Photo Essay: The Romance of Spring Flowers in Beijing

After spending so many years in the lush subtropical climate of Hangzhou, a city renowned for its many flowers that grace the West Lake year-round, I didn’t have high expectations for Beijing’s spring.

How could a city hit by yearly sandstorms possibly dazzle when it comes to flowers?

And then, while wandering through the local park close to where we live, I found myself charmed in the presence of the many colorful blossoms popping up all around us. I couldn’t believe that this average city park turned into a brilliant parade of spring flowers.

While I’m catching up from a very busy week, I thought I’d share some of my favorite recent pictures of flowers, including a few selfies of me and Jun.

Wherever you are, hope you’re enjoying the romance of spring flowers in your neighborhood!

\

Photo Essay: Amazing Buddhas in Living Color at Yungang Grottoes, Datong, China

The first time I heard of Datong, it was in a Saturday morning Mandarin Chinese class.

Anyone who has ever studied a language class will remember their share of dialogues in that language. Especially the ones you encounter when you’re just starting out. There was nothing terribly special about the dialogue that referenced Datong. It was just a conversation about places to travel — places that happened to be close to Beijing. A kind of, “Hey let’s go to Datong!” suggestion.

Datong, China? What’s in Datong, I thought.

Then I cracked open my dogeared copy of Lonely Planet China, and discovered Datong was home to one of the most spectacular displays of ancient Buddhist cave carvings, the Yungang Grottoes. I was familiar enough with the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, an extraordinary collection of Buddhist cave carvings that I eventually visited in 2009.

But the Yungang Grottoes had a huge draw over its counterpart in Luoyang — color. Brilliant, vivid, inspiring color.

It’s one thing to witness a collection of Buddhist carvings, and another to see them painted with royal blue, gold, scarlet red and many more striking hues. Just beholding these great works of art in color felt like a spiritual experience itself.

Who would have thought the humble and windswept city of Datong, deep in the heart of China’s northern coal country, could deliver such an experience?

I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite pictures from our recent visit to Datong’s Yungang Grottoes, when we braved below-freezing temperatures to see this wonder of China.

The scale of the Yungang Grottoes is incredible itself. You feel dwarfed just by the imposing cliffs that house these historical treasures.

Just consider how high up this statue is…

Or how enormous this one is!

But the true wonder of the Yungang Grottoes is tucked away within several caves that still house full-color carvings, murals and statues.

This massive Buddha, crowned with royal blue hair and a golden face, is one of my favorites.

It’s amazing how many colossal Buddhist statues we found at the Yungang Grottoes — many more than the Longmen Grottoes.

I highly recommend a trip to Datong, China to view this extraordinary world heritage site.

Wishing all of you a wonderful March, filled with colorful adventures of your own!

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.

Photo Essay: Walking Beijing’s Gubeikou Great Wall as a Couple

Beijing’s Great Wall is a wonder of the world — and even more so, when you find yourself hiking this piece of history under breathtaking blue skies, bathed in sunshine that could almost make you forget it’s still winter.

We ventured a few hours north of the city to the Gubeikou Great Wall, where the wall has more of a dilapidated charm and — at least this time of year — you can walk it all to yourself. While I’m recovering from a busy week, I thought I’d share a collection of photos from our recent visit.

We arrived in the afternoon, and hiked up to the Great Wall, tracing the ridgetops of the mountains.

Some parts, the walk is just like a ridge trail…

And in other parts, you’re passing by the actual walls and even towers.

Through the window, the mountains in the countryside form an endless wave of ridges that stretch to the horizon.

Behind Jun, another view of the Great Wall, stretched across the ridgetop.

But the best part of all was walking the Great Wall together. We hope to return soon and discover more of the wonders of this incredible piece of history.

2017 in Photos on Speaking of China

As we’re days from bidding farewell to 2017, 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.

No matter where you are in the world, I’ll be wishing you a very happy new year. Cheers to 2018!


Carrying gifts to celebrate Chinese New Year with the family in February 2017.

Visiting a tranquil waterfall in rural Hangzhou to welcome the first day of the Year of the Chicken.

Enjoying the beautiful scenery beside a creek on the first day of the Year of the Chicken.

Celebrating our anniversary beside the West Lake in Hangzhou.

Admiring the city wall all lit up in Qufu, Shandong province.

We moved to Beijing, and our car was just packed to the brim! Here I am savoring some homemade baozi that my mother-in-law packed for us.

In Beijing, our new life began at China Daily, where I now work.

In Beijing, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some fabulous other Western women with Chinese husbands, including Laura of Our Chinese Wedding (who is also my collaborator at the group blog WWAM BAM!)

One of the highlights of moving to Beijing was this welcome dinner with lots of fellow Western women with Chinese husbands. Unforgettable!

Photo Essay: Celebrating Our Anniversary By Hangzhou’s West Lake

So August has turned out to be one of the busiest months of this year for me. Who’d have thought the traditional “vacation month” could be so hectic?

While I’m catching up on things, I thought I would share a few pictures from our anniversary celebration by Hangzhou’s West Lake a few weeks ago. Sure, Hangzhou summers can be ferociously hot. But take a stroll by the West Lake when the lotus flowers are in full bloom, and you could almost forgive the weather.

Almost. 😉

Anyhow, here are the photos — enjoy!

Photo Essay: How My Chinese Husband Shows Love in Everyday Moments

Later today after 8pm Beijing time, the new group blog WWAM Bam (Western Women & Asian Men – Breaking All Molds) will be publishing a group post on how our Chinese husbands show their love for us, including a short contribution from me. I wrote:

My husband is the kind of guy who shows his love in those thoughtful everyday moments. You know, the little things he does to tell me — through actions, not words — just how much he cares.

To honor Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d extend that with a photo essay highlighting some of those everyday moments – in no particular order — that remind me just how much he loves me.

#1: Bringing me a steaming hot cup of my favorite dragonwell tea every morning

Jun knows exactly how I love my green tea, and always has it ready just after I wake up. 😉

#2: Putting bandages on my cuts (like when I cut myself shaving)

I’m such a klutz…but Jun is such a sweetie to want to bandage my cuts.

#3: Blow-drying my hair after I shower

Once I step out of the bathroom, Jun is usually ready — blow-dryer in hand — to serve. Thanks Jun!

#4: Tucking the covers around me to help me stay warm

When Jun goes to bed after me or gets up before I do, he often tucks the covers snugly around my shoulders. (He also did it when I was in the hospital last year, which is where this picture was taken.)

#5: Taking the garbage out (and doing other “dirty jobs” around the house)

Ever since we married, Jun has this thing about “dirty jobs” (like taking out the garbage) — he prefers to take care of them. (Did I also mention he loves to help my dad mow the lawn, as he did last year when we went to the US?)

#6: Warming my hands in his when they’re too cold

I love it when Jun holds my hands, especially just to warm them up when it’s cold outside.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Jun. I love you.

Photo Essay: Chinese New Year 2017 in Rural Hangzhou, China

It’s the year of the golden rooster. Happy Chinese New Year! While I’m taking a little time off to recharge a little during the holidays, I thought I’d share some photos from our Chinese New Year celebration in rural Hangzhou, China.

The biggest dinner of the year — Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner!

As always, every Chinese New Year’s Eve includes passing out the hongbao (红包,red envelopes) stuffed with lucky money for the new year.

As always, Jun and I brought some Chinese New Year gifts (nianhuo, 年货) to share with the family. On the left I’m carrying a gift box filled with an assortment of fancy nuts (complete with a “golden egg” design visible on the box); on the right, a gift box of large Xinjiang jujube dates.

On the first day of the new year, it’s time to wear your new clothes! Jun and I are both wearing new sweaters.

With such beautiful weather on the first day of the new year, we couldn’t resist stealing away to the countryside to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Here we discover a waterfall cascading down the cliffs.

As we wandered beside the river, we were bathed in the golden sunshine. It was one of the most relaxing afternoons I’ve enjoyed in a long time.

The evening of the first day of the new year, I also helped my mother-in-law make migu, a special turnover we enjoy during the holidays. The dough is made from rice flour, and the filling is usually tofu and pickled vegetables and/or bamboo.

We visited Jun’s godfather during the holidays, presenting him with a hongbao and some baijiu liquor. He prepared us some sugar cane to snack on. Above, there he is, peeling off the rough exterior of the cane as I watch in the background.

As usual, we dined on some of the most delicious food of the year. One of our most memorable meals was at Jun’s Aunt and Uncle’s home next door to us. She even prepared a special hotpot of savory tofu and napa cabbage, plus her mouthwatering homemade kimchi. Yum!

Wishing everyone a prosperous and auspicious Chinese New Year!

Photo Essay: You’re My Inspiration During The Hard Times

img_20160818_203224

It’s hard to believe our trip to the US is about to come to a close! We’re hopping a plane back to China this coming Monday, September 19.

As many of you know, we came here because of my husband’s lawsuit (you can learn more about that here). The lawsuit still continues. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard.

It IS hard.

And when you’re facing hardship, as we are, sometimes you’re running low on inspiration. Sometimes you need to find ways to recharge and reconnect with everything that’s good and right and beautiful in this world.

That’s why I’m so grateful to you. It’s people like you that have inspired me and motivated me in the hard times.

This photo essay is dedicated to all of the people — even those not present in the photos I’ve shared below — who have stood by us with support, encouragement and warm smiles.

Thank you for being there for us.

img_20160728_174338_hdr

Hugs from my friend Judy in Idaho.

img_20160804_213753_hdr

Hanging out with my fabulous sister Sue and my niece.

img_20160902_144551

Meeting up with my husband’s dear colleague Susanne.

img_20160818_185739_hdr

At home with my loving stepmom and dad, who have been among our greatest supporters.

 

img_20160728_193332_hdr

Dinner with Cheryl and Donna, two of our amazing supporters in Idaho.

img_20160806_173145_hdr

Out and about with my Uncle Roy (yes, Uncle Roy, the chi is balanced and life is good).

img_20160802_155521

Meeting with Susan Blumberg-Kason and her kids in Chicago’s Chinatown.

img_20160829_170042

My dear Uncle Robert and Aunt Dolly, who graciously invited us out to Tommy’s, a vegetarian restaurant in Cleveland that I’ve missed for years.

img_20160910_192959_hdr

Stopping at the Root Cafe in Lakewood, Ohio with Jillian, who really cheered me up over a tasty lemon almond vegan muffin.

img_20160728_230737_hdr

My friend Kathryn, who is a librarian extraordinaire in Idaho and one of the few people I’ve met who has dared to learn Chinese.

img_20160727_134542

An unexpected birthday party in Idaho with my friends Judy, Donna and Janice (with a birthday balloon)! They even remembered my favorite tea is mint.

img_20160913_145724_hdr

Scott and Jan, who charmed us with their smiles and laughter over a generous lunch that was their treat (thank you for that).

img_20160817_180742_hdr

An unforgettable evening filled with good conversation, lots of empathy and great Asian food with Gail, a longtime friend of the family.

img_20160810_145525_hdr

Meeting with my dear friend and writing/business mentor Bill Doll, who has been an incredible supporter.

img_20160911_192828

Enjoying the goldenrod at its peak with the one guy who inspires me everyday — thank you, Jun Yu.

I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week. Wishing you all a happy Mid-Autumn Festival!