Monday, January 20, 2020

China: Getting Ready for the Year of the Rat (Part 1)

If you are born in the year of the rat, Chinese tradition says you will be quick-witted, smart, and frugal. 

Happy Year of the Rat! Red envelopes on this tree called "hungbau." They are delivered by family and friends for their loved ones. 
Over here in Mainland China, everyone is preparing for the next two weeks of Chinese New Year or Spring Festival as it is called in China (not sure why because there is ice floating down the rivers).  Chinese New Year officially begins on January 25 this year and lasts until February 8, which is the day of the Lantern Festival. For one week, none of the stores are open so crowds are bustling everywhere to buy their friends and family gifts. Many people are carrying home big bags of food for their New Year feasts. New clothes are bought. People clean their houses to sweep away ill-fortune and make way for coming luck. (I invited a Chinese friend to come today and she offered to "house-clean." I guess she wants to let the luck flow this year for me with a cleaner house. I did think it was quite tidy the last time she came. Ha!). Everyone is preparing their homes for the new year.

Red lights and lanterns adorn many shops, apartment buildings, schools, and businesses. Schools are closed for two-four weeks for this auspicious holiday that enters in the new year of the Zodiac sign of the Rat. The streets have flowing banners, and the doors and windows in houses have red paper-cut signs that say Blessings, Health, Longevity. There is an exhilarating excitement in the air wherever you go.

Many people travel to their province or village to be with families at this time. One friend with a few tears said to me, "Everyone works hard all year long so they can be with their family at this time. On the night before New Year's, this year on January 24, will be"the reunion night" when families come together all over China. I have been told not to travel around China at this time to avoid the crowds. Planes, trains, and coaches were booked long ago. Ancestors are remembered, and red envelopes containing money are given to family members--especially children. There will be fireworks, gatherings, activities and all kinds of food to eat and gifts to give. But here are some suggestions or even warnings before you choose your gifts to give your host for Chinese New Year:

1) Don't give knives or other sharp objects like scissors because that would mean you want "to cut" off the relationship with them.
2) Don't give anything with a number four, even four apples because the Chinese will do anything to avoid the number four. The sounds of the words death and the number four are similar. Everything associated with the number four is unlucky. (There is often not a number four on elevators, and no one wants to live on the fourth floor in apartment buildings).
3) Don't give someone a new Apple watch or a clock because that would mean their time on earth is coming to a close and death is imminent. It means you are running out of time.
4) Don't give cut flowers because that is for funerals, especially white flowers since the color white is associated with death.
5) Don't give shoes because the word's shoes and bad luck sound the same. Shoes are something you step on so definitely avoid giving shoes!
6) Don't give pears (another fruit is fine). It is taboo since the word pear and the word "leaving" sound the same.
7) Don't give a mirror because it could attract terrible ghosts to your life, and besides it could possibly break!

Yesterday we went to a huge convention center in Tianjin where people from all over China were there to sell delicacies for the Chinese New Year tables. Honestly, I have never seen the abundance of samplings that were available yesterday. If you fancy eating jellyfish in your salad or expensive sea cucumbers or sheep's head, it was there for you. Here is a smorgasbord of pictures that shows how people are preparing over here:

Everyone decorates their windows, and especially doors with red banners and paper-cuts.

A darling little girl choosing a lantern for her home.

Picking some for our door
In front of an international school here in Tianjin

Dried shrimp anyone?

Dried dates are popular here.

Sheep's head for a soup?

Dried mushroom for soups. I bought some and made a delicious soup today.

Joseph just found the best oranges of his life he said. 

Making music with metal drums

Salmon from the seafood section

These are wonderful big crackers, sprinkled with sesame seeds. 

Candy made with different kids of camel and sheep milk. 

I love the way fruit and vegetable vendors take such great pride in their produce.

Joseph trying some tofu noodles.
The Chinese love nuts and seeds in every variety.
Fresh dates--sometimes people like them dried, fried, and fresh. They are a snack you see everywhere.
A honey vendor

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