• Tag Archives expat in China
  • Dragon Boat Festival, An Overview

    Today is the Dragon Boat Festival.

    Many schools and companies were off yesterday and will be off on Monday for the observance of the holiday. The holiday traffic has been pretty bad. My normal commute takes about 25 minutes but I finally got to my destination about 45-50 minutes later.

    A lot of Chinese travel back to their parent’s homes or back to home villages. Others stay home and fix meals and have their own special times. At midnight last night when Friday changed to Saturday my phone’s lock screen background changed to a special screen for the Festival. It confused me at first but my Galaxy S5 is a specific version for China (hence my trouble with not having Google Play). We aren’t doing too much for the holiday because tomorrow we are starting our vacation. Hopefully, we will be able to catch some of the river activities where we will be going.

    Festival based in Legend

    Dry Docked Dragon Boat
    This Hong Kong Dragon Boat is docked and ready to go out. (Photo by www.flickr.com/photos/istolethetv/4620371417)

    This festival is called Duanwu in Madarin falls on the fifth day or the fifth lunar month each year. The English name is derived from one of the typical activities of the festival rather than a translation.

    As a friend of mine, a Chinese woman, explained it to me, this holiday has an origin steeped in legend and history. She was not certain about how much of the story is mere legend and how much is based in historical fact. Around one of the periods where states warred with other states, there was a man that loved his country and loved his leader. He was an adviser to the leader of their state; however, other high up officials became jealous of him and made plans. They laid trumped up charges against resulting in his exile. He was forced to wander around the country. As he wondered he began to write epic poetry that is still revered today. Sometime later another state invaded his beloved capitol city. He wrote a final poem lamenting the fate of his country and then jumped into a river.

    Some locals spread the word of his death and immediately took to the water to find his body, because they all loved him despite his exile and despite technically being a traitor to the state. Some people took boats down the river to find him pounding paddles on the water to scare away the fish. Others stood by the shore pounding drums in hopes of scaring the fish and still other threw food such as rice wrapped in leaves as a last ditch effort to distract the fish so they could recover the body.
    Since he died on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month that is when they decided to honor his life and death and ultimately his love and pride in his country.

    Observances

    Zongzi In Yokohama
    Here is some zongzi being sold in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/hisa)

    To be honest my friend didn’t tell me too much about how people celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival beyond the general sense. In many places there Dragon Boat races that have become a huge part of the holiday, despite It not really being a part of the holiday’s origin. Around the time the holiday really took hold the sport of Dragon boat races were very popular, so somehow the two things were connected through the years. Dragon boats are very long slender boats made of wood that have a dragon head and tail on either end and have intricately carved and painted details along its sides and parts. Of course this event is the name sake for the English name.

     

    Zongzi filled with sweat red bean paste
    A zongzi filled with red bean paste (usually a little sweet) and wrapped in leaves. (Photo by Allen Timothy Chang, 2011)

     

     

     

    Another special way to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival is by eating rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. You can, of course, see the direct connection to the story. These snacks are called Zongzi. Zongzi can have different fillings, often the chosen filling (ie dried fruit, meat, etc) is mixed in with the rice and then wrapped and tied up. The rice is often glutinous and thus very sticky. Ive eaten some and have liked some while I didn’t like others. I was also told that in the north part of China the zongzi tend to be more sweet while here in the south it tends to be more savory and have things like meats or even sautéed shitake mushrooms.

    There can be a lot more to the holiday and I hope to tell you more later. I know there is a part of the holiday that is supposed to help your health if you partake in it but I do not know any details. Hopefully, I will soon have more to tell you.

    So I hope you all have a wonderful Dragon Boat Festival. If you are around areas that have this festival, please tell me about your experiences by commenting or emailing me; I’d love to hear all about it.

    May the road rise to meet you.

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  • Arriving in China Part 2, International Flight and Hong Kong

    Note: This is the second installment in the Arriving in China series. If you would like to read that section first, click here.

    Chicago’s trippy lights and itinerary changes

    Alternating colored lights moving in a passenger tunnel
    These runner lights had alternating colors actually moving up and down this tunnel. (Sorry its blurry)

     

    Once we arrived in the Chicago airport we immediately scoped out the place and checked the flight board to make sure nothing had changed (as per the advice of the nice woman the previous day). Then we started exploring this new airport. Chicago airport is an odd place complete with displays and even intricate running lights in passenger tunnels.

    During our several hour layover, we periodically checked the flight board verifying we were near the correct gate. However, throughout the day both the gate AND the terminal changed twice—we did a lot of walking. Some of the changes were extreme going from opposite end to opposite end of the airport. Eventually, we were able to board the flight to Hong Kong!

    Dinosaur Skeleton at Chicago's O'Hare airport
    Chicago’s O’Hare airport had several displays. One of which was this very large dinosaur skeleton.

    International flight with international coke

    The inside of the plane is very neat.
    We are finally boarded and I’m surprised that the plane isnt as bad as I thought.

    I remember having a turbulent mixture of both excitement and nervousness–everything was new to me and everything was fascinating to me. International flights, for those that have never been, are very different than domestic flights. For one, it is common place to have your very own headphone jack and a personal TV on the back of the seat in front of you for your own personal viewing pleasure. No more having to watch a single large screen at the front and playing head ping pong with the inevitable tall person in between you and the screen (as was what Micah told me happened on his first flight). We started this flight knowing it was going to be about 14 hours, though it ended up being 16.5, because it had to go around a large ocean storm at some point.

    Chinese can of coke with Chinese characters
    They of course had beverages on the plane. This Coka cola had Chinese on it. Im getting excited already!

    I was a bit anxious on how I would do with the air turbulence. Logically, turbulence makes sense and thus is not something I would see as a point of worry. However, I’m not the bravest person in the world and so was not sure how I would react. When it first happened it startled me but I didn’t have much of a reaction. It was very similar to riding in a car when it crossed from a paved road to a washboard road and back to a paved road. In other words it was no big deal for me; there were screams or gasps around the plane.

    Flight Path from Chicago going West to to Hong Kong
    The TVs had updates on time, distance, altitude, and temperature.

    The selection of entertainment was amazing. There was TV shows, movies, music, some sports and news casts, and even some basic games (i.e. solitaire, Tetris, and zumba). However, I have to say the food was a little less than desired. I think a packed lunch from a quick store would have been better, but we were able to drink Chinese Coca Cola! My biggest problem with the meal was that since I was gluten free at the time I couldn’t eat about 70% of the miserly food they supplied us. The biggest meal was a small bag of chips with a sandwich made of cold deli meat on a small bagel. All the snacks except the peanuts were bread based and so I couldn’t eat them either. Micah got to eat what I couldn’t, he was well fed.

    Flight path shows we are leavning the country.
    Leaving the country now! Crazy! Not yet the halfway point.

    Though all in all the flight wasn’t bad except one minor incident between myself and a very rude steward. I tried to obey the seatbelt signs, so I waited and waited and

    waited to use the restroom all the while watching a dozen more people over several hours get up and go. Finally, after reaching the point of decision wherein I had to decide between disobeying the never changing seatbelt sign or having an accident in my seat: I chose to disobey the seat and follow the others to the queue. A steward looked straight at me and screamed at ME, only ME “Can’t you read?! Get back in your seat!” He never even looked at the others; it was like they were invisible. I was so shocked by being screamed at in such a public place that I went back to my seat. A woman walked by and I felt sorry for the chewing out I was sure he would give her. So I listened…nothing. Again a man walked by and the same thing happened, which is to say nothing at all. So I screwed up my courage, which wasn’t too hard considering I was edging into a boiled indignation. Why would he yell at me and no one else? I was angry now.

    Flight Path shows we are almost to Hong Kong
    Almost to Hong Kong! We are ready to get off this plane!

    So when I passed him to stand in line. He looked at me and took a deep breath to, I presume, yell at me further. I cut him off telling him something like “If you’re going to chastise people for getting up while the seatbelt sign is on, then do so but don’t pick out the one person you feel you can kowtow and scream at her. Now if you don’t want me to use the restroom when the sign is on then have the sign changed more often. I have been waiting for HOURS. Or would you prefer to have to do some cleaning?” He stepped back, glared at me and huffed, but never said a word to me for the remainder of the 9 hours. Once I turned back to face towards the front of the line I was surprised with a few smiles and nods from the others in line. Though, I can’t say that the matter was closed since he repeatedly skipped over me if he was unfortunate enough to be assigned as the server to my area for a meal, snack, or drink. The first time it happened I had to ask for my meal. One of the stewardesses caught on and served me when she’d pass by. I made sure to thank you as much as possible.

    Hong kong arrival, So much luggage and no one to help the Americans

    Finally, we have landed!
    Finally!!! We are have landed!

     

    After we arrived in Hong Kong, we found our way to the luggage area. At this point, I deeply regretted almost every single item we brought. Since we were moving our entire lives to China we pushed our bags to the limit and took advantage of the maximum allowed luggage per person. It was exhausting pulling all those pieces of luggage through the airport; thankfully early in our commute across the airport we found a trolley cart to ease our burden.

     

    The Hong Kong Airport's atmosphere is surprisingly light and cheery.
    The Hong Kong Airport is very open and airy creating a light atmosphere

    We followed the signs directing us to Mainland China transportation. Hong Kong is famous for their hospitality, so we didn’t worry about not speaking Chinese Mandarin or Cantonese. We also didn’t worry because it is an international hub making it necessary for there to be English speakers and because were English signs everywhere. So we were safe in assuming someone would speak English, right? Wrong, oh so wrong. For whatever reason, NO ONE spoke English and no one wanted to help the stupid Americans by finding someone that could speak English. After 2.5 days of traveling and having just disembarked a 16.5 hour flight we were exhausted, and my patience was thin at best.

    After my attempts to find an English speaker failed and even my attempts to use my Chinese-English dictionary on my phone to communicate also failed, Micah went off to try and figure out how to use the pay phone in order to phone his boss. I watched the luggage and kept trying to communicate, but each attempt and each HOUR was draining me more and more. By the time the second guard started his shift and his repetitive staring at me while walking past yet again and watching the clerks talk about me, I silently broke into tears. I tried to hide them but it was no use. Micah had no luck figuring out the phones. We were just stuck there in the lobby with English signs that taunted us with messages which told us we could buy a ticket for Mainland transport in that lobby from their kind clerks. Our only hope was a new shift of clerks in the morning (12 hours away), who could and would help us. We’d have to sleep in the lobby.

    Finally, a new woman came in to start her shift. She took one look at me in all my pitifulness and Micah’s frantic look while trying to use the internet to figure something out and she decided we needed help. She came over to us and pulled us over to her desk where she amid very few English words, some dictionary look ups, and a lot of charades finally figured out what we needed and wanted and helped us get on our way. As we were standing in the line waiting for the shuttle to come pick us and others up, I heard and watched her yelling at all the others and pointing at us.

    I do remember her very kind smile when I looked up the word for “thank you” on my phone and showed her. I put as much emphasis in my eyes as possible, but I’m sure the fact that I was still occasionally brushing away tears expressed all she needed from me. She spoke softly to me and smiled, waved and headed back to row of desks where she started to yell at the others as I watched unabashedly.

    I know I’ll never see her again but I won’t soon forget how kind she was toward us. She was one of the positive people I thought back to in the following weeks.

    Welcome to a dark HK, Micah’s relief and my excitement.

    Hong Kong twinkling as we drive by on a highway bridge
    Hong Kong twinkling as we drive by on a highway bridge

    So finally aboard the shuttle, luggage loaded, documentation stacked on the dash board and everyone seated, we started off. I remember thinking that I was sad my very first glimpse of a foreign country would be at night when I wouldn’t be able to see much of anything. Micah was wide eyed and taking in as much as he could. He had his arm around me and sat so close to me. He was also pointing things out for me to look at because I don’t see well at night. Despite not having too much to see, Hong Kong still showed us some of its luster. I remember just being dumbfounded with how beautiful it looked even in the limited sight of night. Micah whispered promises of coming back to Hong Kong to explore its beauty someday, a new adventure in the midst of another. I made a similar promise as well.

     

     

    This series, Arriving in China, continues with the next leg of our journey: Part 3, Shenzhen.

    If you have not read the first leg of our journey and would like to see what happened, check it out: Part 1, My first International

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  • Hello, Welcome to China

     

    Ni hao,

    I wanted to open this blog with a little bit about who we are, where we are, what we’re doing and how we’ve gotten to this point. My name is Genta Hurst. I am a scientist (out of work right now), book lover, aspiring author and aspiring artist. Micah and I got married back in December of 2010. Even before dating, I knew that Micah had a dream of not just traveling to, but living in China. At first I thought it bizarre, but the more he talked about it the more I found it endearing and oddly intriguing.

    Now before ya’ll start thinking he brainwashed me (it has been accused) let me tell you my half of this decision. Even as a child I had a casual interest in Asia. Then, when I went to college and my best friend convinced me to learn Japanese with him, I fell deeply in love with Asia and specifically Japan.

    So, later, after we had been married a year and a half, Micah started talking casually, at first, about how he really wanted us to think about moving to China. I wasn’t surprised and wasn’t completely against it. Then he and a very dear friend—who long ago was aptly nickname “The Professor”—started talking about it happening sooner than later because the timing was right. To say that I was not a happy grad student is an understatement. I was working on my PhD in Clinical Psychology and just started realizing that I had a deep love for neuropsychology. Of course as anyone could imagine I was not on-board with this until I had my PhD in hand.

    Yeah so long story short, I didn’t graduate and we up and left a few months later. I’m sure you will see more about my subsequent academic journey in future blogs.

    So bottom line is that we are living and working in China and are finally able to share that with you after a few (horrible) attempts previously. I am excited to see if this blog takes off and I am hoping that I can create a community of interested people of all walks of life that desire to see what life is like for an America couple (and their wanderlust dear friend Professor).

    You will soon see that we are quirky and strange and I hope you enjoy seeing the world through our eyes. Please let me know if you ever have anything you would like to know more about or would like to see. There so many rich and deep topics to talk about in both general and specific ways.

    May the road rise to meet you.

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