The Plum Blossom, Our Greatest ‘Friend’ of the Winter – Pub’d on China Daily

Recently, China Daily published my latest column titled The plum blossom, our greatest ‘friend’ of the winter. Here’s an excerpt:

If anyone had ever told me as a child growing up in the United States that a flower could flourish in the coldest days of winter, a flower that bloomed straight from the bare branches of a tree, I would have thought they had a vivid imagination or a penchant for spinning tall tales.

Yet years ago in late February, while strolling the eastern shores of the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, with my husband, Jun, I encountered a spray of brilliant pink petals cascading over tree branches, which looked as artfully windswept as a bonsai. That striking shade, more typical of spring and summer flowers, seemed utterly defiant against the melancholy gray of the overcast sky and the mournful silhouettes of other trees, their leafless limbs stretched upward as if praying for an end to the chill of the season.

I almost didn’t believe my eyes at first. Surely flowers couldn’t bloom like that, direct from the branch, without the usual green leaves? And how could they thrive in this weather, where temperatures that hovered just above freezing had led us to don our warmest down jackets and even hats?

After my astonishment, I felt a certain appreciation for this ethereal beauty before me, painting the otherwise dreary February landscape into such a gloriously hopeful hue, promising better times just around the corner.
That is the power of the plum blossom, one of the most distinctive and cherished flowers in China.

You can read the full article here. And if you like it, share it!

Mandarin Love: The Three Friends of Winter (Sui Han San You)

It’s January, a time of bitter cold from the Arctic north and the kind of dull gray monochromatic skies that do little to lift winter spirits. For much of my life, I’ve struggled with this month, which falls just after the magic of Christmas. We’re expected to lean forward, look ahead and think of all the bright new things awaiting us in the new year — and meanwhile I’m still trying to shake off that bout of flu that gripped me Christmas day. (Talk about really bad timing.)

But there is one thing that does make the winter more bearable, something I’ve learned through my husband in the past few years — the three “friends” of winter (岁寒三友; suì hán sān yǒu)

Who are these three friends? Pine trees (松; sōng), bamboo (竹; zhú), and plum blossoms (梅; méi). In Chinese, they’re often said together in one phrase. (松竹梅; sōng zhú méi)

They’re our “friends” in the winter because they retain a certain vitality that’s easily forgotten in this most trying season of the year.

Pine trees are evergreen throughout the year, even during these chilly January days.

Bamboo, too, remains green and upright despite the blustery weather.

Most impressive of all is the plum blossom, which welcomes the most frigid days of winter with its beautiful flowers. I have marveled at these flowers on snowy January days, their existence defying what we usually think of nature and when flowers should bloom.

Sometimes, the worst of winter can overwhelm us – and not always in a positive way. It helps to remember these natural symbols, which prove that green and goodness can thrive even in frozen weather. They can inspire us to persevere in our own lives, to let our own light shine brightly through this dark season.

If you have the chance, take a walk sometime and see if you can visit one of these three “friends” of winter.

Happy 2018 to everyone!