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Shanghai Pathways Blog

Understand ​China​ ​From the Local ​Perspect​ive

Month

January 2012

Learn Chinese Cooking – Fried Rice

“Have you eaten already?” is a popular greeting among the Chinese. Although it may sound awkward to westerners, when you meet local Chinese, it is one of the unavoidable first greetings. You might think, “Why do you ask me if I have eaten or not?” Perhaps you are wondering if Chinese people want to treat you for a dinner. Well, this sentence is just a polite way to start a conversation – the same thing as saying, “Hi or Hello” in English.

China is a country that pays great attention to courtesy, and the Chinese food culture is deeply rooted in its history. Confucius (551-479 B.C.) said, “The path to your friend’s heart and soul begins from your cooking.” Even now in modern days, dining is still a major “marketing event” to Chinese families, as it is a time when all the family members get together, share feelings and exchange information. Since meals are an important part of life in China, many important business deals are also done at the dinner table.   

Difference between Chinese & Western food

Cuisine in China is a harmonious integration of color, taste and presentation. The Chinese believe the following characteristics outline the basic differences between Chinese and Western food:

·         Several dishes in a meal

·         Diverse and sophisticated

·         Nutritionally balanced

·         Healthy and tasteful

How to cook

Cooking Chinese food is not difficult. The two most important tools in Chinese cooking are a hot stove and a sharp knife. Following the basic cooking rules below, you can master Chinese cooking and surprise your friends.

·         Balance the meat and vegetables in a dish, so that there are an interesting variety of flavors, textures, and colors.

·         Drain tofu before using, so it can absorb the other flavors in the dish.

·         Cut the meat into uniform pieces so that it will cook more evenly.

·         When adding oil for stir-frying, drizzle the oil down sides of the wok.

·         When deep-frying, determine if the oil is hot enough by simply putting a chopstick in the wok. When the oil sizzles around it, you can begin adding the food.

·         When a recipe says to add soya sauce, always use light soy sauce, not the dark one. Dark soya sauce is usually for cooking meat.

·         If preparing stir-fried meat and vegetables, stir-fry the meat first and set it aside. Normally, you will return it to the wok with a sauce during the final stages of cooking.

·         When stir-frying vegetables, cook the toughest and thickest vegetables for a longer period than the softer, leafy vegetables.

·         Always use fresh ginger, not powdered.

·         Use sugar as a substitute for MSG (Monosodium Glutamate).

Start with Fried Rice

Whenever I travel to visit friends, the simplest dish to prepare is Fried Rice – a dish that is always well appreciated. You can’t go wrong with the recipe and everyone can make it work! The following is a basic recipe for fried rice that you can alter to suit your taste.

Ingredients:

1 – 2 green onions, as desired

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

4 tablespoons oil for stir-frying, or as needed

4 cups cold cooked rice, or you can reduce the amount as needed

1 – 2 tablespoons light soy sauce or oyster sauce, as desired

Preparation:

Wash and chop the green onion. Lightly beat the eggs with the salt and pepper.

Heat a wok or frying pan and add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggs. Cook the eggs by stirring until they are lightly scrambled, but not too dry. Remove the eggs and clean out the pan.

Add 2 tablespoons oil. Add the rice. Stir-fry for a few minutes, using chopsticks or a wooden spoon to break it apart. Stir in the soy sauce or oyster sauce as desired.

When the rice is heated through, add the scrambled egg back into the pan. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the green onion. Serve hot.

Tips:

If you like, feel free to add different vegetables such as tomatoes or potatoes. Remember to cut them into small bite-sized pieces, stir-frying the vegetables first, and setting aside for later mixing.

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Chinese Red Envelopes

For Chinese New Year, instead of wrapped-up presents, Chinese children are given cold hard cash inside red envelopes for good luck.

We are practical people.  And who doesn’t like money? 

The tradition of red envelopes comes from a story about a demon who was vanquished during the Sung Dynasty. A young man with a magic sword defeated a demon that was menacing a town. The grateful town presented him with money in a red envelope to reward him for his deed. The color red is associated with happiness and good luck in Chinese tradition. The money was called yāsuì qián (压岁钱), meaning “money warding off evil spirits”, and was believed to protect the kids from sickness and death.

Red envelopes are presented as gifts on occasions that range from birthdays to the Chinese Lunar New Year. They can also be presented at weddings, or simply given at the beginning of a new endeavor, such as starting college. In a professional context, Chinese employers will give their employees a year-end bonus in a red envelope.

I could still recall the excitement on Chinese New Year’s eve: after the big family dinner, my grand parents, uncles and aunties will hand me red envelopes with money filled inside. And my parents would always tell me to save it so I can use the money when I become a big girl.

Of course, every other adult that I meet during the 15 days Chinese new year holiday was expected to give me a red envelope, so there was times that I suddenly filled with a lot of money in my pocket and it became necessary for me to open a bank account for saving…my dreams then were to spend all of these money on some fancy/silly things one day….

The more red envelopes you get, the higher your net worth becomes, that is, until your mother takes them all away and telling you that “I will save it for you!”

Guess what? You will never see these money again.

When money is involved, things become a bit more complicated than usual. As a kid, you will develop a sense regarding who is your favorite aunt or uncle – the one who’s known to give out generous amount in their red envelopes. As soon as the holiday started, you will find ways to visit them by asking your parents indirect questions such as,

“When are we going to visit this or that uncle/aunt?”

And then deny vehemently when your mother accuses you of wanting to visit them simply for the big, fat red envelope you know you’ll be getting.

Later on, your parents will start to tell you that when you grown up, it will be your turn to give others the red envelopes. You also will try and hide your disappointment when your mother strikes some stupid deal with an aunt of yours to NOT give red envelopes to each other’s children.

In China, it was not polit to open the gifts in front of people, and of course you should not opening the envelopes in front of the relatives out of courtesy. Therefore I would stash the red envelopes away, in the pocket of my jacket, then spending the rest of that day thinking of those envelopes and HOW MUCH MONEY in each of them lingered. 

Nowadays, things are so different, I become the ones who will give out money and trying to figure out what is the right amount – when I did the Chinese New Year talk for the Swedish Club in Shanghai, this was a popular question. An even-numbered amount of money is seen as luckier than an odd-numbered amount. The number 4 should be avoided as it has the same sound as “death” in Chinese. In the past, it was okay to give RMB200 in the red envelope, but according to the news report this year, the amount increased to RMB600 due to the living increasing cost in Shanghai.

On China

Started to pay attention to Henry Kissinger after I read an interview artical about him from the RUI magazine, which regarded him as the high-level diplomatic contact between US and China for more than two decades. So his English book about China remains an interests to me ever since.

In this fascinating, shrewd and sometimes perverse new book, it gave people a great understanding about China’s diplomatic history and the development for the past 50 years(with the view of an American). I totally loved the very beginning part of the book which tries to show how the history of China, both ancient and more recent, has shaped its foreign policy and attitudes toward the West, a true master piece with history which was unknown to me  in the past.

In this sweeping and insightful history, Henry Kissinger turns for the first time at book-length to a country he has known intimately for decades, and whose modern relations with the West he helped shape. Drawing on historical records as well as his conversations with Chinese leaders over the past forty years, Kissinger examines how China has approached diplomacy, strategy, and negotiation throughout its history, and reflects on the consequences for the global balance of power in the 21st century.

High-Speed Rail in China

High-speed rail in China refers to any commercial train service in the China with an average speed of 200 km/h (124 mph) or higher. By that measure, China has the world’s longest high-speed rail (HSR) network with about 9,676 km of routes in service as of June 2011 including 3,515 km of rail lines with top speeds of 350 km/h (186 mph). In 2010, the BBC reported that by 2012, China was expected to have more high-speed railway track than the rest of the world combined.

China’s high speed rail expansion is entirely managed, planned and financed by the government. In response to the global economic recession, the government accelerated the pace of HSR expansion to stimulate economic growth. According to China Securities Journal, China plans to invest $451 to $602 billion in its high-speed rail network between 2011 to 2015.

The real-name train ticket policy has been applicable to high speed and bullet trains (C, G, D trains) since June, 2011. From January 1, 2012, this policy applies to all trains in China. The real-name train ticket policy is taken to relieve the difficulty in buying train tickets and effectively stop scalpers who profit a lot in trading train tickets especially during the Spring Festival travel rush every year. Passengers should buy train tickets and get on trains with the presentation of their own valid ID certificates or passport. One valid certificate is allowed to buy one ticket on the same date and in the same train, except for tickets of children with accompanying adults. 

Shanghai is in high-speed heaven: it not only boasts a Maglev, but also features direct HSR links to all major cities in the Yangtze River Delta region.

Here are some of my favorite HSR lines: 

Shanghai – Suzhou
Ticket price: RMB 41-65
Time: Around 30 minutes

Shanghai – Hangzhou
Ticket price: RMB 82-131 
Time: Around 60 minutes

Shanghai-Nanjing
Ticket price: RMB 135-233
Time: Around 90 minutes

Shanghai-Beijing
Ticket price: RMB 555-935
Time: Around 5 hours

Learn Chinese Cooking – Everything about Jiaozi

Jiaozi (JOW-zah) a Chinese dumpling, is a traditional Chinese food—one of the most widely loved foods in northern China. It typically consists of a ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a thinly rolled piece of dough, which is then sealed by pressing the edges together or by crimping. Now Jiaozi is widely spread to Japan, Eastern and Western Asia. This is because of many reasons. Here is a list of them.

The Chinese New Year – Spring Festival

The custom of making jiaozi a special dish during the Spring Festival, or the Chinese Lunar New Year, started in the Ming Dynasty, some 500 to 600 years ago. The reason is simple. In ancient China, yuan bao was used as currency before the use of jiao zi paper money. The appearance of jiaozi looks like the V-shape gold and silver ingots known as yuan bao. As the Spring Festival marks the start of a new year and eating the dumplings during the Spring Festival is a metaphor for eating money, people hope that it will bring prosperity and good luck for the forthcoming year. Although time has changed, the tradition has remained, today, jiaozi is considered more as a sign of blessing than of fortune.

History of Jiaozi

In ancient times, Jiaozi’s shape looks like a horn, was called ‘Jiao” (literally “horn”). It was also called “bianshi” (literally “flat food”) due to its flat shape. The term jiao zi has multiple meanings, one of the meanings means “midnight or the end and the beginning of time.” This is why the jiaozi are made the midnight of the last day of the passing lunar year and Chinese people eat it right between eleven pm and one am. Another meaning of the term comes from the literal translation to “sleep together and have sons” which is a long lost good wish for a family. Not only does the shape of the jiao zi resemble the golden ingots, it also represents a crescent moon and symbolizes the hope for a year of plenty. Occasionally people will add specific fillings to select dumplings in order to symbolize certain wishes. Those who receive sweets will have a sweeter life, peanuts symbolize long life, and dates and chestnuts represent the imminent arrival of a son. Because the word “dates” is homonymic with the word “early” in Chinese, so are chestnuts, the syllable “zi” is homonymic with children. The tremendous amount of food prepared at this time was meant to symbolize abundance of wealth in the household.

Rich Chinese families in ancient times would add gold, silver, and other precious stones in their dumplings. To get one of these dumplings was considered good luck. Later this transitioned to adding coins in the dumplings. Copper coins, for example, meant that one would never lack money. In contemporary times, only a few coins were washed and add to the batch of dumplings, the person who discovers the coin would enjoy good luck and make a lot of money in the coming year.

Delicacy & One For All

Chinese dumpling is a delicious food. You can make a variety of Chinese dumplings using different fillings based on your taste and how various ingredients mixed together by you.

Usually when you have Chinese dumpling for dinner, you will not have to cook anything else except for some big occasions. The dumpling itself is good enough for dinner. This is one of the advantages of Chinese dumpling over other foods, though it may take longer to make them.

How to make Jiaozi

Like most Chinese people, I started making jiaozi when I was a little kid in my family. In the beginning, it is more like a game than prepare food. My mom would give me some pre-made dumpling skinsso I do not make a mass with the dough and flour. Just stuff the filling on top of the dumplingskins, fold and close it together, well, it may not look as pretty as my mom’s jiaozi, but it is done and that is what all counts, easy! Most Chinese like me know how to make jiaozi but not many are good at making the skins, which is the hardest part of making dumplings.

Making the Dough & Dumpling Skins:

–  2 1/2 C unsifted flour

–  1/2 tsp. salt

–  1 C boiling water

–  1 Tbsp. lard, cut up into little pieces

Mix the flour and salt. Add the boiling water and stir with chopsticks. Add the lard. Knead all and let rest on a plastic counter under a bowl for 20 minutes.

To make dumpling skins: Break off a piece of the dough the size of 1 teaspoon. Keep the rest of the dough under the bowl. Roll the dough into a ball and then roll out into a 3-inch circle. You may need extra flour for this. Or, use a tortilla press that has been very lightly oiled with peanut oil on a paper towel. This gets you going and the rest of the rolling is easy. To store skins until use, dust each skin lightly with flour and stack on top of one another.

If you are pressed for time, you may want to purchase a package of pre-made dumpling skins (the round ones) from any local Chinese supermarket. Don’t buy the square ones–those are for won-tons!

Making the Filling:

–  1 cup finely chopped Napa cabbage

–  1 lb. lean ground pork

–  2 Tbsp. light soy sauce

–  2 Tbsp. dry sherry

–  1 tsp. freshly grated ginger

–  1/2 tsp. ground white pepper

–  1 Tbsp. sesame oil

–  Pinch of sugar

–  1 Tbsp. chopped green onion

–  1 egg white

–  1 Tbsp. cornstarch

–  1 tsp. salt

–  4 Tbsp. medium chopped bamboo shoots or water chestnuts (optional)

–  2 cloves garlic, crushed

Sprinkle salt on chopped cabbage and let sit in a colander for 30 min. Squeeze dry (either by hand or in a potato ricer) and place into bowl. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well. Also add a splash of chili paste, to taste.

Construction:

–  Place dumpling skin in the palm of your hand. Dip a finger in cold water and wet the edges of the dumpling skin.

–  Spoon a lump of filling (approx. 1 Tbsp.) into the middle of the skin.

–  Fold dumpling in half. Pinch top of semi-circle together.

–  Push in on both sides of dumpling, so that the dumpling should look like the letter “I” from the top.

–  Bend one half of each “top” of the “I” and press against middle edge of dumpling. Seal all edges of dumpling.

–  Your dumpling should look like a half-moon with a big bulge in the middle!

– To cook, drop into a big pot of boiling water under they float to the surface. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

References:

Savory Chinese Money by Arthur Wang, Eimi Watanabe, Alex Lee, Arlene Kim, Hsiang June Chou http://www.anthro.uci.edu/html/Programs/Anthro_Money/JiaoZi.htm>

Chinese Dumpling <http://chineseculture.about.com/library/weekly/aa020298.htm>

Brits Get Rich in China

Perfect documentary to watch during the weekend, not strictly a serious finance documentary, but particularly relevant in these times as China progresses in its economic evolution, and some parts of this documentary is so real and funny. Indeed, China is becoming increasingly important in global business, and particularly in global finance and investing. China has seen wild gyrations in its stock market, and has rewarded many investors, but what is it really like doing business in China?

The documentary follows 3 British entrepreneurs who go to China to make their fortunes. For those with any interest in China it is a very interesting and at times entertaining film. It reveals how tough doing business in China can be, but it also shows the rewards and triumph of those who make a real go of it. If you’re investing in China or thinking about business in China then you must see this documentary.

YIN-YANG and Five Elements

Different than the horoscope in the West, Chinese people put their fate at the hands of the YIN-YANG scholars as it is deeply rooted in the Taoism, they believed that there are two natural, complementary and contradictory forces in our universe.  Because humans are in charge of all the living species, therefore the third one is named Human. YIN represents the female, negative, darkness, softness, moisture, night-time, even numbers and docile aspects of things. YANG represents the male, positive, brightness, hardness, dryness, day-time, odd numbers and dominant aspects. YIN and YANG are continually in the state of flux and always looking for the BALANCE point. One moves , the other responses. 

These scholars also believed that our universe consisted of five basic elements, which are Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth (Soil). Everything, including humans, in the universe (between Heaven and Earth) must have a relationship with these five elements. So they tried to apply the five elements not only to every physical thing in the world, but also to the Colors, Directions, Seasons and Sounds. They even applied to the Years, Months, Days, Hours, Minutes and Seconds of the  Chinese Calendar. People are able to know their five-element weights from their birth date and time. Based on the combination of these five-element weights plus the concept of the natural phenomenon, they can tell the rise and fall of human destiny (fate) cycle. The “element” in Chinese also means MOVEMENT, CHANGEABLE and DEVELOPMENT. If you want to be a lucky person, you have to move to an environment to bring your five elements into balance. 

For example, trees have their own growth cycle in between Heaven and Earth. Humans must have life cycles similar to those of trees. The seasonal changes affect the growth of trees. Trees grow faster in the spring and slower in the fall. The environmental changes also affect the life of trees. Without adequate sunshine, trees grow too slowly. Too much heat, trees will be dried out. Without water, trees cannot grow. Too much water, trees will be uprooted and afloat. Insufficient earth, tree will not grow tall….

The human life cycle is also affected by the same seasonal and environmental changes. The seasonal changes come from the Sun and Moon which are the clock for the calendars. The Chinese calendar is designed from Sun and Moon plus the Stem-Branch (concept from trees) cycle. Chinese YIN-YANG scholars have for thousands of years applied the Five Elements on the Chinese Stem-Branch calendar. This way humans get their Five Element weights using their birth date and time.

When the seasons and environment change, the Five Elements have certain responses. Humans respond in a similar way. The YIN-YANG scholars made predictions on the human life cycle, from birth to death, by using this natural phenomenon.

Chinese Money Habits – The Salary Question

If you ask a Chinese person in China how much money he or she makes, odds are that person will tell you. Because you are living in a culture where it’s ok for someone to ask you your salary within 5 minutes of meeting you, and that opens up all sorts of doors. It’s like you get this secret peek into the financial lives of everyone you meet, and IT’S OK!

Discussing one’s income is not always a matter of bragging because not everyone is rich. Most of the time Chinese people do this as a way of getting to know another person. Once you speak to people and find out their income they tell you more about how they live.  It is not a rude or bad thing in Chinese culture to talk about money, and sometimes good comes out of it. For example, people might help you to secure a raise after they found out that you are underpaid.

This Chinese money habit may be related to the fact that in the past the gap between people’s salaries was not so large. For instance, some people talk freely about this with their colleagues. Or when friends meet they might discuss whether their incomes have increased or not. If you do not really want to tell people how much money you make, you can give a vague answer like, ‘not much’.

Believe it or not, recently it’s common that some young people would show their salaries on the internet. They may put information about their basic wage, allowance, bonus etc. This helps people learn the income differences among various jobs.

If your friend’s income is very low, they would feel the situation was unfair, rather than feel embarrassed. For instance, the income of those working in the field of telecommunications, the oil industry or electricity industry enjoy at least four times the salary of those common textile workers. But anyway, it’s a way of learning about other people’s lives. Otherwise you’d never know about it.

Meltdown: The Secret History of the Global Financial Collapse

2011 is a very interesting year but there are many questions left behind in China, one major question is WHEN or IF the house price in Shanghai is ever going to meltdown?

Six months ago, Shanghai’s property market was the hottest on the planet. The story was compelling: the most dynamic city in the most dynamic economy, with affluent Chinese from both the mainland and abroad eager to pour their capital into the latest deal. Even foreigners were getting into the act: Morgan Stanley was part of a $90 million real estate fund for Shanghai, and individual Americans were plunking down their bucks for Shanghai flats and houses.

The whole world, it seemed, wanted in on the game. Who cared if speculators were buying and selling apartments within days? Prices had been clocking 30% annual increases from 2002 on.  

To stop the increase, real estate control measures was applied among major cities  in April 2011, and Shanghai is the latest victim of the government’s effort to cool a rocketing economy. Today, not only have prices of some luxury apartments dropped by as much as 30%, but sales volume is off by 70%. A deal on an apartment at Rainbow City Apartment complex: $1,840 per square meter, down from $2,215 in March.

As in every real estate bust, buyers are waiting for prices to fall further, while sellers are unwilling to make additional cuts for fear of fueling the downward spiral. 

So who’s going to blink first? We will discover the answer in 2012 and it is a good time to review what happened in 2008.

Doc Zone has traveled the world – from Wall Street to Dubai to China – to investigate The Secret History of the Global Financial Collapse. Meltdown is the story of the bankers who crashed the world, the leaders who struggled to save it and the ordinary families who got crushed.

September 2008 launched an extraordinary chain of events: General Motors, the world’s largest company, went bust. Washington Mutual became the world’s largest bank failure. Lehman Brothers became the world’s largest bankruptcy ever – The damage quickly spread around the world, shattering global confidence in the fundamental structures of the international economy.

Meltdown also tells the stories of desperate foreclosed homeowners in California, disillusioned autoworkers at the end of the line in Ontario and furious workers in France who shocked the world by kidnapping their own bosses.

1. The Men Who Crashed the World. Greed and recklessness by the titans of Wall Street triggers the largest financial crash since the Great Depression. It’s left to US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, himself a former Wall Street banker, to try and avert further disaster.

2. A Global Tsunami. The meltdown’s devastation ripples around the world from California to Iceland and China. Facing economic ruin, desperate world leaders are at each other’s throats.

3. Paying the Price. The victims of the meltdown fight back. In Iceland, protesters force a government to fall. In Canada, ripped off autoworkers occupy their plant. And in France, furious union members kidnap their bosses.

4. After the Fall. Investigators begin to sift through the meltdown’s rubble. Shaken world leaders question the very foundations of modern capitalism while asking: could it all happen again?

Chinese New Year Activities

Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the New Year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the New Year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade.The Chinese New Year Celebrations span across 15 days with each day having its individual significance.

New Year Pre-Festival Activities

  • From the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month: extensive house-cleaning, cooking, shopping and buying gifts.

Last night of the 12th lunar month:

  • New Year’s Eve is a time for family get-togethers for eating, catching up and shou sui(staying up all night), waiting for the new year.
  • At midnight, it’s a custom to eat jiao zi (dumplings), because the word jiao ziis similar to the ancient word for new replacing the old. The crescent shape of the dumpling is also similar to ancient money and the image of plates piled high with the dumplings lets people imagine heaps of money being brought to the table symbolizing wealth in the new year.
  • Also at midnight, it is customary to set off firecrackers. This was traditionally done to scare away demons but in modern times is a ritual of merriment and pyrotechnics.

From New Year’s Day Forward

  • Day One, New Year’s Day (the first day of the first lunar month):
    • Traditionally, one welcomes the gods from the heaven and earth. Ming and Qing emperors would perform a grand ceremony at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Nowadays…
    • Elders give children ya sui, or gifts of money. The money is put into a lovely red envelope, called a hong bao, that is usually decorated with new year’s wishes, and given to happy children.
    • Some Chinese might give up meat for the day.
    • No one cleans! Cleaning on New Year’s Day is serious bad luck, you might sweep all the good fortune out the door.
  • Day Two: Prayers to ancestors are added to prayers to the gods. It’s believed that this day is the birthday of all dogs, so it’s better to be extra kind to dogs on this day as well.
  • Days Three & Four: Sons-in-laws pay respect to their in-law families.
  • Day Five: Everyone stays home to wait for and welcome the God of Wealth. It’s bad luck to visit anyone on this day.
  • Day Six to Ten: Families go out to visit relatives and friends.
  • Day Seven: It’s a special day for farmers and it’s also supposed to be the birthday of all mankind. Eating noodles is traditional to ensure long life.
  • Day Ten to Twelve: Now that the visiting is over, it’s time to invite family and friends over for dinner.
  • Day Thirteen: Finally! A break in the lavish meals! One is supposed to eat simply on the thirteenth day of New Year.
  • Day Fourteen: Time to prepare for day Fifteen, the Lantern Festival.
  • Day Fifteen: Yuanxiao, or Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival, celebrated on the night of the first full moon, also marks the end of the Chinese New Year holiday period. Chinese people light lanterns, play riddle games and eat sticky rice balls.

Chinese Zodiac – The Great Race

The Chinese zodiac consists of twelve animals that first appeared in the Zhan Guo period [5th century B.C.]. No one knows the exact date as of when the zodiac was essentially created, but they were officially identified during the Han Dynasty [206 B.C.–9 A.D.], which was over 2000 years ago. The zodiac became a popular way to determine a person’s birth year during the North Zhou Dynasty [557-581 A.D.] and is still very commonly used today.

Myths say that Emperor Huangdi, the first Chinese emperor, in 2637 B.C. invented the Chinese lunar calendar, which follows the cycles of the moon The zodiac was based on Chinese astrology and was used as a way to count years, months, days, and hours in the calendar. It was formed from two components: the Celestial Stem and the Terrestrial Branch. Each of the 12 animals stands for a year in a 12-year cycle, a day in the a 12-day cycle, and for every two hours in a 24-hour day.

Following is the traditional story behind it:

Long long ago, in China, the Jade Emperor wanted to find a easy way to count years, so someone suggested that they can select 12 animals to represent the 12-year-cycle in lunar calendar, each for a year.

The Jade Emperor announced to the entire animal kingdom that there would be an amazing race. The first twelve animals to cross the finish line would each be awarded one year in the lunar calendar.

At that time, the Cat and the Rat were the best of friends. They accompanied each other no matter where they went. Hearing this news, the two friends got very excited, for both of them want a coveted position on the calendar. But soon their excitement faded, and they began to worry about their poor swimming skill. After thinking for a while, they decided to ask the Ox for some help. The Rat and Cat explained to the Ox their problem and asked him if he would be so kind as to let them ride on his back. The Ox, having a kind nature, agreed without the slightest hesitation and promised to let them sit on his back in the race.

Happy with the Ox’s promise, the Cat decide to take a nap so that he could be at his best point. He asked his friend: “Could you please wake me up when it’s time for the race?”

“Sure. Just have a good nap. I will wake you up when the time comes.” the Rat replied. But the position on the calendar was like a carrot dangling in front of the Rat to entice him into betraying his best friend. So when the time came, he went alone and left the Cat sleeping deeply.

In the race, the Ox, as the best swimmer, soon took the lead. Just before the Ox was about to reach the other bank, the Rat leaped on his head and on to the bank to finish first.

The Jade Emperor was very pleased and told the Rat that the first year of the Zodiac would be named after him. Of course, the naive Ox had been tricked into second place and the second year of the zodiac was named after him.

Following closely behind was strong Ox who was named the 2nd animal in the zodiac. After Ox, came Tiger, panting, while explaining to the Jade Emperor how difficult it was to cross the river with the heavy currents pushing it downstream all the time. But with its powerful strength, Tiger made to shore and was named the 3rd animal in the cycle.

Suddenly, from a distance came a thumping sound, and the Rabbit arrived. It explained how it crossed the river: by jumping from one stone to another in a nimble fashion. Halfway through, it almost lost the race, but the Rabbit was lucky enough to grab hold of a floating log that later washed him to shore. For that, it became the 4th animal in the Zodiac cycle. Coming in 5th place was the Flying Dragon. Of course, the Jade Emperor was deeply curious as to why a swift flying creature such as the Dragon should fail to reach first place. The mighty Dragon explained that he had to stop and make rain to help all the people and creatures of the earth, and therefore he was held back. Then, on his way to the finish, he saw a little helpless Rabbit clinging onto a log so he did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore. The Jade Emperor was very pleased with the actions of the Dragon, and he was added into the zodiac cycle. As soon as he had done so, a galloping sound was heard, and the Horse appeared. Hidden on the Horse’s hoof was the Snake, whose sudden appearance gave the Horse a fright, thus making it fall back and giving the Snake the 6th spot, while the Horse placed 7th.

Not long after that, a little distance away, the Sheep, Monkey, and Rooster came to the shore. These three creatures helped each other to get to where they are. The Rooster spotted a raft, and took the other two animals with it. Together, the Sheep and the Monkey cleared the weeds, tugged and pulled and finally got the raft to the shore. Because of their combined efforts, the Emperor was very pleased and promptly named the Sheep as the 8th creature, the Monkey as the 9th, and the Rooster the 10th.

The 11th animal was the Dog. Although he was supposed to be the best swimmer, he could not resist the temptation to play a little longer in the river. Though his explanation for being late was because he needed a good bath after a long spell. For that, he almost didn’t make it to finish line. Just as the Jade Emperor was about to call it a day, an oink and squeal was heard from a little Pig. The Pig got hungry during the race, promptly stopped for a feast and then fell asleep. After the nap, the Pig continued the race and was named the 12th animal of the zodiac cycle. 

As to the poor Cat, he did not wake up until the magpie chattered the result of the race over his head. When the Cat found out what the Rat had done, he was furious. The two became worst enemies. This is the reason why cats are not one of the twelve animals and they love to chase after rats.

Chinese New Year: Cured Meat

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Walking around the backstreets of Shanghai is quite interesting, currently every family is getting ready for the Chinese Near Year and cured meat is everywhere.

Cured bacon, or “larou”, is a southern China specialty. The “la” technique calls for curing the meat in a liquid of salt, soy sauces, sugar, wine and spices, and then air-drying. Occasionally the meat is smoked after being dried. The meat used for “la” curing can be pork belly, duck, fish or sometimes venison. Traditionally the “la” technique calls for the meat to be brought out into the sun for drying a few hours each day. This method promotes dehydration and also partially renders the fat from the meat. The heat from the sun also gives a fragrant nutty taste to the finish product. For my attempt I decided to sun dry the bacon strips in my very sunny window during the day, and store them hanging in the refrigerator overnight.

The story of “larou”, takes us back to Zhou Dynasty (about 3,000 years ago) the twelfth month of the Chinese calendar has been designated as a time for ritual sacrifice to honor the gods and ancestors. This ritual is known as “laji”. Animals were hunted for offerings, and the meat consumed during the ceremony. Over time preservation techniques were developed to conserve the leftovers for winter consumption.

China From The Inside

It is GREAT and I loved all of the 4 episodes. This documentary movie provided some great insights towards the problem and issues of current China.  Chinese usually are very patriotic and not good in dealing with critics but it is important to understand about what is becoming of China and what we could do to improve things around the country.  If there is a 5th episodes, I’d be very interested to see more of the major city life and people who live in Shanghai or Beijing, this could be mind blowing as well.

In four episodes of about 55 minutes each, this PBS documentary examines some of the major challenges facing contemporary Chinese society.

Episode 1, “Power and the People,” focuses on the Communist Party’s rule of China. Topics include government opposition to separatism in the heavily Muslim province of Xinjiang; the Party’s efforts to create a prosperous society; the governance of Tibet; the National People’s Congress, which puts the Party’s decisions into action; the election of a village committee; and corruption in the Party.

Episode 2, “Women of the Country,” focuses on the difficulties faced by Chinese women, especially in rural areas (where two-thirds of China’s population lives). The episode examines birth planning, marriage, women who live in the country while their husbands work in the city, women in Tibet, the hopelessness of many young women in China, the Muslim women of Xinjiang, and the opportunities and hardships for women in cities.

Episode 3, “Shifting Nature,” focuses on pollution brought on by rapid industrialization and on massive water diversion projects that involve resettling the populations of entire towns.

Episode 4, “Freedom and Justice,” examines the limits on religious freedom and freedom of the press, AIDS deaths that the government could have prevented, the displacement of poor people by land “development,” and injustices in the justice system.

This is an interesting, informative, and thought-provoking documentary.

The Taoist Wisdom – Sai Weng Shi Ma

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical tradition whose origins extend back to 3000 B.C. The first actual written works to promote the Taoist outlook appeared around 500 B.C. and were attributed to the legendary Taoist sages, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Lao Tzu is the author of the Tao Te Ching.  

Taoism is organized around several key principles and, like any philosophical outlook, presents a way of seeing and understanding reality. The word TAO itself translates as the Way, or Path. This meaning includes both the way in which we perceive the world around us (how do we make assessments? what are our values?) and also the way in which we interact with life (how do we behave? what are our actions?). The manner in which we perceive reality influences our way of being in the world, our path of action.

The Taoists saw all changes in nature as manifestations of the dynamic interplay between the polar opposites yin and yang, and thus they came to believe that any pair of opposites constitutes a polar relationship where each of the two poles is dynamically linked to the other.

There is a very famous and acient Taoist story that every Chinese know about – I love it tremendously. The story is about an old Taoist farmer whose horse ran away:

There once was an old man who lived with his only son at the border of the state. They liked horses and often let them graze freely. One time a servant reported to the old man, “A horse is missing! It went into the neighboring state.” His friends felt sorry for him, but the old man was not bothered at all by the loss. In fact, he said: “Who knows! The loss may bring us good fortune!” A few months later, a weird thing happened. Not only did the missing horse return home safely, it also brought back with it a fine horse from the neighboring state. When his friends heard the news, they congratulated the old man on his good luck. But the old man said, “Who knows! This may bring us ill fortune!” One day, when the old man’s son was riding the fine horse, he fell off it, broke his leg very badly and became crippled. Many friends came to comfort the old man, but the old man was not disturbed by the accident in the least. “Who knows! This may bring us good fortune after all!” he said. A year later, the neighboring state sent troops across the border. All young and strong men were drafted to join the fight, and most of them got killed. The old man’s son however was not drafted because he was crippled – and so his life was spared.

The Chinese Are Coming

Travelling across three continents, Justin Rowlatt investigates the spread of Chinese influence around the planet and asks what the world will be like if China overtakes America as the world’s economic superpower. In the first of two films, he embarks on a journey across Southern Africa to chart the extraordinary phenomenon of Chinese migration to Africa, and the huge influence of China on the development of the continent.While many in the West view Africa as a land of poverty, to the Chinese it is seen as an almost limitless business opportunity. From Angola to Tanzania, Justin meets the fearless Chinese entrepreneurs who have travelled thousands of miles to set up businesses.

I think this movie’s idea is from “The Russian Are Coming”. It was actually very funny to watch. I was amused and laughed a lot when Justin Rowlatt trying very hard to taste which chicken is better, the Chinese chicken or the African chicken (based on that the chicken is provided by African farmer who don’t like Chinese). He also tried to prove that the Brazil bikini is better than the ones made in China but he forgot that the point is how much money people are willing to pay, quality always comes with a price.

The movie shows Chinese are taking over the world. Justin investigated what Chinese influence meant for African countries, nicely skewering racist presumptions about China as he travelled. Intriguingly, the Chinese have often revivified old British colonial infrastructures. But are they as rapacious as the British were?  Could the Chinese do the same for Britain? Probably not. At least Africans have stuff – copper, cobalt, cheap labour – that is what the Chinese want and paying for. What does British have? Maybe celebrities?!

In America, Justin visited factories which were out of business and workers blaming Chinese stole their jobs. But they forgot to talk with the American bosses who made tons of money, they were also not interested to discuss about how much money Chinese factory worker are getting paid and why American company don’t want their factory to be based in US. It is all about the profit. Today it is made in China, tomorrow it is maybe made in Thailand, North Korea, etc…

The other new idea is learning Chinese means being possibily brian washed by Chinese communist party, and it has something to do with confucianism(that’s a really big joke).

In the end, my question is that why can’t the producer from BBC do better? Please, make them visit Shanghai and I’d be so happy to give them a tour .

Contemporary Art in Shanghai

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Went on a full day art tour recently, good contemporary art is always inspiring and make people think.

Contemporary Chinese art was born with the death of dictator Mao Zedong in 1976, whose Cultural Revolution had barred Western influences and stifled creative expression for years. Suddenly China started to get Western books and magazines and learn about all the Western art movements since 1949. So in the early ’80s, Chinese artist had their own versions of these movements.

From the performative works in the 80s to installations in the early 90s, art groups in Shanghai were always the first in China to experiment with new artistic languages and presentation tools. 

People go to Shanghai and see it is an absolute boomtown with buildings going up every day, and they become curious about the history of Chinese culture and fascinated with images of contemporary life. It is not easy to cover Shanghai’s contemporary art in one day, as there are over 6 different major art areas in Shanghai. But just like the 798 Art Community in Beijing, M50 is a blossoming arts district that now is the center of Shanghai’s art scene.  

However buying Chinese contemporary art is not for the faint-hearted. There are no museums in China to offer the validation that contemporary-art collectors in the West desire, and few independent critics or curators to judge whether a living artist’s work is good enough to stand the test of time. Yet that is not putting off buyers. Last year Asia accounted for nearly a quarter of global auction revenue, nearly twice what it was two years ago.

China Blue

CHINA BLUE takes viewers inside a blue jeans factory in southern China, where teenage workers struggle to survive harsh working conditions. Providing perspectives from both the top and bottom levels of the factory’s hierarchy, the film looks at complex issues of globalization from the human level.

After the book of Factory Girls, this movie is still interesting enough by looking into the life of not only the workers but also the factory owners. In the year of 2012, for just 5 years since the release of the book and movie, the change of China is breath taking. 

In the first half of 2008 about 67,000 small- and medium-size companies closed, including more than 10,000 textile firms, due to cash flow problems. More than 100,000 firms were expected to close by the end of 2008. The manufacturing centers in Guangdong Province and around Shanghai were particularly hard hit. In Guangdong more than 62,400 businesses closed in 2008, with more than 10,000 factories closing in the Dongguan area alone during a six week period at the end of 2008. Some factories were closed with shocking suddenness. They were humming one moment and closed down with owners skipping town the next, without warning. Not only were the owners, managers and workers hurt by the closures so too were the shops, restaurants and businesses that surrounded them.

In early November 2008, China announced a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package worth 13 percent of GDP, over two years. The money was spent mostly on infrastructure and social welfare, particularly on railways, highways, low-cost housing, and rural infrastructure, and given to banks to provided low interest loans for home and car buyers and companies in need of financing.

After the economic stimulus packages was approved in early 2009, China built and expanded 35 airports, opened 557 kilometers of railways, including the world’s fastest high-speed train, paved 98,000 kilometers of highway and picked up the pace on subway projects from Shenyang in the north to Guangzhou in the south—all within a year.

In March 2009,the Chinese government announced that the economy was responding well to stimulus measures and that no other stimulus measures were necessary. The Shanghai Stock Market was up 85 percent in first eight months of 2009. Property sales jumped 75.5 percent to $645 billion in 2009 on coat tails of a record number of loans.

Of the 20 million migrant workers that lost their jobs as of early 2009 about 14 million had found work by June according to the National Bureau of Statistics, which said about two thirds found jobs in the eastern coastal areas and a third got jobs in the central and western China.

By autumn 2009, firms that had feared going bust were looking for migrant workers to fill their Christmas orders. Some in the Pearl Delta area around Guangzhou and Shenzhen were having a hard time finding workers because the stimulus package was creating more opportunities in the interior. At the port in Shanghai container ships lay idle and empty while bulk carriers laden with raw material were backed up because they couldn’t be unloaded fast enough—signs trade was still hurting but manufacturing was preparing for a rebound. By December 2009, orders were surging and production reached an all-time high.

China achieved 8.7 percent growth for 2009 despite the economic slump. Growth was 6.8 percent in the last quarter in of 2008, 6.3 percent growth first quarter of 2009, the lowest in a decade, 7.9 percent growth in second quarter, 9.1 percent in third quarter in 2009 and 10.7 percent in the 4th quarter.

In 2009, the worlds three largest global banks measured by market capitalization, were all Chinese. In 2006, China didn’t have a single bank in the world’s top 20.

China resilience to the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 was so strong many wondered whether it could pull the world out its slump. According to the IMF China is likely to account for almost three quarters of global growth between 2008 and 2010.  Everyone want to know the same thing: Can China save the world?

There were worries that high stock prices and booming real estate would create a bubble. A lot of stimulus money flowed into assets markets for quick profits rather the real economy. By early 2010 there were worries that the economy might overheat. The central bank took measures to control the surge in bank lending by raising the amount of money that banks must keep in reserve, and the government raised interest rates and let the yuan appreciate to keep things from getting out of hand. Inflation also became a concern as rising prices accompanied the surge in orders.

Growth of China was 10.3 percent in 2010. GDP was $5.88 trillion, ahead of Japan’s $5.45 billion. Growth 9.7 percent in the first quarter of 2011 and 9.5 percent in the second quarter of 2011.

In 2012, China’s growth rate may fall to about 8.5 per cent if the EU crisis deteriorates into a global meltdown.  Serious concerns about overly rapid growth, China’s real estate market, and reduced manufacturing and exports could delay the super-sized economy imagined a few years ago.

There’s no present doubt, however, that when China sneezes, the world catches a chill.

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