How Are Age and Chinese New Year Connected? – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my post titled How Are Age and Chinese New Year Connected? Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

Years ago, when I went to have my fortune read at the Shihlin Night Market in Taipei, the fortune-teller gave me quite a shock when he declared me two years older than what I considered my actual age.

“But I’m not that old yet!” I insisted. Had this guy misread my birthdate? While I could live with one extra year — something I had become accustomed to from living in China, a culture where you’re considered 1 years old the day you’re born — two was pushing it.

What I never realized at the time, however, was that this “extra year” had something to do with Chinese New Year.

As I mentioned before, I’ve known for a long time that people in China count your age differently, with newborns being 1, not 0, years of age.

So how does Chinese New Year fit in with age?

To read the full post, head on over to WWAM BAM. And if you like it, share it!

China Daily Videos: Watch Me Discuss Family Small Talk, Delivery for Chinese New Year

Recently, I served as a guest for two Chinese New Year-themed videos for China Daily, where we discussed online delivery of Chinese New Year goods and also how to navigate family small talk during the holidays. For anyone who has ever wondered, “What does Jocelyn sound like?” here’s your chance to hear and see me in action!

My favorite is Holidays with family: Small talk strategies:

In this video, the staff at China Daily website shares their experiences during family gatherings and summarizes a list of “safe” topics to help you navigate holiday conversations.

The other video is Spring Festival: Tracking the changes in online shopping:

For Chinese New Year, many people shop for a wide range of holiday goods, known as nianhuo in Chinese, and the staff at China Daily website are no exception. In this video, they talk about their nianhuo shopping experiences, and their concerns of the possible dark side of the shopping spree, while also delivering their best holiday wishes to you.

Have a look and let me know what you think! And if you like them, share them.

Wishing everyone a Happy Chinese New Year!

Delivering a Little Love and Care for Chinese New Year – Pub’d in China Daily

China Daily just published my latest monthly column Delivering a little love and care for Chinese New Year.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Less than 24 hours after I had placed an online order on Alibaba’s Tmall Supermarket, my father-in-law’s jubilant voice on the other end of the phone conversation confirmed that everything had been delivered straight to his home in rural Zhejiang province.

Yes, he had received the six bottles of French red wine, the three red-and-gold boxes of assorted Xinjiang dates and walnuts, and the two tins of ginseng — our Chinese New Year presents for the family.

Just as he felt such excitement over receiving the bounty of gifts we had chosen, I was thrilled by the remarkable convenience and ease of the whole online transaction.

Years before, not a single express delivery company guaranteed next-day shipping straight to someone’s door in my in-laws’ mountainous rural village, located over 20 kilometers away from the more urban county seat. Most orders used to take at least two to three days and usually required a trip by the recipient to the local express delivery station for pickup.

But now, I didn’t have to worry about whether my father-in-law could possibly lug all those bottles of wine and boxes of dates and walnuts back home from the station by himself, thanks to Tmall Supermarket and their attentive service.

I’m certain my husband Jun’s family never imagined that one day, they would receive Chinese New Year goods, known as nianhuo, through home delivery. Traditionally, you would present them in person during the holidays. But we wouldn’t be able to reunite with the family this year. And Tmall Supermarket’s promise to deliver right to their house, the following day, made it the next best way to send them something special for the season.

You can read the full column here — and if you like it, share it!

Caution! Chinese New Year Is Coming: Why You Should Be Careful Ahead of the Holidays

Chinese New Year is the most wonderful time of the year for Chinese people, a holiday marked by joyful family reunions, feasts and traditional festivities.

But there’s a flip side to the coming holiday season: It’s also the time of the year when people should exercise additional caution.

A coworker of mine provides a typical example why. Recently, she needed to run to the bank and decided to rent a shared bicycle, which required using her smartphone to scan a QR code on it, which of course let any would-be thieves see her high-end phone. Because she felt rushed in a busy area, she didn’t pay much attention in the process. But after arriving at the bank, she suddenly realized that someone had stolen her smartphone — which very likely happened as she was distracted and getting ready to pedal away.

(She even told me, later on, that she should have been more careful, given that Chinese New Year is approaching.)

This kind of thing is more likely to happen in the weeks leading up the holidays, a time when thefts and other related crimes spike (so much so that a Tencent-backed news outlet devoted an entire article in Chinese to exploring why thieves are so rampant during Chinese New Year).

But it’s not just pickpockets you have to worry about.

Over the years, I’ve often heard my Chinese mother-in-law warn me to be more vigilant as Chinese New Year approaches, because it’s a time when more burglaries occur. In her village, people have had everything from valuables to crisp stacks of renminbi bills disappear after break-ins. (That’s why my in-laws always aim to have someone stay at home at all times during the holiday season.)

Why does so more crime take place in the holiday lead-up?

First of all, China experiences a huge migration of people during this time, with a rise in people carrying money and valuable gifts, providing more opportunities for thieves in places like crowded train stations and airports, and packed public transport around town (such as subways and buses).

Because so many people leave their homes and apartments for travel, this also creates more chances for burglars as well.

Add to this the fact that the holidays also come with a lot of pressure. People are expected to bring something home (like money or gifts) and appear successful before friends, family and peers. That includes crooks too, and anyone else less ethically inclined in society. So they have extra motivation to get out there and take advantage of the potential bounty that the Chinese New Year period brings.

Still, it’s good to know that China (a country that’s largely still very safe) isn’t the only place where the holidays demand more awareness when it comes to public safety.

After all, look at this advice from the Los Angeles Police Department ahead of the Christmas holidays, which includes the following words:

The holiday season is always a special time of year. It is also a time when busy people become careless and vulnerable to theft and other holiday crime. We can never be too careful, too prepared or too aware.

Or this information from the University of Alabama – Birmingham before the Christmas holidays:

During the holidays, the potential for thefts and robberies increase. More people are out and about, and they are carrying more money than during other times of the year.

Wherever you happen to be celebrating the holidays, here’s hoping your Chinese New Year is a safe one.

What do you think?

Photo credit: Paul via Flickr.

Photo Essay: A “Heavenly” Visit to Beijing’s Iconic Temple Before Chinese New Year

Beijing’s Temple of Heaven was where Ming and Qing dynasty emperors would pray to Heaven for a good harvest that year. So on the cusp of the Year of the Dog, Jun and I made a visit to this iconic Beijing landmark — and it was indeed heavenly to behold.

While we’re still relaxing and enjoying the Chinese New Year holiday, I thought I’d share a few photos from our visit.

It’s thrilling to walk the boulevards of the Temple of Heaven park and catch your first glimpse of the main temple complex.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, decorated in a tapestry of brilliant colors, deserves its status as a symbol of Beijing, if not China.

With an overcast sky and temperatures finally hovering above zero, it was an ideal time to get out and enjoy this magnificent attraction.

We also walked down the grand entrance leading to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the Temple of Heaven — and you can see the roof rising just above the entranceways.

But there’s much more to the Temple of Heaven complex than that iconic structure. We also visited the Imperial Vault of Heaven, whose design echoes the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests…

And the Circular Mound Altar, where emperors once prayed to the Heavens for good weather.

Here’s one of my favorite photos (taken by a woman who insisted I make the “V for victory” sign along with my husband Jun 😉 ). Wishing you all a “heavenly” Year of the Dog and prosperous Chinese New Year!

Photo Essay: My Favorite Chinese New Year Moments

While this is the first year in many that we won’t be spending Chinese New Year with family, I still have fond memories experiencing China’s most important holiday – and I’d like to share some of those highlights through my favorite photos from Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year Traditions

Red couplets, known as duilian in Chinese, are one of the most vibrant decorations for Chinese New Year. Here, I stand by the door of the family home adorned with red couplets just written by my father-in-law, a yearly tradition for him.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, the family always visits ancestors’ graves — offering them dinner, incense and money for the afterlife.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, my husband and his brother pay respects to a camphor tree that watches over the family.

The ancestors’ dinner table is always set first, complete with candles and wine, on Chinese New Year’s Eve. We will then pray to them and pay our respects.

Jun sets the firecrackers and fireworks at the gate to the family home on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Before the ancestors table, we burn paper money to send to them in the afterlife.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, the whole family gathers before the door to pray to the ancestors.

Here I’m carrying two festive gift boxes filled with Chinese New Year goods, also known as nianhuo. It’s customary to give gifts for the holiday.

Giving out red envelopes, known as hongbao, is also a family tradition Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Hanging red lanterns at the family home is an annual tradition to ring in the new lunar year.

The family watches the firecrackers and fireworks exploding at midnight, welcoming the new lunar year.

Jun and I greet the new lunar year dressed head to toe in our new clothing.

Chinese New Year Food

The Laba Festival (which was January 24 this year) falls on the eighth day of the final month of the lunar year and is considered the official start to the Chinese New Year season. Every year, my mother-in-law commemorates the day by dishing up the traditional laba porridge (腊八粥) for breakfast.

At my in-laws’ home, no Chinese New Year is complete without a heaping bag of dongmitang (冻米糖) sitting in the corner of our bedroom, ready for snacking at a moment’s notice. These crispy Chinese New Year treats are made from puffed rice mixed with rice syrup.

Every Chinese New Year, we always prepare savory rice turnovers known as migu in the local dialect. They’re stuffed with either veggies (salted bamboo, pickled greens and tofu) or veggies and pork.

You haven’t had tofu until you’ve tried tofu made from scratch. Here my mother-in-law is in the process of preparing homemade tofu.

Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner is the most sumptuous meal of the year, with so many dishes on the table there’s barely enough room for them.

Family at Chinese New Year

Bainian, or Chinese New Year calls, is one of the most important traditions for family, where relatives visit one another at home to send wishes for a prosperous new year. This is one of my favorite bainian memories — Jun’s grandma and grandpa, who have since passed away, happened to visit us at our home in 2014.

Jun’s grandma was actually one of my favorite people to see during the holidays. Here, she and I spend time in front of the family home.

Toasting family at the table is an important ritual during Chinese New Year. Here, I’m attending the first dinner of the year at an aunt’s home — she never fails to make a scrumptious tofu dish and some of the best kimchi I’ve ever tasted.

During Chinese New Year, we also travel to other relatives’ homes to dine and socialize. Here I sit with family before an aunt and uncle’s home, where we are having lunch.

I especially love when family come together to prepare food. Here relatives sit around the table making those savory turnovers.

But most of all, it’s a pleasure to spend Chinese New Year’s Eve together with family at the dinner table.

Wherever you are in the world, here’s wishing you an auspicious Year of the Dog filled with great fortune and blessings.

“Christmas Is Your Chinese New Year”: On Fascinating Similarities Between the Holidays – Pub’d on WWAM BAM!

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my post “Christmas Is Your Chinese New Year”: On Fascinating Similarities Between the Holidays. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Christmas is your Chinese New Year.

I’ve heard this phrase uttered countless times by people in China when the holidays roll around, whether it’s Christmas or Chinese New Year.

And while I used to think the comparison was a bit of a stretch, over the years I’ve recoginzed that Chinese New Year and Christmas share fascinating, and sometimes surprising, commonalities.

Here are the most interesting ones I’ve observed over the years:

Good fortune

While Chinese New Year customs have a more obvious connection to good fortune (such as how red couplets and firecrackers would scare away the evil Nian monster) even Christmas was traditionally about good luck and protection during the darkest time of the year.

To read the full piece, hop on over to WWAM BAM! And if you like it, share it!

Pub’d on China Daily: Homemade festival foods are treasures

The China Daily just published another column I wrote titled Homemade festival foods are treasures. Here’s an excerpt from the column:

It was during Chinese New Year several years ago when I discovered just how ambrosial tofu really could be.

As a longtime vegan, I’ve purchased and consumed hundreds, if not thousands, of packages of bean curd to grant me a certain expertise in the food. But nothing could have prepared me for the moment when I bit into that homemade fried tofu fresh from the wok. The crisp, golden surface gave way to a surprisingly rich, buttery flavor that elevated this humble food to the highlight of the evening’s dinner.

But that moment was the culmination of days of work by my mother-in-law from rural Hangzhou, who also prepared the tofu she had fried from scratch.

The article was shared on the China Daily WeChat account and has received over 4,000 views as I write this! Here are some of the lovely comments readers have left in response in WeChat:

Many foreigners will enjoy the chinese foods so much as to forget leaving.Chinese food even the same name has dozens of recipies in different areas. Some of them taste sweat in the north,but some of them spicy or salty in the south on tbe contrary. In some places,the recipies are secrets and they are handed down only by families. The author is so lucky to have tried a lot of chinese holiday foods during every year,for nomal people would not get them in the street except special days.By the way,I dont like tofu whatever way it is made of.

Really a good narrative article which combine west culture and east culture into the one that is the love for our great mother and theirs masterpiece homemade food which is not only the treasures for us but also the intangible heritage for our respective families. I also remember the culmination of our spring festival eve is the moment of our feast dinner come into our table l have prepared the tableware for a longtime to enjoy those ambrosial and palatable food really delicious and unforgettable.

You can read the full piece here, which also includes a recording of me reading the article. And if you love it, share it!

When Returning Home for Chinese New Year is Too Painful

A few weeks before Chinese New Year in 2016, I was invited to attend a get-together in Hangzhou for a training company where an acquaintance I’ll call Jian worked. One of the themes of the evening happened to be the holidays, and the leaders called a young man (not Jian) up to the front of the room to ask him about his goals for the coming year.

“So what do you want to bring home for Chinese New Year?” the leader asked him, referring to next year’s festivities.

“Fifty thousand yuan,” said the fellow, who appeared to be in his 20s. He had an ambitious grin that, if it were a power source, could have illuminated the entire room.

I was struck both by the confident determination in his response, and the fact that he desired so much money. The sum of 50,000 yuan was the equivalent of about $7,500 at the time, which actually startled me. As much as I enjoyed a thoroughly middle-class lifestyle growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, USA, I doubted my parents had ever spent anything close to that much on Christmas.

But the topic of money and Chinese New Year surfaced later on over dinner with Jian, who was as much of a high-powered go-getter as the 20-something guy in front of the room. Jian confessed that he once made a promise to himself – if he didn’t hit his income goals for that year, he would not return home to face his family and friends at Chinese New year. He didn’t say so, but it was clear that a failure to “bring home the yuan” would be a huge loss of face.

Clearly, the traditional Chinese saying “money or none, return home for Chinese New Year” (yǒuqián méiqián huíjiā guònián; 有钱没钱回家过年) didn’t apply.

Yet while he was concerned about face, others in China are more concerned with the pressure to give – even if they cannot afford it. Consider this article by Sixth Tone about the growing number of migrant laborers in China giving Chinese New Year in their hometowns a pass, titled Going Home for the Holidays a Hard Sell to Migrant Workers:

“I haven’t returned home for two years,” a villager surnamed Gao in central China’s Hunan province told the newspaper’s reporter. “I didn’t dare go back. In addition to the cost of transportation, visiting my relatives would add up to a few thousand yuan.”

Gao explained that most of this cost stemmed from an obligation to give red envelopes to family members he hardly knows or hasn’t seen in years as a token of goodwill. “I’ve got a lot of relatives back in the village,” he said. “The expenses are bottomless. I’ve thought it through, over and over, and decided not to return.”

It’s alarming that even migrant workers, those earning paltry sums compared to Jian and his colleague, would be expected to dole out money during Chinese New Year that they cannot afford to give.

I too know all too well the pressure that comes along with Chinese New Year. A few years ago, I wrote “What will they think?” The fear of being seen as a failure before family at Chinese New Year and noted:

The other night, I suddenly burst out in tears over what might probably be the silliest of all things – the fact that Chinese New Year was fast approaching, and I was really afraid of spending it with the family. …

Deep down, I know it was all about face, our own mianzi. That I thought if only we had a car – even if it was a borrowed one – it would somehow make up for everything else about our lives that seems totally imperfect or open to family criticism. Like how we don’t have kids (and everyone keeps bugging us about it). Or how we don’t own an apartment or a car (unlike all of John’s relatives his own age). Or even the fact that we live in a tiny apartment. Having a car would somehow prove our “worthiness” before everyone else in the family. …

Chinese New Year is one of those times when it seems like everyone in the family makes it their business to tell you what they think about your life – whether it’s your marital status, whether you have kids, or even your own possessions. And even when people don’t say anything, sometimes just being the one who “sticks out” of the crowd – like, say, the only thirty-something couple in the family that doesn’t have a home, car, lots of money, and kids – can make you feel truly like the odd one out. As if you don’t belong (and, perhaps, never will).

And while I didn’t mention it specifically in that post, I’ve known the financial pressure too (for ongoing reasons longtime readers are well aware of).

I’ve also asked, in regards to Chinese New Year, Is The Family Pressure in China Too Much?, where I related the story of a relative whose business failed in its first year, wondering if that was the reason we didn’t see him during the holidays. I wrote:

From time to time, I hear stories about people like this – people who refuse to return home for the holidays, sometimes for years. People who just cannot face the family, because their lives don’t look like what others would consider “success” or “normal”. Sometimes it’s because they’re down on their luck in business or employment, like the guy I mentioned. Sometimes it’s because they’re not married yet.

Whatever the case, they have enough stress in their lives – and could do without the additional stress from their families during the holidays. They don’t want to be compared to so-and-so, who just bought a new BMW or apartment in Shanghai. They don’t want to be told that, say, they’re getting too old for marriage or kids.

While it’s normal for parents to worry about their kids, sometimes I wonder, is the pressure here too much? Is there too much of an expectation for people to conform to a narrow societal norm? Is there too much pressure for people to be “successful”?

Is that why my husband’s relative didn’t come back?

What do you think? Have you known people who refused to return home for Chinese New Year for monetary or “face” reasons? Or have you breathed a sigh of relief over not needing to return to your hometown for Chinese New Year?

What are YOU looking forward to most for Chinese New Year? – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The blog WWAM BAM! just published a group post titled What are YOU looking forward to most for Chinese New Year?, and it includes a contribution from me. Here’s what I wrote:

This is my first Chinese New Year ever in Beijing, and there’s something thrilling about living in a city that has these larger-than-life historical monuments, particularly during the holidays. My husband and I always traditionally include worship as part of our Chinese New Year customs – usually paying respects to ancestors, but also visiting temples when we have the opportunity. But this year, we can follow in the footsteps of past emperors in Beijing and pray at the Temple of Heaven.

I’m also psyched about food. Since I’m on duty during the holiday, we won’t have a lot of time to prepare. But we’re going to order out jiaozi dumplings from one of my favorite restaurants in town, Xian Lao Man (which happens to have quite a few vegan-friendly options). We’ll also prepare a couple of our own dishes – a fancy tofu stir-fry for me, and a spicy stir-fried fish for Jun.

Finally, as a huge fan of the Olympics, I’m looking forward to all of the outstanding holiday programming provided by the international sporting event.

Happy Chinese New Year!

To find out what the other 6 contributors are looking forward to during Chinese New Year, read What are YOU looking forward to most for Chinese New Year? And if you like it, share it!