Photo Essay: The First Few Days of Chinese New Year 2015 with the Family

We’re just into the first few days of the year of the sheep (or is that goat or ram?), and let me tell you — I am just completely exhausted. It was already a marathon leading up to Chinese New Year’s Eve, where I rushed to finish a paid project before the holiday. And it hasn’t stopped even during the holiday — except now it’s a marathon of visiting relatives (bainian) during the day!

Still, despite the fact that I’m still catching up on sleep (and, for that matter, my e-mail inbox — apologies to anyone who hasn’t heard from me in a while), I’m actually having a really great time, more than I ever expected. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that folks here usually speak in local dialect, which means I still don’t always understand when they’re saying, say, “Have kids soon!”)

In lieu of my usual posts on Monday, I’m sending you my warmest wishes for an auspicious year of the sheep through this photo essay! Here’s hoping you have a fabulous year!

The little red VW polo we drove to my husband's hometown (which was also my first time ever driving in China)
The little red VW polo we drove to my husband’s hometown (which was also my first time ever driving in China)
My husband John and his brother pay respects to a camphor tree that watches over the family.
My husband John and his brother pay respects to a camphor tree that watches over the family.
We also visiting the local temple (in the background) to pray to the Jade Emperor for an auspicious new year.
We also visiting the local temple (in the background) to pray to the Jade Emperor for an auspicious new year.
Hanging out with John's grandmother at the front door of the family house.
Hanging out with John’s grandmother at the front door of the family house.
First selfie ever with John's grandmother! (We all bust up laughing at how funny we all looked together in this.)
First selfie ever with John’s grandmother! (We all bust up laughing at how funny we all looked together in this.)
John and I took this fun selfie with the family while dining on the most important (and delicious!) meal of the year.
John and I took this fun selfie with the family while dining on the most important (and delicious!) meal of the year.
We visited relatives in the village, including John's grandma (who enjoyed my foot bath and foot massage).
We visited relatives in the village, including John’s grandma (who enjoyed my foot bath and foot massage).
On new years day, we found this lovely tree with pink plum blossoms.
On new years day, we found this lovely tree with pink plum blossoms.

Have a happy Chinese New Year! 三羊开泰!

Photo Essay: A Cozy, Chinese-Style Thanksgiving in China

Even though we’ve moved to China, there are some holidays that will always remain in our lives — such as Thanksgiving. We spent a cozy afternoon at home cooking up a little something to celebrate. Granted,  it’s not the kind of Thanksgiving your American grandma would have served up — but it served us (and our friends) well for the holiday.

While I’m taking a break this day to remember the holidays, I thought I’d share a few photos from our quiet little celebration at home.

Yes, Virginia, you can mash sweet potatoes in a wok! (Just like John here.)
Yes, Virginia, you can mash sweet potatoes in a wok! (Just like John here.)
Instead of turkey, we decided to cook up pig's feet.
Instead of turkey, we decided to cook up pig’s feet.
China has the perfect solution to your cranberry sauce problem -- candied Chinese hawthorn, which tastes almost exactly like cranberry sauce. Who'd have thought?
China has the perfect solution to your cranberry sauce problem — candied Chinese hawthorn, which tastes almost exactly like cranberry sauce. Who’d have thought?
Who needs tofurkey when you can whip up a little home-style tofu with shitake mushrooms, green onion and black bean sauce. Yum!
Who needs tofurkey when you can whip up a little home-style tofu with shitake mushrooms, green onion and black bean sauce. Yum!
Mashed sweet potatoes have always been one of my favorite dishes at Thanksgiving -- and they're still easy to make in China.
Mashed sweet potatoes have always been one of my favorite dishes at Thanksgiving — and they’re still easy to make in China.
A random salad of romaine lettuce...just because I've always loved salads with Thanksgiving dinner.
A random salad of romaine lettuce…just because I’ve always loved salads with Thanksgiving dinner.
The table is set with rice, chopsticks and coconut milk to drink!
The table is set with rice, chopsticks and coconut milk to drink!
Add a few friends and, voila, you have a real holiday atmosphere! To Thanksgiving!
Add a few friends and, voila, you have a real holiday atmosphere! To Thanksgiving!

Photo Essay: Celebrating 10 years of marriage to my husband!

Ten years ago on July 26, my husband and I stood before a government representative in Shanghai, promising to spend the rest of our lives together. It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since that moment, yet I love John just as much as the first time I stood before him and said, “Wo yuanyi!” (“I do” in Chinese — and yes, like most of us in China, I did it more than once for reasons explained in this post).

To commemorate those 10 incredible years I’ve enjoyed with the love of my life, a guy who still makes me swoon after all this time together, I’m sharing one of our marriage registration photos from 2004 plus 10 photos of us together (one from each year of our marriage)!

2004

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This photo was taken just moments after we took our vows in a civil ceremony in Shanghai and signed our official little red marriage books. Can’t you just see that newly-registered glow in our faces? (Or maybe it’s the red we both wore that day!) 😉

2005

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As part of our Huangshan Honeymoon in 2005 (which I wrote about in an essay for the new anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit) we visited a couple of traditional Huizhou-style villages in the foothills of Huangshan. Here we pose before a reflecting pool in Hongcun.

2006

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We visited friends in Chicago in February 2006 and ended up strolling beside Lake Michigan, despite the freezing winter temperatures. Who needs to worry about cold weather when you have the love of your life beside you to keep you warm? 😉

2007

Jocelyn and Jun in the park near Fenshui River.

The summer of 2007, we returned to John’s hometown to make our marriage official (in the eyes of his family and friends) with a big Chinese wedding ceremony.

2008

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Late in the summer of 2008, John and I took off for one last camping trip deep in the Rocky Mountains. What views!

2009

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When John and I went to China for the summer of 2009, we indulged in a month-long trip across the country to take in all of the sights we never visited years before — from Xi’an and Chengdu to Changsha and Kaifeng.

2010

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John and I welcomed the year of the tiger in 2010 as the emcees of a Chinese New Year celebration. What a night!

2011

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Here we are in 2011 celebrating John’s birthday over Thai curries. John never used to think much of his birthday until I came along — but if the smile on his face is any measure, he loves the change!

2012

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To commemorate our wedding anniversary in 2012, we enjoyed a relaxing evening of classical music performed by the Cleveland Orchestra. But before heading out, we posed before the flower garden to remember the evening.

2013

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For Chinese New Year in 2013, John and I whipped up a traditional Chinese feast for the family — from roast goose and ribs to ginger-garlic green beans and stir-fried matchstick potatoes. We’re smiling, but there’s exhaustion behind those eyes because we spent the entire morning in the kitchen! Still, it was worth the effort.

2014

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There’s nothing like finally spending Chinese New Year at the family home in China for the first time in years. In 2014, John and I reunited with his family and the country we love.

Here’s to hoping for 10 more incredible years with my incredible man. Thanks for everything, John.

Photo Essay: On “Huangshan Honeymoon”, my true story featured in “Dragonfruit” anthology

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit, the anthology featuring true stories of expat women in Asia, is now available for purchase through Amazon — and officially released everywhere on June 10, 2014! (Goodreads is also giving away five FREE copies!).

You’ll find my essay “Huangshan Honeymoon” included in the anthology, which explores a very different kind of honeymoon my husband and I enjoyed in 2005.

How was it different?

Well, yes, we planned our vacation around the chance to hike all the way up to China’s Huangshan or “Yellow Mountain”, instead of the typical honeymoon of sunny days spent lounging on golden sand beaches sipping tropical drinks and intimate twilit evenings laying in each others’ arms.

And yes, we chose to set out at the height of summer’s most sultry days, and stay in a region where July and August are feared for the ferocious heat of the “Autumn Tiger” that comes around every year.

But ultimately, this is what made our honeymoon so unusual: John’s father came along with us!

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I never thought I would share my honeymoon suite with a man who once advised his son not to date foreign women. (Then again, I suppose he never imagined he’d have a foreign daughter-in-law!)

And as if that wasn’t enough, the heavens also brought us some of the lousiest viewing conditions for the mountain, thanks to the remnants of a typhoon that enveloped the scenery in a misty cloud of rain and fog.

(This is the one and only photo that offers a hint to the breathtaking views we should have enjoyed, had the weather cooperated!)

Why did we bring John’s father along? And how did that experience change my relationship with his father forever? You’ll find all the answers (and much more!) when you buy a copy of How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit and read the essay. Don’t miss out on a collection that I can’t stop raving about! (Okay, yes, I am biased but it’s still really an amazing book.)

(Want to win a FREE copy of How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? Goodreads is giving away five copies of the book and you could be one of the lucky winners. Click here to enter!)

Photo Essay: The First Days of Chinese New Year with the Family

So long snake and hello horse! We’ve all been busy welcoming the new year these past few days. Much like the firecrackers and fireworks that boom across the village in the evenings, the holiday has been both exciting and overwhelming.

I’ve already attended four huge dinners with family, where the dining tables often become a cacophony of laughing and shouting (often because of those drinking games involving baijiu). I’ve learned to steel myself for the inevitable topic of children — which used to be a question (“When will you have kids?”) and has now become a command (“This year, you must have a kid!”). And strangest of all, I actually witnessed a grown man slumped unconscious in a bamboo chair before our doorway because he drank too much baijiu (sorry guys, no photo of that!).

Still, amidst all of the drama of these past days, I can’t help but feel incredibly loved and appreciated by our family here. Just this evening, the mother of one of John’s cousins stroked my arm lovingly, saying how much she liked us and how she hoped we would return for another dinner soon.

While I relax and recover during those few and precious quiet moments in the day, I’m offering you a peek into the start of our year of the horse through photographs. Again, wishing you a successful horse year! 马到成功!

My father-in-law opens the gates to the family home just before midnight when the new year comes.
The family sets off firecrackers and fireworks just outside the gate to welcome the new year.
According to the tradition, we always start the new year off with new clothes! Here, John and I have laid out our never-before-worn outfits for the first day of the year.
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John and I show off our new outfits for the new year outside the front door of the family home.
During Chinese New Year, you can always be sure to have lots of visitors at your home! Some of our first visitors in the new year include a cousin and grandparents.
The number one activity during Chinese New Year? Eating! These past few days have felt like a dining marathon with one huge meal after another. We ate… (lunch at the grandparents’ home prepared by John’s oldest brother — it’s tradition for the men to do the cooking on the first day of the new year).
…and ate… (dinner at little uncle’s home just next door)
…and ate…(a huge and raucous lunch at our home which led to at least two people becoming so drunk they had to go to the hospital)
…and ate! (dinner at an aunt’s home)
But most of all, we felt so loved and appreciated! Here, John poses with an aunt and cousin — this was the aunt who couldn’t stop doting on both of us. It’s so nice to be back home.

Photo Essay: Chinese New Year at the Family Home

This is the first Chinese New Year we’ve spent with the family in China since returning home and it has been one explosive holiday (pun intended)! So in lieu of the usual Friday content, I thought I’d share the day’s excitement with you through photos.

Wish you all success in the year of the horse! 马到成功!

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Red couplets  — just written by my father-in-law — frame the doorway to the family home and welcome the new year (and the Spring)

 

My husband John gives our bedroom door a thumbs-up, now that we have a freshly written “success in the horse year” (马到成功) pasted on for good luck!

 

Visiting the ancestors’ graves, offering them dinner, incense and money for the afterlife.

 

Family bustling in the kitchen to prepare the big new year’s eve dinner, known as nianye fan (年夜饭)

 

Before we even sit down to dine, ancestors eat first. Here my family sets the table for them in the entrance way, right down to lighting the candles.

 

John sets the firecrackers out by the gate to the family home.

 

Burning money for the ancestors while setting off firecrackers in the background.

 

The best meal of the year, nianye fan (年夜饭). Since 10 of us sat down for dinner, my mother-in-law said we needed at least 20 different dishes on the table. My favorites? Taro root, winter bamboo, vegetarian meatballs, and water chestnuts.

 

The whole family gathers around the table for dinner.

 

Giving the kids in the family hongbao (red envelopes filled with money) for the new year.

 

Raise the red lanterns! It’s nightfall and the year of the horse is galloping our way.