The episodes on Inner Mongolia have recently gone live, so now you can see me in action — and get the chance to watch me learn more about tech and telemedicine at a local hospital and discover how medical coverage for all has helped the poor live better lives.
Among the rituals I observe every morning when I arrive bleary-eyed to work, nothing perks up my senses more than the moment I open the little light-blue canister in my desk drawer and take that first whiff of West Lake Longjing, or Dragonwell, tea leaves. The aroma of those lightly roasted leaves recalls memories of fresh tea on the bushes while walking through high mountain fields. Even just wandering through those fields in my mind, prompted by the sight and scent of Dragonwell tea leaves, delights me on the most dreary of days.
No other tea will do. My allegiance to the stuff runs so deep that I always prepare a stash of it whenever I travel.
Earlier this year, as COVID-19 began to threaten the rest of the world, I prepared a list of tips to consider in preparation for a potential novel coronavirus outbreak in your community, based on authoritative sources as well as what I’ve learned and experienced.
Toilet paper shortages? Seriously? I was stunned when I read news of how this bathroom essential was flying off shelves — and leaving them bare — around the world, all due to fears about the coronavirus.
Here’s hoping 2021 brings better days for all — wishing you a Happy New Year!
As we’re days from bidding farewell (or perhaps good riddance!) to 2020, I thought it might be fun this year to share a sampling of some of my favorite photos on the blog from this past year.
2020 ushered in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has turned the face mask into an everyday reality for just about everyone around the world, including us. Here Jun and I stand in a local park in Beijing, sporting our fab facewear. 😉
I had the opportunity to visit Ningxia, a tiny province located in western China, which included a visit to a sheep ranch. The rugged prairie highlands recalled memories of trips through the “big sky country” in the western US.
Befriending the sheep at the ranch proved a highlight of the trip!
For the first time, I also had the opportunity to flex my online sales “muscles” and give livestreaming a go. The experience proved a pleasure!
Jun and I experienced the early autumn charms of Beijing’s Summer Palace this year, arriving just as the osmanthus trees scattered across the grounds had perfumed the air with their beguiling fragrance.
Here’s Jun with one of those osmanthus trees. Reuniting with our favorite flora from the West Lake brought back sweet-scented memories of our days in Hangzhou.
I loved visiting his home on the high prairie, which included this decoration before the home, one typical of Mongolian households, which featured a replica of the renowned picture of eight fine steeds as well as horse-shaped metal embellishments at the top.
I’ve heard this phrase uttered to me countless times by people in China when the holidays roll around, whether Christmas or Chinese New Year.
I once thought the comparison a bit of a stretch, wondering how the holiday of Santa Claus of my childhood in the United States could possibly resemble a celebration involving fireworks and lion dances. But over the years I’ve recognized that Chinese New Year and Christmas share fascinating, and sometimes surprising, commonalities.
Here are some interesting ones I’ve observed:
Many Chinese New Year customs I’ve experienced at my in-laws’ home in Zhejiang province revolve around auspiciousness, such as the red couplets and firecrackers used to ensure a propitious start to the new year. But Christmas traditions I’ve grown up with are also said to represent good fortune, including the centerpiece of all decorations: the Christmas tree.
The color red
Red is a beloved shade for Christmas and a lucky one for Chinese New Year.
While Chinese New Year signals the start of the new lunar year, Christmas once fell on the exact date of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and a time traditionally marking the “rebirth” of the sun.
Both Chinese New Year and Christmas dazzle with plenty of lights in decorations and rituals. My father-in-law loves adorning the family home in Zhejiang with traditional red lanterns for Chinese New Year, just as my husband and I enjoy decking our Christmas tree and home with strings of colored lights. Growing up, my family would drive to Christmas light displays in town where we would gaze upon twinkling Santas, reindeer and stars. So naturally, I felt right at home attending my first Lantern Festival in China, surrounded by huge, glowing displays shaped like Chinese zodiac animals.
I hesitated to type a response to my friend back in the US, as the latest media reports of the virus situation over there — over 250,000 deaths and over 12 million confirmed cases — still circulate through my head. When I eventually type out that “Things are nearly back to normal”, a part of me flinches within, wondering if I just sent her the message equivalent of a gut punch. Is it ever polite to tell someone living in a bonafide disaster zone that it’s no longer a problem where you live? Even if it’s the truth?
I breathe a sigh of relief as she responds without any apparent annoyance, and I do my best to quickly shift topics to something else. But my guilt remains tenacious — the guilt that comes from living in a country that has nearly restored life to the new “normal”, as friends and family in the US, my home country, face a frightening surge of cases and deaths.
I wish my family and friends didn’t have to live with the threat of COVID-19 stalking them so close to home.
This month I visited Inner Mongolia for the first time, and my trip brought me to Ordos, best known for its rugged grasslands, deserts, and also the mausoleum of Genghis Khan (unfortunately, no time to see that!).
But I went there to discover another side of poverty relief supported by the internet — in the healthcare sector. And I experienced it with the help of a local Mongolian man named Yilao Baganna.
He lives in a modest ranch-style brick home on the prairie, where he keeps sheep, cows and free-range chickens, and tends a modest garden.
The prairie surrounding his home seemed as endless as the brilliant blue sky, which looked like something borrowed out of a painting. And I couldn’t even see the home of his closest neighbor! What a contrast to Beijing, where I live, with its crowded streets and apartment buildings.
During my visit, he shared with me his story of how he became impoverished, due to his medical condition. A few years ago, because of kidney failure, he received a kidney transplant. However the new kidney still didn’t function as expected after the operation, so he would need to undergo dialysis three times a week at the local hospital.
Here, he’s getting dialysis done at the local hospital.
I learned that his public healthcare coverage takes care of over 90 percent of his medical costs, making it very affordable for him to manage his condition. Plus, they’ve put all the insurance information online, so it’s easy for him to settle the costs once he has finished; he just goes up to a designated window and it gets done in a matter of minutes.
The coverage has literally saved his life. He even told me that without this support, he would not be able to go to the hospital.
Yilao Baganna showed his hospitality by treating us to a snack that reminded me of breadsticks, as well as some tea.
He showed me around his house and the grounds, and horses were a common theme, from this picture with Mongolian script…
…to this decoration before the home, one typical of Mongolian households, which featured a replica of the renowned picture of eight fine steeds as well as horse-shaped metal embellishments at the top.
On the way to his home, we stopped by a tourist resort which featured statues of Mongolian guards — perfect for a photo!
In the process, I made a few friends too, such as with this local reporter.
I also had the opportunity to spend one evening in the more metropolitan area of Ordos, close to its airport. I discovered a riverside trail that made for a pleasant walk before dinner.
The walk capped off my short but fascinating first journey to Ordos, Inner Mongolia. The more I travel around China, the more I realize just how diverse it is.
Everyone in Ordos told me the landscape looks even more spectacular in the summer, when the prairie turns green with dazzling flowers in a variety of colors, including purple. Perhaps another trip? 😉
This year has witnessed an alarming spike in hate incidents against Asians around the world. The surge of openly racist and xenophobic attacks has only exacerbated the dark reality of a cruel pandemic overshadowing the globe.
But this tragic situation has also sparked hopeful activism, forging some new heroes in the battle against racism and discrimination — including Xiaojiu Zhu PhD, MBE, a distinguished lawyer at the Cruickshanks firm in London, UK.
In the face of rising reports of discrimination against the Chinese community in the UK, including stories of children being targeted at school, Zhu believed something needed to be done. And as a lawyer, she considered it her duty to help people in the Chinese community protect their interests and legal rights.
Zhu came up with the idea of having an online forum for Chinese communities on responding to racism during the pandemic. The May 27 event, organized by the UK Beijing Association, the UK Society of Chinese Lawyers, and the Roundtable of Southern California Chinese-American Organizations, featured keynote speakers — including Zhu — who encouraged people to take positive action against racism and discrimination, such as reporting incidents to authorities and taking legal recourse.
More than 8,000 people from over 10 countries attended the forum, and the online replay attracted some 10,000 views. This extraordinary reception was a testament to the significance of racism to Chinese around the world, and made Zhu realize the need for an international group to forward the cause.
I’m traveling to Ordos, Inner Mongolia this week for a video shoot on the road, to explore some of the poverty alleviation efforts in the region. Will share the full experience in a photo essay when I return.
And since this is Nov 11 (11:11), the famed Singles Day, China’s version of Black Friday, here’s hoping those of you who participated nabbed some great deals this year!
Photo credit: By Fanghong – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4960386
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