Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Happy New Year everyone and welcome to 2014!

December is one of the busiest months at Carden China. In preparations for the annual Christmas ceremony, staff-wide Christmas dinner, Secret Santa, and other festivities, the Chinese and foreign staff have been very preoccupied. The holiday season has come and gone quickly. With Chinese New Year around the corner, everyone is now preparing for their month long vacation. Many of the foreign teachers travel to Southeast Asia to escape from Beijing’s dry and cold climate and of course, the cacophony of fireworks. Others return to North America to visit family and friends. Unlike the majority of schools in China, our department offers time off before and after the duration of Chinese New Year (CNY), which lasts approximately 15 days.

The Chinese have traditionally used the lunisolar calendar to determine the dates of CNY each year. Because CNY is dependent on the winter solstice, it usually falls on the second new moon, between January 20 and February 21. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue till the fifteenth. CNY is celebrated in various places including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, various Chinatowns, and other countries that have a large population of Chinese people.

This year Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is on Friday, January 31st. The year 4712 begins the Year of the Horse. Those born in a horse year are said to be “cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, talented and good with their hands.” (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/chinesenewyear1.html).

The image of the horse is drawn using the traditional Chinese character for horse (馬).


In my family, it is tradition that we read everyone’s fortune aloud to see what the new year will bring. Usually these readings are excerpts of books written by famous Chinese fortune-tellers who use Bazi (八字), a method that takes the hour of one’s birth, day, month, and year to calculate their fate.  This method is also often used by Chinese matchmakers to determine peoples’ wedding dates.

Every family has created their own regional customs and traditions. One of the most important traditions is to gather together with your family for the reunion dinner on the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s day. Food has always been an important part of my family and it is an essential part of the celebration of the new year. Almost every dish at the table is symbolic of something. Noodles symbolize longevity; Fish is eaten because the Chinese word for it  (yu), sounds similar to the word for “abundance” and “wealth”; Chicken is also popular because it symbolizes a happy marriage and the coming together of families. It is also usually served whole because chicken is viewed as an amalgamation of the dragon and the phoenix, emphasizing family unity. Dinner is also usually eaten on a round table with a Lazy Susan because the circular shape represents unity in Chinese culture.

It is also traditional for families to thoroughly cleanse the house before New Year’s day to get rid of any lingering ill-fortune. However, on New Year’s day and the following days, it is inadvisable to clean again because the new year brings in good luck.

Always use two hands to receive a red envelope or YOU WILL BRING DISHONOR TO YOUR FAMILY. (Seriously)

According to Chinese folklore and legend, red symbolizes vitality and the element of “fire”; with this energy, one can drive away bad luck. Thus, during CNY, people typically wear red clothes; it is also customary to wear new clothes to represent a clean slate, the beginning of a new year. In addition, red envelopes are passed out because it is viewed as “lucky money.” People are given red envelopes until they are married. Once married, he or she is then responsible for handing out red envelopes to others.

Here in Beijing, regulations in regards to fireworks are rarely enforced, especially around the holiday. Fireworks are constantly lit and can be heard most of the day. It is an ancient custom rooted in the belief that the crackling flames and the sound would drive away evil spirits.

On the  fifteenth day of the first lunar month, the lantern festival is held. Although it is the last day of CNY, it is also the first full moon of the year. Lanterns come in different shapes and sizes. They are customarily red; but growing up in Hong Kong, I can fondly remember my plastic cartoon dragon lantern – powered by a battery. People would walk around the neighborhood with lanterns, spend time with their families and gaze upon the beautiful full moon.

Lanterns, everywhere!

On this day, it is also tradition to eat rice dumplings, known as yuanxiao or tangyuan. These glutinous rice dumplings are composed of glutinous rice flour with various fillings. The most common filling is sesame paste, which is made with ground black sesame seeds mixed with sugar and lard. It can be boiled, fried, or steamed. The word tangyuan has a similar pronunciation with tuanyuan, which means “reunion.” Again, we see the symbolic meaning of food and its importance to the Chinese. People eat them not only because they represent union and harmony, but also because they are delicious!  (My sister begs to differ and refused to eat them while growing up, breaking my poor grandma’s heart because she made them from scratch.)

It’s an acquired taste.

As for me, I’m the rebellious one in the family and will not be going to Hong Kong or America to visit my family. Instead, I will be traveling to Vietnam and enjoying some delicious pho, Vietnamese coffee, beach weather, and of course, the company of good friends.

Safe travels to those who are leaving the country! For those who are staying, I urge you to enjoy and partake in the Chinese New Year festivities! Wear red, buy some fireworks, and eat some tangyuan!

Enjoy your vacation and see you in the Year of the Horse,




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October Holiday

After a year long hiatus, the Carden China blog is back and here to stay.

            Every year, Carden China’s foreign and Chinese teachers are given a holiday in the beginning of October. This holiday is known as National Day of the People’s Republic of China; it typically lasts for 7-8 days. However, holidays in China are often made-up on the weekends. Thus, our awkward work week began on a Tuesday and ended on a Saturday.

           Although our foreign staff consists of all North Americans, we still take advantage of this holiday to relax, have fun, and travel domestically and internationally. Since many locals in Beijing are not natives of the big capital, many Chinese people take this rare opportunity to return to their hometowns and visit family. It is advisable to make advance bookings for one’s travels because the prices of tickets and hotels go up and places become extremely crowded. On my way to Rome this October holiday, the immigration area was engulfed by a sea of tourists. With no distinct lines, the wait took over 2 hours. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that Beijing is a city of 20 million people out of the 1.35 billion in China. In the last 10 years, there has been an increase in the middle to upper class echelons of Chinese society. As a result, in 2012, the Chinese overtook Americans and Germans as the world’s top tourism spenders with the total of 83 million people spending a record-breaking number of $102 billion in international tourism. With so many Chinese tourists abroad, the Chinese government created its first tourism law to address various issues pertaining to “appropriate” behavior and conduct while traveling. Not surprisingly, the law came into effect this past National holiday, the most traveled holiday in the country, next to Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). For more insight, check out CNN’s article:  http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/03/travel/new-china-tourism-law/index.html?iref=allsearch

           For those who choose to remain in Beijing, the traditional festivities of National Day begin with the ceremonial raising of the Chinese national flag in Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world. It is preceded by a national parade. As an American, I envision parades to be a jamboree filled with tons of floats, various performances, marching bands, and live music among many others. However, the parade of China’s National Day is not your annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; it is something of greater magnitude and national pride. It is a means to display the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army’s achievements while featuring thousands of marching soldiers in various formations. It is also a large exhibition of the country’s military forces which include tanks, fighter flights, and nuclear missiles. In the evening, a majestic demonstration is held as hundreds of fireworks are cast off into the sky as government officials partake in a regal state dinner. It is impossible to truly visualize the grandeur of the event until you see it for yourself. However, I would advise to simply watch it on your television as security is extremely tight around this time. As a Laowai (foreigner), you are sure to stick out among the crowd.


(2009 – The 60th anniversary of National Day)

The Brief History of National Day

           The nerdy side of me wants to explain why this day is important. With a population of 1.35 billion people, the Chinese government doesn’t give days off easily. (For those of you who are curious, there are no such things are “snow days” here.)  So here is a super brief history of how National Day came to fruition.

           After the Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911, the country was torn apart by warlords.  Sun Yat-sen became the leader of the anti-monarchist group known as the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomingtang).Under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who turned to foreign powers for help, the KMT was able to overthrown these warlords and unify the country. Following the Warlord era, the Communist Party (CCP) was established in 1921. The subsequent decades became a struggle for power as both parties claimed to be the legitimate government of the country. A civil war broke out between the two forces; it lasted a gruesome 23 years with intermittent horrific events such as the Japanese invasion in 1937. After the revered leader Mao Zedong’s victorious battles against the KMT, Chiang Kai-shek and those loyal to him fled to Taiwan.

           At three o’clock on October 1, 1949 in the midst of 300,000 people, Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China and waved the first five-star Chinese flag. Today, Mao’s picture still hangs in front of Forbidden City as a reminder of his glory. Sixty-four years later, his presence continues to resonate eerily in front of Tiananmen Square.

Forbidden City

(Soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army standing in front of Forbidden City)



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           Although I am 1 of the 3 Canadian teachers at our school this year, that isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate American Thanksgiving–it just meant I got to have *nearly* the same holiday twice this year. Throughout the past week, lessons revolved around pilgrims and feasts, ultimately prepping everyone for the holiday. On Thursday after my morning classes I joined about 50 other staff members in upstairs in a classroom that has seen the greatest variety of delicious treats over the years; a row of desks held boxes upon boxes of Chinese pastries as well as traditional pumpkin pies. With a lot of hushed tittering and hunkering down in chairs we awaited the arrival of Ms. Wang, Carden’s headmaster, whose birthday fell on Thanksgiving, and whose sly personality definitely contributed to her pleased-but-not-shocked expression when we all jumped up to sing Happy Birthday, first in English and then in Chinese. After taking pictures we proceeded to pounce on the various desserts, a culture exchange in itself.

           On Saturday I joined the foreign teachers who, like a flock of birds, migrated to Sonny & Maya’s apartment in Wudaokou, a thriving university area of Beijing (though my quick entrancement by food and banter would cause me to forget the outside world). By 3pm, after Paul who had been donned The Carver had worked up an appetite, everyone was ready to fill their paper plates with a feast, thanks again to Ms. Wang, of turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, veggies, cheeses, etc. etc. etc., followed by 6+ hours of as many drinks as their bulging stomachs would allow.

           In the end, I learned a lesson from Maria’s dog, who was able to make it to the gathering due to no conflicting priorities, and was smart enough to hide bits of turkey around the living room. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for napkins, because that was how I managed to slip turkey and ham into my pocket for the taxi-ride home.

~ Heather ~

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           Every year on Halloween, Carden holds a Halloween carnival. October 31st happened to be a Wednesday, and I was assigned to run an afternoon game, so I had the whole morning to drink coffee and ponder the details of my costume. I had bumblebee wings from a Beijing Wal-mart, a borrowed witch, and oversized glasses. I ended up scratching the idea of being a nerdy witch bee and threw on a button-down, an old man wig, and the freaky $1.00 mask I bought from the Dollarama in Canada this past summer (I have taught English at Carden for one year preceding this, so I knew I’d need something for the ghoulish holiday).

           Upon entering the school I received some funny looks from the other staff members, but most people avoided looking at me because I had the appearance of a conniving and possibly lecherous old guy. I had to go to the bathroom to adjust the slipper I had shoved up my top for the illusion of a beer belly, at which point I was met by a gaggle of screaming 5-year-old girls–apparently the first-graders had arrived early. I apologized and told them I was Ms. Brown under my costume, but because their English is yet limited to simple phrases, the more I spoke the more they screamed. Walking down the hall, students everywhere pointed and masked their fear of my presence by giggling.

           I arrived at my classroom and presented the Monster Walk with another teacher, Ms. Z. Students were to walk around a circle of chairs while we blasted Justin Bieber and other such rock stars from the mini-speakers I’d picked up from the local supermarket. Every time we stopped the music and withdrew the name of a monster from a bag, whoever had that monster on the back of their chair received tickets which they could later redeem for stickers or toys. A few of my students were sure I was Ms. Brown, which I tried denying until they spotted the elephant tattoo on my wrist. Caught in the act, a mere lunge in their direction was enough to send them scattering.

           The hour-and-a-half of parading around the room and waving my makeshift broom-handle cane at the little witches and skeletons and princesses went astonishingly quick–it seemed only minutes passed before we were tearing down the balloons and congregating with the forty-or-so other staff members present that day in a room on the fourth floor, where we were greeted by the sweet aromas exclusive to pumpkin pie and various other cakes. We took a group picture and had a vote for the best costume. The winners were: Ryan R. dressed as Batman, Barbara dressed a waitress, and…ME dressed as a creep! Not surprisingly, the detail to draw the most affection for my costume was the tie I’d picked up from a Canadian thrift store, printed with pictures of some actual guy’s grandchildren.

           Much to my roommates’ delight, the prize was a whole red velvet cake, the rich cream cheese dressing on which I had to fight not to devour in one fell swoop. Needless to say, Halloween with Carden this year was a memorable and delicious event.

~ Heather ~

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