delicious liquid inside them.

Shanghai Xiao long bao. Photograph courtesy of goodfood.com.au

There’s a right way – and a wrong way – to consume the delicious broth inside the dumpling. London’s Time Out recently caused a stir by showing a video purporting to be a ‘how-to-eat” guide to these saucy treats – but the sauce exploded everywhere. They took down the video.

The video on this page  will show you how to eat xiao long bao, and also the chefs at the restaurant where they were invented making them. You should make a little whole in the pastry with your chopsticks and sip the steaming soup. (I’ve burnt my mouth numerous times as the liquid is piping hot!)

 

A shorter video showing the dumplings being made.

I’ve tried these delicious dumplings in many places – the taste and texture of the meat vary. I had some Xiao long Bao at a restaurant in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley yesterday. They were made by a chef from Shandong. Although the pork filling was delicious, sacrilegiously, almost, there was no liquid meat broth inside!

xiao long bao小笼包 means little basket parcels . 包  bao, means wrap, and 包子 baozi  are a common breakfast dish, bigger than dumplings or 饺子jiaozi.

Since  笼 long, sounds like  龙 long, dragon, you’d be forgiven if you thought these delights were called Little Dragon baozi – I did for a long time. You’d be in good company if you did. The famous Emperor Qian Long of the Qing dynasty visited Wuxi, a town not far from Shanghai, sometime in the 18th Century, and became quite fond of xiao long bao.  As Qian Long’s nickname was “Little Dragon”, many people started referring to the dumplings as Little Dragon Dumplings ( still pronounced Xiao Long Bao)!

Whatever you want to call them, they are one of the most delicious dumplings you are ever likely to taste!

Happy New Year of the Dog to all Spaceship China readers – and may dumplings visit your menu often!

 

Total Eclipse

During the darkness, you might see stars.

During today’s solar eclipse, Sirius is one of those stars you might see.

天狼星 – tian lang xing – is the star’s Chinese name. It means Wolf Star. In ancient china, it was a Sky Dog 天狗 tiangou – that ate the sun during eclipses.

It’s common for modern day people to presume the ancients were simple people with odd beliefs, like celestial dogs eating the sun. Myth, however, is much more than that, it is a coded reference to the way the world works, and to understand, one has to understand the codes.

According to Wudangshan Daoist Zhou Xun Yunancient Chinese had three practices to “save the sun” 救日jiu ri .

The first – confess evil deeds and ask for forgiveness. Secondly, ask help for the future, and thirdly banish evil by making a big noise to scare away the Sky Dog.

The Chinese have one of the most detailed records of stellar bodies in history. Records of solar eclipses date back to some 700 years BCEarlier still, around 1065 BC, the Chinese recorded a lunar eclipse. 

 

Modern practice is to go chase the sun, or watch the effects through Nasa’s photography. 

Yet others prefer to recall the wisdom of the ancients, keep a period of silence like the Navajo people,

and dream the future. Dream Big!

If you are interested in reading more about the eclipse or seeing more pictures, click on the links in blue!

 

First Day of Summer

It’s the first day of summer on the lunar calendar.

For my lunch today, I was given a boiled egg along with the usual mix of vegetables, meat and rice. I wondered the symbolism of the egg, but no-one much knew. “Chinese tradition” they said.

The Chinese calendar is quite a complex thing, a mixture of lunar and solar reckoning. There are 24 “solar terms”. This particular solar term, 立夏li xia, marks the sun reaches the celestial longitude of  45 degrees, and the beginning of warmer weather.

The eating of eggs is supposed to give children nourishment, and protect them from the onslaught of heat and humidity. Traditionally,  black tea-dust or walnut shells were used  in the boiling water, giving the eggs a dark red colour, thought to protect the heart.

Yesterday I saw some children make little nets with string, and was told it was for the eggs at the beginning of summer. Bemused, I turned to google, or as I’m in China, Bing. (“Bing” is the default search engine in China, and instead of saying “google it” , people will say ” I  will “bing it”. ). Apparently games are played with eggs in the little nests made from colourful strings attached around the children’s necks.

Regardless of the Beginning of Summer, it’s still been rainy and somewhat chilly here. Would someone please tell the Weather Gods that it’s summer already?

on top of the Lake and the Mountain….

on top of the beautiful West Lake in Hangzhou is a pagoda with a rich history.

The story of White Snake and the Leifang Pagoda appears here 

a small hall leads the way to the zigzag bridge, atop West Lake

nearby the Lake is a hill, a small mountain, with winding paths through a forest. one of those paths leads to a little cave, hidden away from view, off the beaten track.

 

 

from atop the hill where the cave is, looking down, a gathering of musicians.

one man stikes up a tune on his erhu – two-stringed fiddle …

and his friends come to join in…

Whilst i loved looking down over this scene, listening to the lilting then melancholic tunes, played by a group of friends relaxing on a sunday morning,

my favourite spot atop the hill was the little mountain cave

where an altar to the Bodhisattva Guan Yin  is hidden away.

观音 –  she who hears the cries of the world.

观  –guan   the character used for Daoist temples. it also means “observation” or “contemplation” and the character was originally referring to the comtempative view from a mountain top temple.

音 yin means sound.

观音guan yin she who hears the cries of the world.

 

( a little note on phonetics: across the world wide web you will see the Goddess’s name spelt as “quan yin” – this is incorrect and makes absolutely no sense in Chinese. the sound “guan” and “quan” are completely different. the ‘q’ sound is quite a difficult sound for non-Chinese speakers to make – why use it, when it is not correct? a grand mystery.)

What the birds know….

This morning as I left for work, walking along the road usually taken, a bright sound greeted me as I walked through the compound where I live. Sweet bird songs brightened the air. On the branch above me, a happiness bird landed. 喜鹊 xique,  – in English we call them magpies – represents happiness in Chinese culture, and the first character in this birds name is 喜xi – happiness or ‘to like’.

Why were all the birds out this morning? After a long and drab winter, it was a joy to hear so many cheerful birdsongs. Today is,惊蛰j ingzhe, which means the insects awake, and it is the third of the 24 two-week solar terms which punctuate the luni-solar calendar.

Image courtesy of http://news.xinhuanet.com

Traditionally, thunder from spring rains was thought to awaken the insects. The date signifies that the weather is likely to get warmer ( it has, thankfully) and its a good time for farmers to plant the seeds, like the one in East Jiangsu province in the photo above.

Apparently the fish wake up too, so it’s a good time for fishing. Fish swim from deep to shallow water in search for food at this time of year, mate and spawn.

Photo from http://www.cits.net/china-travel-guide/features-and-traditions-about-awakening-of-insects.html

As people’s throats get sore from the warmer and dry weather, Jingzhe is a good time to eat pears. The juicy fruit is beneficial for sore throats, according to traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine advises that this is a good time to nourish yang  energy, and it’s important to keep warm. This site gives some acupuncture points useful for this solar term.

Photo courtesy of http://www.xinhua.net

So along with the farmers, who all know that Jingzhe, March 6th, is a good day for commencing ploughing, apparently the birds knew something I did not know this morning.

The birds knew that the insects were waking up, and they might find a tasty morsel or two. No wonder they were singing!

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xique, a Chinese magpie, the happiness bird!

 

Apps, Apps and….

Apps, apps, and…. more apps!

The Chinese mobile phone market is saturated with apps, just like anywhere else. Startups such as didi, a taxi up, and numerous apps to order in food are growing exponentially.

Paying bills via social media accounts is another growing trend. Wechat is China’s biggest social media app, used by some  1.1 billion active accounts, 818 million monthly users, and 570 daily users. I’m one of them.

Wechat is like a mix between Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Pinterest all rolled into one fabulous app. You can text, leave audio messages and even video call your friends via Wechat. You can post – like Facebook – pictures and comments, and leave happy faces and comments on your friend’s posts.

China used to be the biggest name-card distributer in the world – at social occasions, people would ceremoniously hand out name cards. Now, people swap Wechat accounts.

Mobile banking has come to Wechat. You can even send your friends Wechat money – using a digital version of the Chinese ‘red packet’ tradition where people give each other red packets with money inside. At social gatherings and banquets, people will play a ‘red packet’ game. Instead of a physical red packet, people send each other digital ones, via Wechat.  Friends will form a Wechat group, send red packets and the first one to click on it wins the cash!

Along with Wechat money there is Alipay and together they form the biggest mobile payment system in China. Now the banks are trying to get in on the lucrative payment system, by issuing their own mobile app.  Like elsewhere, digital innovations are often ahead of laws regulating them. China however is ahead of the game – in January laws were issued to ensure that monies belonging to third parties go into a seperate account, so that the service providers, like Wechat and Alipay, arent making interest on monies belonging to others.

 

Stay tuned for the next post on dating  apps in China.

 

 

Wechat statistic sources:  dedramblings.com/index.php/wechat-statistics

http://www.caixinglobal.com/2017-02-09/101053651.html

Photo credit :  http://adage.com/article/digital/chinese-mobile-app-wechat-shake-shakes-social-crm/239938/

Graceful

A child’s graceful dancing

the gracefulness of silk

of calligraphy

art

the elegant gracefulness of bridges

of architecture

of women’s dresses emulating the graceful peacock

 

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graceful tea culture

and garden culture

 yet none so graceful

as the generous graciousness

and gracious generousness

of the heart and soul

of the people.

 

2016 was a difficult year for many, as our long-suffering planet Gaia shook off her pain in so many earthquakes, near-tsunamis, hurricanes and cyclones, and those of us, her inhabitants, suffered the anxious depths of our own lifetimes of toil and trouble, to make the final release, so we may ascend with Gaia, building the new world together,       in 2017

the generous heart of a daughter of the dragon humbled me beyond measure during that year

a graceful, gracious generosity of spirt 

unparalleled, unexpected, overriding all trauma and loss

graciousness

om mani padme om

 

 

 

Christmas in China

At this time of year, everyone is anticipating Christmas.

For the last decade, Christmas celebrations have been slowly creeping into the Chinese calendar. By 2016, Christmas decorations can be found in not only the major cities, but many small towns across China.

Most cities have large Christmas trees in the city centre

like this one in Hong Kong.

Merry Christmas to all travellers on SpaceshipChina!

Relaxing with a cuppa

Spaceship China has a lot of new crew onboard – we have many new followers join us over the past months, and I’ve been meaning to welcome you all aboard with a cuppa.

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Nothing better than a cup of tea and a good book to relax  with.

China, of course, is the home of tea, with a history of some 5,000 years….

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During the Tang Dynasty, Lu You wrote the 茶经 cha jing – The Tea Classic.

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Lu You describes how to make the perfect cup of tea – first, find the perfect source of spring water. Cultivate and harvest the tea, paying attention to the quality of the leaves, first or second growth…. everything is a meditation  of form. Arrange the teaset, boil the water, carefully pour the first cup and toss it, pour the second cup, smell the fragrance, drink slowly….

So, all our new members, and older fellow-travellers, please make yourself at home, relax, check out the Teahouse, where you will find some of our old-timer’s comments, add a few of your own, and join the crew at Spaceship China.

Don’t forget to leave your requests for posts in the reply section – we have some customers waiting for the next in the Traditional Chinese Medicine series…

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Dont be shy – have another cuppa and ask away 🙂

 

 

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