Forget the Critics: ‘Last Christmas’ w/ Henry Golding, Emilia Clarke Could Still Be a Classic

The movie “Last Christmas” caught my eye earlier this year for casting the handsome Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians” and “A Simple Favor”) and winsome Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) as the romantic leads. This made it one of the first major studio movies to feature an Asian man and a white woman at the heart of a holiday love story.

But the opening of “Last Christmas” in theaters on Nov 8 came with a little less holiday cheer in the mixed and slightly negative response from critics, leading to a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 50 from Metacritic.

Surely, when the filmmakers put together a Christmas wish list, this wasn’t the kind of gift they were hoping for.

Yet, despite the critics, moviegoers have responded with great joy for this Christmas romantic comedy.

Just look at the numbers. To date, “Last Christmas” has grossed nearly $70 million worldwide at the box office and remained one of the top 10 films at the box office this past weekend. On Rotten Tomatoes, it earned a strong 81% approval rating among audiences and has received many passionate user reviews on IMDb (with the most popular titled “Why doesnt this have a higher rating?!”).

Even Rotten Tomatoes has already reconsidered its original take on the film, landing “Last Christmas” on its list of 20 Rotten Christmas Movies We Love with the following description:

Take the Mother of Dragons and the hot guy from Crazy Rich Asians, mix them with the music of George Michael, bring in Emma Thompson to co-write the script and Paul Feig to direct, and sprinkle a bit of holiday magic over the whole thing, and you’re looking at Last Christmas. Look, we get that the story is somewhat predictable — pretty much everyone figured out where it was going just from watching the trailer — and it’s all a tad overly sentimental, but with this kind of pedigree, it’s hard not to be charmed by its immensely likable stars and its feel-good fuzziness.

That list included other romantic comedies that drew a similarly lackluster response from the critics and have still gone on to become beloved Christmas favorites, such as “The Holiday” at 49%.

Moreover, it’s also worth remembering that the gold standard of all holiday movies – the classic 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life” from Frank Capra – opened to mixed reviews, and even Capra himself found the response from critics largely cold.

Clearly, first impressions, especially on Christmas movies, don’t necessarily determine which movies endear themselves into our hearts enough to merit “classic” status.

So I say, forget the critics. “Last Christmas” could easily become another classic holiday film too. It’s just a matter of time. And if that happens, it could add some much needed diversity to a world of Christmas films featuring largely white romantic leads (Yes, Hallmark, I’m looking at you).

So give “Last Christmas” a look this holiday season – and let us know what you think. Do you believe it has the potential to become a holiday classic? Why or why not?

To learn more about the romantic comedy “Last Christmas”, you can visit the film’s page at IMDb, where you can watch the trailer too (which is also available on Youtube).

3 Chinese Foods That Put Me in a Holiday Mood

What do the holidays taste like to you? Growing up, I would have said things like cranberry, gingerbread and all of the chocolates in my Advent calendar. But ever since I married a Chinese man, I’ve come to also associate many of his foods with the most wonderful time of the year.

Here are three Chinese foods guaranteed to put me in a holiday mood:

By 我乃野云鹤 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58911328

#1: Dumplings (Jiaozi)

For years, when my husband and I spent Christmas together in the US, it just wasn’t the holidays without having a dumpling-making party. Whether it was with several friends or just the two of us, we would spend a long evening, sometimes even Christmas Eve, folding up mountains of handmade dumplings, also known as jiaozi. My favorite filling is still tofu and pickled vegetables (including kimchi — yum!).

So if you put a stack of jiaozi dumpling wrappers before me, along with a heaping bowl of filling, it immediately puts me in a holiday mood. Especially when you’re able to share the experience with friends.

Why not try it yourself? A dumpling-making party could become one of your favorite holiday traditions. To get started, here’s one recipe for vegetarian jiaozi dumplings (http://thewoksoflife.com/2015/09/vegetable-dumplings/) and one for meat jiaozi dumplings (http://rasamalaysia.com/recipe-chinese-jiaozi-leeks-and-pork/)

sesame balls#2: Sesame balls (Maqiu)

On the winter solstice, my husband’s family always has a huge family dinner, along with a huge helping of homemade sesame balls or maqiu. It was years before I actually tried one. But once I did, I found these treats, made of sticky rice dough coated in fragrant roasted black sesame seeds and sugar, a delicious and simple holiday treat.

They’re one of the easiest things to make — you just need glutinous rice flour, sesame seeds and sugar. If you’re intrigued, check out this recipe I have for sesame balls, along with the story about how I used to confuse them with tangyuan for years! (https://www.speakingofchina.com/china-articles/mistaken-winter-solstice-family-recipe-tangyuan/)

laba porridge

#3: Laba porridge

During last month of the lunar year, it’s tradition in many parts of China (including where my husband’s family lives) to have a bowl of this colorful porridge. I first tried it in early 2014 and immediately fell in love with the sweet, rich flavors of all the “treasures” within the porridge — which could include everything from dates and goji berries to peanuts and lotus seeds. With all the eye-catching fruits and nuts hidden within this porridge, it kind of reminds me of fruitcake, another holiday food back in the West. Except, unlike fruitcake, you don’t have all of that dread or the associated jokes.

If you’re tired of fruitcake and looking for a festive new dish to serve during the holidays, consider laba porridge. Here’s one recipe: http://www.healthy-chinese-recipe.com/laba-porridge-recipe.html

What are your favorite holiday foods?

Last Minute Holiday Ideas with Chinese Characteristics

img_20161217_202428I can’t believe it’s already December 20. As I write this post, I’m still knee deep in preparations for two Christmas parties this week — and, of course, have yet to do a single Christmas card. (At least I can send them out by e-mail – thank you, Hallmark eCards.)

Welcome to my busy December!

Of course, I’m busy in part because I moved a little over a week ago. (We’re still kind of living out of bags!)

But a lot of us get busy this time of year just because of the holidays. Believe me, I’ve been there.

You know – weekends packed with holiday get-togethers or shopping for presents or even just decorating your place. Then comes the big day and you’re schlepping yourself across town to visit all the family. Or you’re at home most of the day preparing dinner for the guests.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

But if you need some last minute holiday ideas, I’m here to help.

Are you struggling to decorate your place with a little Chinese flair? How To Make It A Very Chinese Christmas is chock-full of ideas, including a bunch of easy DIY decoration tips.

If you’re still pulling together your holiday menu, sometimes all it takes is a dish to bring a little something Chinese to the table. My husband and I always loved making sesame balls, one of his mom’s signature dishes for the Winter Solstice. Turns out, they’re super easy to prepare and very delicious. Check out the recipe here.

For those of you in desperate need of last-minute gift ideas for your Chinese family and friends, look no further than my Huffington Post article, The Top 6 Gifts Sure to Please Your Chinese Family. (If you want the short version, when in doubt go with a fruit basket!)

Wishing you all a wonderful week – and here’s hoping you get a little rest too. 🙂

Your 2016 Holiday Gift & Survival Guide

Christmas in China might sound cool and exciting -- but sometimes it's not as fun as it seems

The holiday season is just around the corner. Whether you’re filled with delightful anticipation or dread, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered with this 2016 holiday gift and survival guide.

Okay, so let’s start with the biggest thing on everyone’s mind – the gifts.

Need some ideas on what to buy your Chinese loved ones? Begin with my 2016 piece for the Huffington Post, The Top 6 Gifts Sure To Please Your Chinese Family. (It was actually inspired by a classic post on my site, which is currently the number one most popular post, Giving Gifts to your Chinese family – A Modest Guide.)

But if you’re doing your shopping outside of China, I recommend reading Gifts to Buy Abroad for Chinese Family and Relatives.

Do you have a loved one who happens to be a Rooster in the Chinese zodiac? Have a look at Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian).

Stumped on what to buy? Repeat after me – fruit basket! It’s the perfect present for your Chinese loved ones when you have absolutely no clue what to get. Check out my 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China.

Would you like to “deck the halls” with a little Chinese flair? How To Make It A Very Chinese Christmas will show you how.

What do you do if you’re stuck in China during Christmas and missing the holiday spirit? Well I say, if they can’t bring the holidays to you, you can always bring the holidays to them. Here’s How to spend Christmas in China with your Chinese family.

Don’t forget, sometimes it can actually be fun to spend the holidays with someone new to the experience. If that’s you, you’ll enjoy 3 Joys of Celebrating Christmas With Someone Who Didn’t Grow Up With It.

But sometimes, no matter what you do, you’ll still face those holiday blues, especially if you’re spending the holidays in China. You’ll find comfort in my post On Having the Christmas Blues in China.

Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who has been shopping Amazon to help support my husband’s case! If you’d like to join them and support the blog (and my husband) while you shop for the holidays, at NO additional cost to you, here’s how:

Wishing you all a great start to your holiday season!

Guest Post: What My Korean Ex Taught Me About Spending Holidays Abroad

Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
One of the greatest gifts of being in a cross-cultural or international relationship is how it changes your perspective on the world. That’s what happened to American book blogger Svetlana, who once dated a Korean guy — and at first, couldn’t understand his reluctance to celebrate the Korean Lunar New Year in America.

Do you have a fascinating lesson you’ve learned from a relationship or another guest post you’re dying to share here at Speaking of China? Head over to the submit a post page to learn how to get your words published here.

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“How are you going to celebrate Lunar New Years?” I asked him over the phone, holding my cell phone close to my ear.

He chuckled as if I made a joke instead of asking a serious question. “Back in Korea, there is already a holiday atmosphere, something that’s not here,” he told me. “It’s hard to get excited over Korean holidays.”

As much as I could relate to that, a part of me didn’t entirely understand. My family also came over to America and yet we celebrated Russian and Jewish holidays. So why was it hard for him to celebrate Korean holidays?

The only holidays he and I ever celebrated together were birthdays. We would talk about holidays, and I learned more about Korean culture and where he came from. But despite my wishes, we never celebrated any Asian holidays. Only a few times did we celebrate Valentine’s Day, mostly by giving each other small gifts. But other than that, nothing.

Only after he went back to South Korea did I finally understand why he didn’t celebrate Korean holidays with me.

Creating a community on your own is difficult, and holidays often mean intimate moments between family members instead of passing acquaintances or co-workers. Since I have my parents and my sister with me in America, it’s much easier to enjoy that sense of community. He was also surrounded by a Korean community, but how many of these people were his friends or family members? How many of them were able to understand and support him? I also realized it probably wasn’t easy for him to help me, an outsider, understand what to do and not to do for the holidays.

Sometimes when I met international students from China, it seemed as if they were living in survival mode. I doubted they celebrated Chinese holidays on their own. After all, when they have to worry about things like finances and even jobs, how can they have time to kick back and relax?

What if I had been an international student like him, dating a guy in that country? Would I have forsaken my own holidays, or would I have asked him to celebrate with me? Chances are, if I had worried about things like finances, I would have done the same as him.

It’s a shame I never had the chance to celebrate Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year, with my past Korean boyfriend. Still, thanks to him, now I understand more how difficult it is to be here alone in America, especially during holiday gatherings, as well as the importance of establishing a community to help you celebrate holidays. All along, I took it for granted that I was surrounded by supportive family members to celebrate the holidays with me.

Svetlana is a book review blogger. She enjoys reading unique books set in Asian cultures, from classics to contemporaries, and introducing her followers to AM/WF books that aren’t so well known. Her blog has something for everyone. She is still single.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

How to Explain American Thanksgiving Dinner to Chinese Family and Friends

Chinese Thanksgiving“Well, we have this big meal and eat things like turkey and cranberries…”

As I tried describing one of the most essentially American holidays of the year to my Chinese in-laws, I could already see their eyes glaze over with confusion and sense the questions forming in their minds. Turkey? Cranberries? Even though I expressed these perfectly in Chinese, the result was still gibberish because neither of them had ever seen a turkey or tasted cranberries in their entire lives.

Sigh.

When you’re an American like me, living abroad as part of a foreign family that doesn’t understand the importance of what we call “Turkey Day”, let alone what foods we traditionally eat, it can be frustrating. American Thanksgiving is part of the culture I grew up with. It’s something I’d like to share with my family in China – or at the very least, describe the holiday to them in a way that actually makes sense to them.

Fortunately, there is a way. Over the years, I’ve discovered that some of the most important things about Thanksgiving dinner have counterparts or equivalents in Chinese culture. You know, something your Chinese family actually knows and has probably tasted in their lives.

So if you’re struggling to explain American Thanksgiving to your Chinese loved ones, here are 5 suggestions that might just help you:

1. Roast turkey is America’s version of roast duck (kǎoyā, 烤鸭)

"Dry for 5 hours cropped" by FotoosVanRobin - http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotoosvanrobin/324209168/. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dry_for_5_hours_cropped.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dry_for_5_hours_cropped.jpg
“Dry for 5 hours cropped” by FotoosVanRobin – http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotoosvanrobin/324209168/. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dry_for_5_hours_cropped.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dry_for_5_hours_cropped.jpg

Outside the world of China’s well-heeled expats and cushy five-star hotels, turkeys just aren’t a thing here. They’re not native to China – so of course, most people haven’t actually tasted one. Even using the appropriate Chinese word for “turkey” (huǒjī, 火鸡) won’t necessarily make it easier for people like Baba and Mama to understand what you mean.

Fortunately, Chinese cuisine includes roast poultry (Beijing duck, anyone?), so you could always start off by comparing roast turkey to China’s roast duck (kǎoyā, 烤鸭). It doesn’t taste same (so this vegan has heard) but it’s in the ballpark.

What about stewed chicken (dùn jīròu, 炖鸡肉)? You usually baste roast turkey in the bird’s own juices, which is sort of like stewing chicken meat. You could even tell them what I’ve said before – that turkey is really just an oversized chicken.

P.S.: For those of you looking for a great Chinese-American turkey recipe, this soy sauce and honey-glazed turkey will satisfy Chinese and American palates alike.

2. Cranberries are like Chinese hawthorn (shānzhā,山楂)

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Chinese hawthorn (image via http://baike.baidu.com/view/6877.htm)

How do you explain the sweet-tart goodness of cranberries to people who have lived all their lives without cranberry sauce or Craisins (those fantastic raisin-like dried cranberries that have become one of my favorite snacks ever in America)?

Simple – tell them it’s like Chinese hawthorn (shānzhā,山楂). These sour berries are the quintessential fruit for tanghulu, delectable candied fruit skewers made popular in Northern China and now available in most Chinese cities. When Chinese hawthorn are warmed up and sugar coated, they taste surprisingly like cranberry sauce – a crunchier, less sauce-like version, mind you.

So guess what I’m cooking up for Thanksgiving this Thursday to substitute for cranberry sauce on the table? If you’d also like to try your hand at making candied Chinese hawthorn, check out this recipe.

3. Stuffing is like a savory version of eight-treasures rice (bābǎofàn, 八宝饭)

Image via http://www.xiachufang.com/dish/512948/
Eight-treasures rice (image via http://www.xiachufang.com/dish/512948/)

In a China where rice, noodles and steamed buns rule, try explaining stuffing — seasoned Western-style bread mixed with things like carrots, onions and celery — to your Chinese relatives. I once tried listing off the ingredients to my Chinese mother-in-law; while she never said “That’s weird,” I could somehow read it in her puzzled eyes – eyes that have never seen or heard of Stove Top (the number one stuffing brand in the US).

If only I had realized that China already has a stuffing-like dish called eight-treasures rice (bābǎofàn, 八宝饭). Granted, the sweet, rather than savory, flavors reign in this dish of sugary glutinous rice stuffed with all sorts of colorful dried fruits, seeds, and nuts. But many versions of Thanksgiving stuffing include dried fruits and other “treasures”. So just tell your Chinese family and friends stuffing is like a savory version of eight-treasures rice (xián de bābǎofàn, 咸的八宝饭), where we use bread instead of rice and vegetables or spices as the “treasures”.

By the way, here’s an ingenious recipe that mediates a truce between Western-style stuffing and eight-treasures rice called sticky-rice dressing.

4. Pumpkin pie is like a pumpkin-flavored gāodiǎn (糕点)

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Mung-bean cakes, a Chinese dessert or gaodian.

No Thanksgiving Day – or explanation of a Thanksgiving Day – is complete without a little dessert. But here’s where it gets challenging, because desserts as Americans know them – you know, death by chocolate and the endless fluffy white frosting and whipped cream – just aren’t in traditional Chinese culture.

Fortunately, Western-style bakeries serving up pastries, cakes and loaves of bread have exploded all over China, which means a lot of people – especially the younger set – know what you mean when you’re talking about cakes and pies.

It’s the older generations — people like my mother-in-law and John’s grandma – you have to worry about. They’ve probably never even set foot in one of these bakeries.

Still, China has plenty of home-grown pastries or gāodiǎn (糕点), such as mooncakes (yuèbing, 月饼) and mung-bean cakes (lǜdòugāo, 绿豆糕). For the elders in your family, you could call pumpkin pie a sort of pumpkin gaodian (nánguāgāo, 南瓜糕).

5. American Thanksgiving itself is like China’s Winter Solstice (dōngzhì, 冬至)

Winter Solstice Dinner in China is a lot like Thanksgiving Dinner in the US.
Winter Solstice dinner with the family in China.

I’ve heard lots of people equate Thanksgiving Day with China’s Mid-Autumn Festival because both holidays occur in the fall and stress being together with family. But honestly, it’s a terrible comparison for lots of other reasons – especially in terms of food.

To celebrate China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, people eat mooncakes. Meanwhile, to celebrate American Thanksgiving Day, people feast on turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and everything else until their stomachs can’t bear it. Food and family both take center stage in Thanksgiving – something you can’t say about China’s Mid-Autumn Festival.

My suggestion? American Thanksgiving equals China’s Winter Solstice (dōngzhì, 冬至). Not only do both of these holidays bring family together and involve huge feasts, they also share a very important characteristic – they both kick off the holiday season in their respective countries. While American Thanksgiving signals the start of the Christmas season, it’s China’s Winter Solstice that reminds us Chinese New Year is just around the corner.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an American Thanksgiving dinner of my own to prepare for here in China. To those of you celebrating, happy American Thanksgiving Day!

How do you explain American Thanksgiving dinner to your Chinese family and friends?