Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,
Plans, plans, plans, it’s all about plans this time of the year. What a pity I have no concept of what it is to plan let alone follow one through.
I've got two three day weekends coming up, one for Christmas and the other for Western New Year which thankfully is now a public holiday here in China. I was going to head to Changsha (Hunan) with Leeds Ross this weekend but it’s a long journey there and another long journey back and along with Plans, it’s kind of all about heating at the moment too. In the south it’s very hard to find heating anywhere period and at home I have my little drag about heater I’ve named Thing along with my DVD player and my electric blanket.
Why did I call my heater 'Thing’?
Because as I sit freezing watching a DVD or here at my computer I usually give it an extra one or two first names for example Far King Thing. When I call it this it seems to brighten up and offer a burst of joyous warmth as I think it likes this name and believes that I’m comparing it to an actual King from an ancient far away land…little does it know! From the weather report this weekend is not going to be so kind to us here in the south so I’ve decided that I might just curl up in ball and spend Christmas with the wonderful Audrey Hepburn.
As for New Year, there’s always Fuzhou city down on the coast. But then again it depends on the weather.
In two weeks this fun filled term comes to an end as does the drunken adventures with the Lads from Leeds. As Loss (most Chinese can’t pronounce the R in Ross) is only in China for a year he has chosen to move across to Hunan Province to be closer to his Peachy Squeeze Nina who is the Latin American beauty in the photos from my last blog ‘What I Remember From Shaun’s Birthday’ and Shaun has decided to move to Shaanxi Province (where I spent my last two years) to teach near his beloved Xian City where he can live a life unheard of and unlivable here in sleepy little Shaowu city (don’t ask questions!).
I must say it has been a fun ride and I have had more beery nights and hangovers in the past four months than I have had in my entire nearing six years in China.
All good things usually come to an end once they have run their appropriate time and I think it’s a good time. I only say this as we actually do have a little too much fun when we head out on the town and there have been far too many mornings we have all woken without a single memory between us of how the hell we got home, but if they were to stay I’m sure it would all begin again upon the new terms beginnings!
Strange that I meet them in the same school as Daniel and Alexa. Those bloody English can drink almost as much as us Aussies. Lads it has been an absolute wonderful term. What I remember of it anyhow.
Anyhow before the tissues come out let’s move on to travel as soon it begins again and it only feels like it was a month ago that I was slurping noodles all over Hunan and Guizhou Provinces on my ‘Miao Peoples 2010 Summer Beers & Noodles Adventure’ but believe it or not, it is only fifteen more days until the ‘2011 Winter Beers & Noodles Adventure’ kicks off. Yes Spring Festival, better known as Chinese New Year is here again. I finish on the 15th January and don’t have to teach until the 17th February 2011 and for those looking at their calendar and are thinking, ‘who begins a new term on a Thursday?’
Well that would be the Chinese! They start and end all types of strange things during the week. This of course has never made sense to me let alone any other foreign teacher.
As for my plans, I have no idea just fleeting thoughts of heading to Xiamen city on the coast and then slowly make my way down the coast to Hainan Island as that way I can stay warm for the entire month and won’t have to buy a new pair of runners. For those that know me, yes I still am getting around in my summer sandal/runner things which aren’t the best for winter and snow but hey, it’s amazing what layers of socks can do.
There are a million other places I’d love to go but it would be either freezing or snowing or both so I’m declaring any of them a rather stupid decision on my behalf as I have just spent two years in northern China and being warm is rather important to me at the moment.
After saying that I guess the following will declare me more than a little silly as for the first time in ten years we had snow here the other night. With only ‘Far King Thing’ and my summer sandals to keep me warm in my concrete and tiled apartment I lost the battle and headed to bed early for the next few nights as it got down to -8 each night. Thankfully now we are back up above the sanity line of zero degrees at night but after checking out the seven day forecast it's looking like we will once again stoop below sanity line next week as those working for Mother Nature have penned in quite a few -6 to -8 nights that will also offer a 'frozen mix'.
What in the world does ‘a frozen mix’ actually mean? I guess means snow of some sort...bugger.
To end on a good note, classes have been totally awesome the last few weeks as I’ve been teaching ‘Rock N Roll’ and the kids have gone off learning the English names to many of the musical instruments they all study in their spare time. We get together and create bands that would leave Nirvana for dead and no doubt Ol’ Blue/Blew Eyes Kurt Cobain (one eye blew here and the other there) would be shaking in his grave.
This week I’ve also been doing my Open Lesson (six in total) where the parents of each of my classes come in to observe how I teach their children and judge me worthy (or not).
Observe! Bugger that mate!
Instead of having the parents sit at the back of the huge room we do these in I had each student sit with their parent/s and I then hit them with the fact that they had to participate as much as their child. I had them standing and singing whilst doing the actions to ‘The Tiger Jump’, playing games and reading lines from the class books. The more ‘well to do’ parents weren’t too happy to begin with until they looked around the room and saw that everyone else, no matter what age were having the time of their lives with their child.
A total success I must say! Beers N Noodles toya…..shane
PS: The temple in the photos is one that LiPing (Joyce) and I found across the river. We were going to spend the afternoon climbing to a temple on a far away hill but we caught the wrong bus and as we were trying to figure out how to get up the first hill we found this small hidden temple.
PSS: The mother and daughter in the three shots in the pool hall are MiMi and her daughter Lisa. Those who are long term readers of my blog will know that here in Shaowu head to MiMi's Pool Hall to play pool, well now you can say hello to MiMi. Her daugher Lisa goes to our school and even though her English is great none of us have ever had the honour of teaching her. MiMi taught herself English using Lisa's school books along with helping Lisa with her homework and both are two of the sweetest people you could ever meet.
PSSS: For those who are interested, below is some information on the Winter Solstice and for those who aren’t simply scroll beneath the text to the photos. ___________________________________________________________
The soundtrack to this entry was by the Flamin Groovies The album was ‘Teenage Head’ ____________________________________________________________
<u>Winter Solstice, 22nd December 2010</u>
As early as 2,500 years ago, about the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), China had determined the point of Winter Solstice by observing movements of the sun with a sundial. It is the earliest of the 24 seasonal division points. The time will be each December 21 or 22 according to the Gregorian calendar.
In the Chinese idea of Yin and Yang, Yin symbolizes feminine, negative and dark qualities of the universe, and yang masculine, positive and fiery qualities, and when something goes to one extreme it then goes to the opposite. Winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is the shortest day and longest night. After it, days become longer, which ancient Chinese thought meant yang qualities would become stronger, so should be celebrated.
The Winter Solstice became a festival during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and thrived in the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279). The Han people regarded Winter Solstice as a "Winter Festival", so officials would organise celebrating activities. On this day, both officials and common people would have a rest. The army was stationed in, frontier fortresses closed and business and traveling stopped. Relatives and friends presented to each other delicious food.
In the Tang and Song dynasties, the Winter Solstice was a day to offer scarifies to Heaven and ancestors. Emperors would go to suburbs to worship the Heaven; while common people offered sacrifices to their deceased parents or other relatives. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) even had the record that "Winter Solstice is as formal as the Spring Festival," showing the great importance attached to this day.
In some parts of northern China, like Beijing, people eat dumpling soup (HunTun or in the west we know it as Won Ton Soup)) on this day. It’s said that in the Han Dynasty, when Hun tribes attacked China’s borders, two tribal leaders were the fiercest. One was named Hun and the other Tun. So when people made food to offer to their ancestors and celebrate the festival, they called the dumpling soup they ate huntun to show their hatred for their enemy.
In other parts of northern China, such as Henan, people eat dumplings in honor of a famous doctor named Zhang Zhongjing (150-219). Zhang is remembered not only as a brilliant physician but as being very kind to the poor.
According to local custom, one year the winter was so cold that many people in Zhang's hometown of Nanyang suffered from painful chilblains. Seeing that his small clinic was no longer able to accommodate an ever increasing number of patients, Zhang asked his brother to put up a tent in the village square. A large cauldron was placed inside the tent to prepare medicine, in which Zhang had dumplings stuffed with mutton boiled. Every patient got a bowl of the soup with two dumplings, and their chilblains disappeared in a day or two. Zhang's mixture soon became a popular recipe, and when he died, people began to eat dumplings on the day of the winter solstice in his memory.
In northern China, many people eat mutton and dog meat because these are believed to be hot yang foods, bringing warmth to the body and dispelling the cold of yin.
In parts of southern China, people eat tangyuan (rice dumplings), a kind of stuffed small sweet ball of glutinous rice flour. Tangyuan can be used as offerings to ancestors or gifts for friends and relatives. The Chinese word tang (meaning "soup") sounds like tuan, which means reunion, while yuan means perfect and happy. The entire phrase tangyuan therefore symbolizes "tuanyuan" (family reunion), and eating it at the winter solstice signifies family unity and prosperity.
For luck, some families prefer to have pink tangyuan mixed in with white ones.
In other parts of southern China, whole families get together to have a meal of red beans and glutinous rice to drive away ghosts and evil. According to one tale, a man named Gong Gongshi had an evil son who died on the winter solstice. After death, he became a spirit that made people ill, but Gong knew his son was afraid of red beans so he taught people to cook red bean rice to keep him at bay.
Noodles are also popular in many areas; as the days get longer there is a saying that each gets longer by the length of a thread. So noodles specially made for the festival are called Long Thread Noodles.
Though Winter Solstice Festival used to be considered the second most important festival after Spring Festival, its importance has decreased with urbanization and growing interest in Western festivals. In attempt to stem this, the government has decided to apply for the Dragon Boat Festival to be listed by UNESCO as a piece of World Heritage, and some experts suggest giving days off for traditional Chinese festivals such as Mid-Autumn Festival, Lantern Festival and Winter Solstice Festival.
The Winter Solstice rice dumplings could be used as sacrifices to ancestors, or gifts for friends and relatives. The Taiwan people even keep the custom of offering nine-layer cakes to their ancestors. They make cakes in the shape of chicken, duck, tortoise, pig, cow or sheep with glutinous rice flour and steam them on different layers of a pot. These animals all signify auspiciousness in Chinese tradition. People of the same surname or family clan gather at their ancestral temples to worship their ancestors in age order.
After the sacrificial ceremony, there is always a grand banquet.