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Shanghai Pathways Blog

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

Days of Summer in Shanghai

As summer approaches, everybody in Shanghai should be preparing to live well and stay fit during the hot and humid season. But how do Chinese people stay fit without suffering from the effects of summer’s intensive heat? During my time in Shanghai, I have received some great advice from family and friends on how to keep the summer heat at bay. Here, I share some of those wonderful suggestions with you:

Daily Life – Day to day solutions:

Compared with the other seasons, it is actually OK to stay up later in the evenings in summer and get up earlier in the mornings.

Summer bamboo mahjong cushion

In order to keep cool while sleeping or resting, some smart person thought of using natural bamboo blocks shaped like mahjong tiles and with a strong rope, created a plaited mat. It is a lovely Chinese summer cooling invention as many middle-aged and elderly people enjoy a 1-2 hour nap in the afternoons.

Cold shower

It’s summer and what better way to beat the heat than by replacing your scolding hot showers with a cold one? Lowering your water temperature can do far more than just cool you down. Cold showers can also help improve blood circulation, flush out toxins and boost energy levels.

Proper diet

A proper diet, especially during the summer months, is very important. My mother would always prepare nutritious light dishes and tell me to avoid oily and fried foods. Eating light does not necessarily mean being a vegetarian. It is recommended to eat lean meats eggs, milk, fish and soy bean products. According to traditional Chinese medical beliefs, most bitter tasting vegetables relieve internal heat. Vegetables such as sow thistles and bitter gourds are popular summer foods that help relieve summer heat, eliminate fatigue and bring the spleen and stomach into harmony.

Lu Dong gao or mung bean cake (绿豆糕)

According to traditional Chinese medicine, green beans help relieve internal heat, quench thirst and are good for detoxifying the body. It is the most popular snack in summer for many Shanghainese and as the name suggests, the most important ingredient is the mung bean powder which is mixed with pea powder, sugar and sweet-scented osmanthus flower.

Summer on a Stick

Juicy wedges of fruit skewered on a stick for 2-3 yuan is a summer delight. The vendors are on every street corner and the fruit sell as fast as they can be prepared. You can choose from a variety of fruits such as watermelon (西瓜) rockmelon, honey melon (哈密瓜), or pineapple. Cold, ripe, fresh and delicious!

Xiao long xia (crayfish, 小龙虾)

Shanghainese are crazy for crayfish in summer. The hot weather is just not bearable without these buckets of crayfish tossed with chili and downed by one or more cold, cheap Tsingtao beers. This is without a doubt, the most popular midnight summer food in Shanghai.

Summer ice creams

To keep cool, here are some famous old-school ice creams and popsicles that I just love. These Chinese ‘ice creams’ bring back memories of my childhood, when life was much slower in Shanghai.

Xue nuo mi ice cream (血糯米)

A popular milk-flavored ice cream stick is one covered with xue nuo mi, a kind of black sticky rice. The sticky rice sits on top of the ice cream and creates a unique flavor that balances the richness of the milk and freshness of the sticky rice. An intriguing texture that combines smooth cream and chewy rice.

Salty-sweet popsicles (yan shui bang bing, 盐水棒冰)

This is a classic. A household favorite that many Chinese make at home when they were students. The ingredients are sugar, salt and water and the slightly sweet and salty flavor is appealing and thirst-quenching.

Sweet red bean popsicles(hongdou bang bing, 红豆棒冰)

Sweet red bean is a traditional Chinese treat that cools the body, removes heat and dampness from the body during the humid summer. It is also said to help in the prevention of heatstroke. The combination of mashed beans and hard ice creates an intriguing texture.

Things to do

In order to cut utility costs during the summer months, many Chinese like to hang out in supermarkets, shopping malls, book stores and even subway stations. Ikea turns out to be a popular choice as it comes with furniture, affordable meals and refillable drinks. Additional ways to enjoy the season can encompass taking walks, dancing or taijiquan (a kind of traditional Chinese shadow boxing).

Dino Beach

Shanghai’s biggest water park, offers a selection of fun water rides including the 1,200-meter-long “Thunderbolt River” and “Storm Beach” wave pool — just be prepared for the big crowds.

Dina Beach Water Park, 78 Xinzhen Lu, near Gudai Lu, Minhang District 热带风暴水上乐园, 闵行区新镇路78号, 近顾戴路.

Oriental Sports Center

The best swimmers in the world came to this newly built sports center to compete in diving, water polo, swimming, synchronized and swimming Now it’s your turn to enjoy it!

Oriental Sports Center, 168 Jiyang Lu, near Yaohua Lu, Pudong New Area 2011世界游泳锦标赛, 东方体育中心, 浦东新区济阳路168号,近杨思路

Jinshan City Beach

You think Shanghai doesn’t have any beaches? You just haven’t been looking hard enough. Jinshan City Beach is an artificial beach with crystal clear waters. It is a rare thing in the vast sprawling metropolis of Shanghai to have a man-made delight of sand and seawater.

Jinshan City Beach, 5 Xincheng Lu, near Jintao Lu 金山城市沙滩, 金山新城路5号, 近金涛路

Bihai Jinsha Waterpark

Sometimes you don’t want to do anything but lay in the sun with a book and the pools here are perfect for that. Ignore the crowds at the water park rides and instead head to the sunbathing area where you can plop down in a deck chair facing the sea and take in the sun.

Bihai Jinsha Water Park, 39 Haiou Lu, near Jinhuitang Lu 碧海金沙水上乐园, 海湾旅游区海鸥路39号, 近金汇塘路

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Tomb Sweeping Time

For more than 2,500 years, Qingming Festival, celebrated on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, has been a day for remembering the dead. This is the most important day for Chinese people around the world to remember our deceased loved ones. In ancient China, Qingming was by no means the only time when sacrifices were made to ancestors. Such ceremonies were held very frequently, every two weeks, in addition to other important holidays and festivals. The formalities of these ceremonies were very elaborate and expensive in terms of time and money. In an effort to reduce this expense, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty declared in 732 A.D. that respects would be formally paid at the tombs of ancestors only on the day of Qingming.

During the weekend of Qingming, hundreds of thousands of vehicles will turn Shanghai’s highways into a large parking lot as people return home after visiting cemeteries and enjoying a spring outing. Cemeteries are always located in the city’s suburban areas. In Shanghai, the largest cemeteries are the Fushouyuan Cemetery in Qingpu district and Binhaiguyuan Cemetery in Fengxian district. In 2013, the number of people visiting the cemeteries reached 2.42 million people in Shanghai over the weekend.

In my family, my parents and relatives always prepare offerings and arrange a trip together one to two weeks in advance to avoid the big crowds. On the day of tomb sweeping, we clear the wild grass around our ancestor’s tomb, repaint the gravestones and add fresh soil. Then we present the dead person’s favorite food and wine as offerings, along with paper resembling money and chrysanthemum flowers. The food usually includes a steamed whole chicken, hard boiled eggs, sliced barbecued pork and dim sum pastries. In addition, three sets of chopsticks and three Chinese wine cups are arranged above the food and closest to the headstone. The eldest person of our family usually begins by bowing three times with the wine cup in hand, then pours the wine on the ground just in front of the headstone three times. After the ceremony, we then eat the food together at the grave site, like having a family picnic with our ancestors.

Qingtuan (green cake) is a traditional Chinese food eaten during Qingming Festival. These green ball dumplings are made of sticky rice, red bean paste and a special plant (barnyard grass shoots) called maiqing (麦青) or aicao(艾 草), which are only edible in the spring.

According to Chinese traditional belief, “When someone dies, his spirit goes to the afterlife, where it lives on, doing much the same things it did in life.” Luckily for everyone, the spirit world does not use normal money, which the dead apparently need piles of. Qing Ming rites involve the burning of fake money, usually a plain white piece of paper with a little gold foil in the middle, but there are also a number of bills that look something like U.S. dollars or Chinese yuan. They range from $1 all the way to $1,000,000,000,000 (this does make me wonder about inflation in the afterlife). The Chinese Consumers’ Association reports that more than 1,000 tons of paper products are burnt as offerings for the afterlife during each Qingming, costing more than 10 billion yuan. This is all burned in the hope that the deceased are not lacking food and money.

While young people rush to get the latest iPhones and iPads, the deceased can also enjoy these trendy high-tech devices, although theirs will be made of paper. Shops in Shanghai selling sacrificial offerings have already put paper-made versions of Apple products on their shelves. This year, a package of one iPad and one iPhone, paper- made and in different colors, starts from eight yuan on Taobao. A paper MacBook laptop costs around 10 yuan. The logos of the products printed on the package closely resemble the printed names of iPhones and iPads, but the brand is mingwang, or the king of the dead. Other popular items are paper versions of Panasonic LCD TV sets, and every electrical home appliance one can think of, clothes, wine, air tickets, designer bags, seafood, cars, villas and cosmetics including perfume, lipstick, facial cleansing cream, lotion and shampoo. For only RMB50, your ancestors can even get “Celebrity Marriage Certificates” to marry any superstar in the afterlife.

Today’s modern generation and mobility means that many people live far from ancestral villages. Some young Chinese have already started paying their respects online, through virtual tomb sweeping websites, one of the leading ones being Wangshangsaomu.com. The sites allow users to conduct a variety of rituals including presenting bouquets of flowers, offering incense, lighting white candles and planting trees, all without leaving their chairs, or fighting the long lines at local bus and train stations.

The Lost Children of China

“If I lost you, I would rather die.” my mother once said. It is hard to believe that each year, as many as 70,000 children are kidnapped in China. They are not held for ransom; rather, they are sold. Some are sold into new families who raise them like adopted children; others are sold into slave labor, marriage, prostitution, and lives on the street. Most children who are kidnapped will never see their parents again.

For a person who is born and raised in Shanghai, everything above totally sounded like a horror movie trailer. In my entire life, none of the people I know or met had lost their children. My family is perfectly normal and I was happily spoiled as their only beloved daughter.

In big cities, boy and girl are loved by their parents equally and I have never felt any difference in my life with any gender issue. There is even a wildly popular ideas that having a daughter is much better than a son as the daughter is more caring and she never forgets the parents after the marriage.

But, wait a moment, we are not just talking about big fancy cities like Shanghai. Consider yourself as a young couple expecting your first child in one of the poorest and under-developed provinces of China. You are not so well educated and perhaps your income can only support a small family. Traditional mores hold sway around you, most important in the preference for sons over daughters. Perhaps hard labor work is still needed for your family to make its living. Perhaps only sons may inherit land. Perhaps a daughter is deemed to join another family on marriage and you want someone to care for you when you are old.

So what would you do if you can’t have a son?

Reports said that the babies from impoverished areas of China, like Yunnan and Sichuan, sold their children, while couples in more wealthy provinces like Fujian and Guangdong bought baby boys from traffickers. People who only want boys and don’t want to pay the fines so they sell their daughters to the traffickers. That’s what the traffickers will tell the adoptive parents and those parents will tell their child: “Because your parents didn’t want you, they sold you or left you on the streets”.

Therefore a major issue for China is how to deal with the difficulties of the extremes of poverty and wealth. Trafficking of children is very much associated with poverty and, because of the migrant population, a very large number of people who are leaving rural areas and looking for opportunities in urban areas, this affects both adults, young people and at times children.

Living with dead hearts

To get a better picture of the child trafficking in China, go online and watch the film: livingwithdeadhearts.com. It can be watched for free, though there are options to buy it on DVD or in a downloadable version with deleted scenes and director’s commentary. However, a little warning as it is very hard to watch without drops of many tears.

No nightmare is more chilling than having one’s child stolen away. In China, there are no official statistics for child abduction and many parents complain at best of police indifference to their missing children reports, thousands of young children — typically from poor families — are kidnapped, transported hundreds of miles, and sold for $500 to $5000. Living with Dead Hearts is a crowdsource funded documentary filmed for more than two years and covered multiple Chinese provinces. The film follows several parents whose children have been kidnapped as they struggle to track down their kids and to make sense of what has happened to them. Along the way, the film also looks at the experience of kidnapping and growing up in a strange family from the child’s perspective and examines the lives of street children.

According to news report, most elder child ends up as prostitute or slave laborer. Young ones and specially baby boys are bought by people who want to raise the child as their own. Healthy young girls tend to be sold for domestic or international adoption, sometimes even put to beg on the streets.

Adoption as children trafficking

It is a taboo topic for the Chinese government, and not making public statistics about the number of children kidnapped or the number of children sold into adoption. Because of the implications for the tens of thousands of families in the United States and elsewhere in the West who have adopted children from China – Americans alone adopted nearly 3000 Chinese children in 2012.

From Families Thru International Adoption, Inc.’s services (ftia.org), the cost to Adopt from China is staring from USD19,025, including an Orphanage Donation (Payable in China). This amount is donated to the orphanage in China for the care of the children. The fee is determined by which province the child is living in. This fee is RMB35,000 (Chinese currency). However, an average annual income for a Chinese family in 2012 was RMB13,000, or about USD2,100.

Time to help

In the end of the movie, it mentions this: If you live in China, there are also some steps you can take when you see street children to attempt to help them, although you may need the help of a Chinese-speaking friend to do this stuff. Try to get a photo of any children you see begging or performing on the street, and make a note of the location, date, and time. Report this information to local police immediately — though sadly, they’ll probably ignore it — but also upload it to the web in the following ways to ensure it gets maximum exposure:

• Send a message with the photos, date, time, and location to Yu Jianrong’s “saving street children” microblog account; they should re-tweet it and will likely share it with a number of missing child groups on Chinese social media for you. (weibo.com/jiejiuqier)

• Upload the photo and information to Baidu Xunren (xunren.baidu.com)

• Report the information to Baby Come Home (www.baobeihuijia.com)

There is HOPE

According to Xinhua news agency, police have rescued more than 54,000 children and cracked down on 11,000 traffickers since 2009. Zhang Baoyan, founder of Baby Come Home, a non-governmental group that helps search for missing children and offers support to their parents all across China. Since 2007, Zhang and her husband Qin Yanyou have provided a platform for missing children to share information and help search for their family. So far, Zhang has developed a network of more than 20,000 volunteers nationwide, and through them has helped more than 600 families reunite. Now one of the best solutions currently being tried is a national DNA database set up by the Ministry of Public Security that theoretically allows for testing of children to determine whether they have been abducted.

Bound to Be Beautiful: Chinese foot binding

Foot binding. In our mind, these two words usually bring up a horror image of ugly deformed smelly feet, amazing pain and torture.

Now a days, it seems that everyone has heard about foot binding. The words of it are self-explanatory enough. However, so few of us really know about it, even most of my Chinese friends don’t have any clue. What was actually done during the binding? Why was it done and how could such kind of things have been tolerated? When and where did this take place and is this custom still practiced anywhere today in China? Are there still any women alive who had to endure this tradition and what does modern Chinese think about that tradition now? These were some of the questions that I had and in the following pages, I will try my best to answer these questions and hopefully give us a better understanding of this bizarre custom in Chinese history and culture.

Before the 20th century, some Chinese people believe it is ‘better to have a dog than a daughter.’ Woman’s life is rigidly defined and programmed by her gender: foot binding, arranged marriage, virtual imprisonment by both her family of origin and her husband’s family. Chinese men preferred women with small feet, and in a male-dominated society what the best a woman could do was marry well, the reality was that what men wanted, men got.

Foot binding (also known as “Lotus feet”) is the custom of applying painfully tight binding to the feet of young girls to prevent further growth. The foot binding process begins with a young girl (3-7 years old) soaking her feet in warm water or animal blood with herbs. After soaking the feet, her toe nails were to be clipped short and given a foot massage. Then the

 foot was wrapped tightly with binding cloth. Within a period of time, all of the toes would be broken except for the big toe. Every day, or every couple of days, the foot would be unwrapped and wrapped again. The girls were put into smaller shoes until their foot was about 3-4 inches long. The process would take many years and would lead to a lifetime of labored movement, as well as a regular need to rebind the feet. The most common problem with bound feet was infection and sometimes it causes death. However, woman always agreed to go on with the process because it is what everyone did.

Since the process was so painful, Chinese mothers would comfort their daughters over and over by saying, “Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace.” From foot-binding onward, girls and women lived secluded in a second-story chamber of their household, because ” … the difference between nei – the inner realm of the home – and wei – the outer realm of men – lay at the very heart of Confucian society.” It was a strong tradition passed from mother to daughters, entangled with shoemaking, how to endure pain and how to attract men.

Many people believe that the practice originated from the time of Emperor Li Yu (Southern Tang Dynasty). Emperor Li Yu asked his concubine Yao Niang (窅娘) to bind her feet in white silk into the shape of the crescent moon, and performed a lotus dance ballet-like on the points of her feet. Yao Niang was described as so graceful that she ‘skimmed on top of golden lotus’. This was then replicated by other upper-class women and the practice spread. The practice of footbinding became popular during the Song Dynasty. By the end of the Song Dynasty, it was customary to drink from a special shoe whose heel contained a small cup. During the Yuan Dynasty, some would also drink directly from the shoe itself. The practice was called “toast to the golden lotus” and lasted until the late Qing Dynasty.When a woman was to be married, the first thing the bridegroom’s family would check was her feet. The sight of a woman hobbling along on her three inch golden lilies was supposed to have an erotic effect on men, who would be touched by her helplessness. And a woman with perfect lotus feet was likely to make a more prestigious marriage. Qing Dynasty sex manuals listed 48 different ways of playing with women’s bound feet. Some men preferred never to see a woman’s bound feet, so they were always concealed within tiny “lotus shoes” and wrappings. In ancient books, it says, “If you remove the shoes and bindings, the aesthetic feeling will be destroyed forever”. Additionally a common male fantasy was that the unusual lotus gait tended to strengthen the vaginal muscles. An attribute of a woman with bound feet was the limitation of her mobility, and therefore, her inability to take part in politics, social life and the world.

In 1895, the first anti-foot binding society was formed in Shanghai. Soon after branches of the anti-foot binding society began to form in other major cities and across the country. The practice totally fell out of favor at the turn of the 20th century, viewed as an antiquated and shameful part of imperialist Chinese culture, and was officially banned soon after.

But in rural areas, the practice didn’t stop until the communist takeover in 1949, almost all of the village girls had to bind their feet. If they didn’t do this, no man would marry them. Woman also viewed their bound feet as desirable and something to be proud of. In fact they are able to walk and work in the fields. In the 1980s, dancers with bound feet were very popular, about 300 of the remaining foot binding women in Yunnan started performing dances and circus together, which eventually became an unusual tourist attraction in Liuyi village until their decreasing numbers and mobility eventually brought the practice to an end. In an interview, one of those women said, “I lived a good life and we all thought our bound feet looked beautiful. I am proud to be part of the tradition, but I wouldn’t want my daughter or granddaughters to have had to go through it.” Now there are only about 30 women left in the village.

In modern days, none of the Chinese women have to go through the foot binding process any more. We believe, in order to be beautiful someone has to find you beautiful, and so the power actually is in the beholder. But when we see someone in a fabulous pair of high-heeled shoes, we just comment, “Wow, those are spectacular.” The parallel between foot binding and modern-day high heels often strikes me, we don’t ask ourselves, why do we actually wear them? And where do they come from?”

“If you put on a pair of high heels, it changes your whole body,” one of my friends said and fully believes in it. But the beautifying benefits of heels come at a price. If someone is wearing high heels for an excessive period of years, the Achilles tendon tends to get shortened and tighter. There are beauty salons offer cosmetic services, such as a 45-minute “foot facial.” Or “Pillows for Your Feet,” which involves injections of polylactic acid to combat the loss of cushioning on the balls of the feet.

Foot binding or high heels, it is the same mixed feeling with women, “We hate it but we like it – it’s like a drug.”

French Wines from a Chinese Perspective

10 years ago, red wine would be drunk as a highball with coke, and white wine with 7Up. In the old days, when it comes to the western wine, I only know two types: Red and White. Now, most of my Chinese friends would turn to me when they decide to order some western wine during parties, they often assume that I would have a better taste in wine simply because of the international travels that I did. During such occasions, I always say to my friends that “the more you drink, the less you understand.”

Is China becoming a wine superpower?

China uncorks more than 1.2 billion bottles of wine every year. Most Chinese people, saw fine wine primarily as a way to impress their business clients and guests and reach for French wine when they want to sip something special. Wine from Bordeaux is, by far, the most fashionable beverage among China’s elite. France supplies nearly 40 percent of the total wine imported by China in 2012 and China has also invested heavily in vineyards in France. By August 2012, an estimated 30 chateaux in the Bordeaux region had been bought by Chinese businesses and investors and an estimated 20 deals were in the pipeline.

The interview with Vincent Hess, general manager of Vins Descombe, has really opened my eyes and answered to this question. Just like the Chinese tea is sipping into western healthy lifestyle, many young people in China are trying to copy the western lifestyle, drinking has become a new social language in China. It promotes friendly relations between people during business dinners and parties. Vincent says: “Chinese mainly drink and order wine at restaurants but as the western wine is becoming more available from specialist wine retailers, stores or even supermarkets, they are also starting to drink more wine at home as well. They opt to drink wine because it is seen as fashionable, rather than the traditional alcoholic drinks often preferred by their parents. There is also a lot of talks about red wine is good for health and skin.”

Wine to show off

While there is a small growing group of wine connoisseurs in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, Vincent notes the bulk of wine consumers in China are still in the “beginning” phase, buying bottles to show off to their business partners or as an expensive present.

China has also become obsessed with one source and one source only – France. “Bordeaux was the very first French wine entering the market, and so much money were spent on marketing, so it has become a super brand for Chinese people,” Vincent points out. “When they buy wine, it is always the 1st option if they can afford it. Very often, rich Chinese people would come to Vins Descombe and just want to buy the most expensive wine which we have in the store.”

French really believe “a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”. The common misperceptions about wine that Chinese believe is that wine is only for the rich people, and drinking wine means you are western educated. At Vins Descombe, some Chinese wine consumers even judge a wine by the label, they do not particularly like plain white labels, but tend to prefer red backgrounds and golden writing, as the two colors are regarded as lucky, and suitable for the gift season.

Wine to socialize

East has more of a private, service-oriented mindset, while the West has more of a public, business-oriented mindset. The tea ceremony is an act of service by one person toward another as a fairly private occasion, usually taking place in someone’s home or even in a special room constructed specifically for tea ceremonies. The wine tasting is usually a public occasion with any number of people participating.

“I have been surprised by the increase in the number of people who want to sign up for our wine-tasting club. And more and more Chinese people were able to tell the difference between two wines confidently in a blind tasting.” Vincent says, “Through wine and wine-related events, you can know people with similar interests and similar income. So it is an easy way to make friends and create business connections.” Some of his Chinese client tells him that “If we don’t drink, you don’t get the same atmosphere and things are not as lively.”

“It is quite hard for Chinese to understand when they read ‘hints of blackcurrant leaf’ in the tasting notes, because they don’t have blackcurrant China and there is just so much chaotic wine information online.” Vincent says, “To teach people about wine, you have to speak their language.”

Perhaps very soon, the stereotype of foreigners knowing more about wine than Chinese is about to lose ground.

Pairing Chinese food with French wine

In Vincent’s opinion, wine is like women: really attractive in the outside and so complex in the inside. Sometimes so complex that not able to understand them fully. Food and wine pairing is a complex art that only few are able to master. The best achievement for a good food wine pairing is not only that wine and food goes along but more that wine brings another taste to the dish and brings it to another level, following are the insider’s info from his own experience with Chinese food:

Sichuan: beaujolais chilled or Rhone Valley wine

Shanganese food: white chardonnay or Burgundy

Peckin duck: Beaujolais

“The Chinese are very interested in our wines and buys a lot. They’re looking for companies specialized in producing high quality wines,” said Vincent, “Not only we are selling French wine, we also share with our clients about the French culture and arranged wine trips to France.”

Life of the Feng shui Masters

–          A Real Experience of Chinese Feng Shui World and Its People

Somehow my standard summer holiday of travelling aboard to explore the unknown country has changed into a totally different program of intensive Chinese feng shui study.

It happens when a friend introduced me to a feng shui master who is known for his accurate prediction and I was invited to attend his class. Once there, I found myself at a strange space, the spoken language was almost out of this normal world – classic Chinese that is only used in the ancient times and a lot of talks which I had no clue at all. In my mind, Feng shui was simply associated with furniture arrangement, i.e. where to put our bed or mirrors. Very soon I found there were so many misconception about it and I was of course totally wrong.

Feng shui is an ancient art and science, originated in Chinese astronomy and developed over 3,500 years ago in China. It is a complex body of knowledge that reveals how to balance the energies of any given space to assure health and good fortune for people inhabiting it.

The oldest examples of instruments used for feng shui are Liu Ren astrolabes. These consist of a lacquered, two-sided board with astronomical sightlines. It is determined by relationships of five elements (wu xing 五行) and yin and yang (阴阳) between and among the Three Transmissions (San chuan 三传), Four Classes (Si ke 四课), Twelve Generals, and the Heaven and Earth Plates. Each double-hour of the day contains a cosmic board for daytime and evening divination. The Three Transmissions are derived from configurations of the Heavenly Stem of the date, and the Earthly Branch of the date. The Four Classes are determined in a similar manner. As you might already guessed, it is extremely difficult to learn and I have been struggling with the class.

After 1949, feng shui was officially considered a “feudalistic superstitious practice” and a “social evil” according to the state’s ideology and was discouraged and even banned outright at times. Now in today’s mainland China less than one-third of the population believe in feng shui, since it may have connotations of being a superstitious scam, which arose from improper usage and scams by new practitioners. In the west, feng shui has become an aspect of interior decorating and alleged masters of feng shui now hire themselves out for hefty sums to tell people. Donald Trump, for example, believes his frequent use of feng shui has helped him boost his bank account. “I don’t have to believe in Feng Shui,” the billionaire says. “I do it because it makes me money.” Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, is also a fan of feng shui. His home is said to be located at an ideal point in the hills according to feng shui principles, with a mountain behind it to offer protection and support, and a dragon and tiger on each side of the home is believed to energize it. Lake Washington in front of it rounds out the energy.

Feng shui has now become a kind of metaphysical products…offered for sale to help you improve your health, maximize your potential, and guarantee fulfillment of some fortune cookie philosophy. But is not always looked at as a superstitious scam. People of Chinese descent, believe it is important to live a prosperous and healthy life. To believers, they use it for healing purposes in addition to guide their businesses and create a peaceful atmosphere in their homes. Recently Chinese academics were permitted to research and study the historical feng shui theories behind the design of heritage buildings, such as Fudan and Tongji University.

Now thinking back, perhaps this is my fate? After all, learning feng shui is still somewhat considered taboo in today’s China and few people have the chance of getting close to this subject.

When I started my journey into this mysterious world of feng shui, I began to investigate the truth or falsehood of what I had heard and tried to find out the real answer through studying it. In the end, the most fascinating part was actually the chances of meeting some of the most unique Chinese people during this 3 months study.

“My life was full of up and downs,” Ren Rongfei says, he is a renowned Feng Shui master in Shanghai. During the culture revolution his Shanghainese father was sent to the countryside like millions of young Chinese. Therefore Ren spent most of his life in Jiangsu, but eventually he came back to Shanghai for university study. Ren’s interests of started when he discovered a classmate’s father was practicing Feng Shui as a trade. Immediately he found it was very interesting and started years of study about feng shui learning, thus his life was destined to be changed by it.

Unlike most of the parents in China who worries about the future and desires a stable job for their only child, Ren was lucky enough to have the full support from the family and chances to pursue his dreams and accomplish goals in feng shui and spiritual life.

“Many people come to me to looking for luck, love, wealth, and health, hoping that I could controlling the powerful forces of ch’I (nature engery) to bring success into their lives. What I really does is to allow people truly understand their future, so that they could get ready for what might become and helps them to better prepare for it. In this way, one can maximize their potential and control their own destiny.” Master Ren said this to me, he hopes that more and more people could have the chance of learning how to use feng shui to eliminating every obstacle standing in the way of contentment. Just as the old Chinese adage says: Fortune, Feng Shui, virtue, and learning are the four components that can change one’s life. Feng Shui definitely could place an important part in modern Chinese people’s daily lives.

During my study, I also met with Master Nian Zhe from Ru Yi Zhai – an organization trying to promote traditional Chinese culture. Unlike Master Ren, Nian was born at a family which practiced feng shui for hundreds of years and known as an expert of face reading. Chinese doctors have used the ancient art of face reading since the time of Confucius as an aid to diagnosis and a way of helping their patients. Close observation of the face afforded them a deep knowledge of the personality of their patients. There were also professional face readers during this time that combined the roles of priest, astrologer and counselor. They were well-educated men with great compassion for human frailty. The Chinese understood the concept that the face represents the energies, health and fortune of a person and they wished to live in harmony with these, and with the prevailing energies of the five elements, yin and yang, and the seasons.

According to Ren and Nian, “Feng Shui has been an important component of traditional Chinese culture since ancient times. It is not only a comprehensive study of such things as geology, physiography, and hydrology but it also reflects the traditional Chinese philosophy of avoiding evil spirits and looking for propitious living environments.”

Personally, I think that feng shui is related to everything in our life and we can utilize our Man Power (our attitudes – good deeds, better learning and hard work) and the Earth Power (our environment – favorable Feng Shui) to neutralize the Heaven Power (our time of birth – what we have inherited from our parents and our previous lives). Ultimately, you are the real creator of your own fate. When you change your heart, you change your face and your ch’i; when you change your face and your ch’i, you change your fate.

American Dreams in China (2013)

american dreams in china

It begins in 1985, during China’s national study-abroad craze: a time when undergraduates are infatuated with America and believe it is their only hope of a good future. Three close buddies at Beijing’s prestigious Yanjing University — Cheng Dongqing, Wang Yang and Meng Xiaojun — have comical yet fateful interviews with U.S. immigration officials. Naive country boy Cheng’s visa applications are repeatedly rejected; cinephile/lady-killer Wang foregoes his application to stay home with his American girlfriend, Lucy; and golden boy Meng coasts through his interview and takes off for New York, hoping to land on the cover of Time magazine.

Everyone knows about American Dreams, but more and more, people around me have started to talk about “Chinese Dreams”. This movie is actually based on a real story. There is a private language school in China, known as the New Oriental School. The headmaster is Minhong Yu and he was born into a poor family in a rural area of China, His father’s innovation and determination inspired Yu to consistently pursue his dream. Yu overcame many obstacles in his life, including childhood poverty, two failures of the university qualification exam, a one-year delay in university due to sickness, and several refusals for over sea’s study visas. Although Yu never had a chance to study abroad and fulfill his American Dream, he made up his mind to become an English teacher and help Chinese students learn English so that they could follow their dreams.

Today, Yu is known as the “richest teacher in China”, and the “Godfather of English Training”. He has a network of 57 schools, 733 learning centers, 32 New Oriental bookstores and more than 5,000 third-party bookstores, in excess of 17,400 teachers in 50 cities, as well as an online network with over 8.3 million registered users.

All around me, I have seen and heard numbers of such cases in Shanghai – it is a city full of possibilities and always open to new ideas.

The Unmarried Crisis in China

At the age of 28, right after my one month holiday break in Europe, I got two interesting books from my friend Amanda, one is “I Know How You Become the Leftover”, the other one is “How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You”.

The most fantastic thing is that my friend carefully made notes in these books and highlighted the important instructions. Let’s try to imagine my facial expression at that moment when she handed me these books with excitement. If you know me well, you could tell that I laughed really hard.

“You got to be kidding, does these books really work?” I asked with amusement after going through her notes quickly and thinking it is going to be a nice business if I try to write one similar book as well.

Amanda and I has very different personality which almost feels like the Yin and Yang’s. With the fact that we have known each other for more than 10 years, our difference in life style only made some conversation more interesting and fun. She has witnessed me getting all sorts of rewards at university and some achievements in business, I have been closely updated with all of her dating stories and studies of different men.

In China, beginning at 25, women must “fight” and “hunt” for a partner, so they will not end up alone. By 28, it implies the heat is really on, telling women “they must triumph.” Between 31 and 35, these women are called “advanced leftovers,” and by 35, a single woman is the “ultimate” leftover. Because people talk and the neighbors ask, parents feel social intimidation and start helping their beloved single child. It is easy to sense the pressures my friend has right now, Amanda is older than me, almost 30, surrounded by married woman at work and her parents are much more traditional than mine.

Now with these two books sitting quietly at my desk, I wanted to share more insights with all of you about the biggest crisis in China – it is not the economic slowing down, not the island dispute between China and Japan, it is the unmarried woman and man in big cities.

According to a study from the University of Kent, in ten years China will have approximately 24 million unmarried Chinese men who cannot find wives. That’s more than the current female populations of Taiwan and South Korea combined.

In big cities like Shanghai, there seems to be much more single woman than single man, woman from the country side are coming into the city to full in the need at the growing service industry. And as you might notice, Chinese women have become quite a strong power to be reckoned during the past 10 years. According to Forbes magazine, 11 of the 20 richest self-made women in the world are Chinese. In fact, there is even a phrase for their sudden rise: yin sheng, yang shuai, which means the female (yin) is on the up, while the male (yang) is on the way down.

However, single Chinese women who are older than 30, are viewed for being too picky or too modern and cosmopolitan, or are pitied for being overlooked, and called “leftover ladies” (shengnü). They can also be described as 3S lady – Single, Seventies, Stuck, or the SAS lady – Single, Attractive, Successful.

By now, you might wonder why these women are becoming the leftover ladies while there are so many single man who can’t find a wife? It has something to do with the ABCD rule in Chinese culture, and here is the secret behind everything:

A type means the best in the market, then it follows with B, C, D types.

The ABCD rule goes like that:

A man looking for B woman

B man looking for C woman

C man looking for D woman

When you have A woman and D man, they are pretty hard to match, right?

China also has a convention of men marrying slightly younger women and women marrying slightly older men. A widely publicised survey in 2010 by the government-backed All China Women’s Federation showed that that 92 percent of men questioned believed that a woman should be married before the age of 27.

As beauty is perceived to decrease with age, women’s marriage “shelf-life” is thus shorter than men’s. Therefore a 30 years old man is more likely to date a 22 years old woman who just finished university than his smart and clever female co-worker. It is also an every man’s dream to find a “Bai Fu Mei”(White – Chinese man prefer whiter skin, Rich and Beautiful).

Every Saturday and Sunday, at the Shanghai marriage market, parents, with or without their children’s consent, arrange meetings, dates and potential matches for their kids. Some children, often too busy working to devote time to meeting a soul mate, accept their parents’ help. But its not easy even for a parent, and many also employ matchmakers to help with their search. But according to the local matchmakers, every 1 single male follows every 5 single females.

The history of the market started in 1996, by a small group of elderly people(less than 20 people) trying to help their kids, later on it was reported by the local media. Now by 2012, it is the largest one in China, with more than 1000 people attending in a day. Hundreds of worrying parents gather up, regardless of the weather, clutching single sheets of paper that present their children in simple phrases — age, height, education, job, salary, whether they ever studied abroad and whether they own their own apartment. Chinese parents believed that it is better to set up date offline than online. Over the internet, everyone is richer, taller and better looking. Over here, at least you can meet their parents face to face.

While everything seems to be so material based by the parents view towards relationship, known as “Love is a luxury, not a necessity”, and many are hoping to marry a “Gao Shuai Fu”(Tall, Handsome and Rich), or looking for the “5 Cs”(career, cash, car, Credit Cards and Condominium) and it is no secret that some women in China are gold-diggers and use marriage as a means to acquire wealth, however “shengnu” are generally educated, well-to-do females who support themselves and have less of a need than their mothers and grandmothers did to enter a marriage for economic reasons. Therefore the majority of “Shengnu” are still hanging in there as they don’t want to compromise their hope in finding the true love or at least a bit of chemistry. They no longer views marriage as just being about securing a future through money, a car, and a house. And disagree with the idea of marriage just for the sake of it, even if it means facing pressures from their parents and endless reminders that nobody will want them after 30.

So does Shanghai marriage market work at all? It’s wildly known that it is busier than a wet market, but the success rate is worse than a job fair. But a friend told me a true story.

A 29 years old lady does not have boy friend, and since she is approaching the expiration date, 30 in Chinese standard, her father worries a lot.

So on a Saturday, he went all the way to the marriage market, it took him 2 hours by bus because they live far from the city area. By the time he arrived there, the market almost finished. He rushed – almost run into the center, but accidentally he knocked a woman down.

Feeling sorry and embarrassed, he apologized to her and then they had a chat. It turns out that she had a son who is also 29 years old. So they agreed to let them meet.

Guess what? After 3 months, their son and daughter are happily married. More amazingly, one works as an accountant, another is a banker.

Well, I think we just need a bit of luck in life, right?

As modern Chinese women, there are no more foot-binding custom to keep them from achieve their dreams in life. They are encouraged to pursue education and develop their careers, and be self-sufficient and independent. At the same time, they also desire to follow the traditional path of marriage and family.

For better or for worse, Chinese women are on her own terms now.

A Day with Janny

Sometimes I wondering what does it feel like to spend a day with me for people travel from other countries, what sort of experience do I bring to them, etc. Sometimes I wish to get into other people’s mind and see what will they understand from the prespective which I gave to them during a tour.
This is a post from Brian Krueger, he is an Internet entrepreneur, author, lecturer and business leader on the subject of entry level job search, especially for college students and recent graduates. Brian was most recently Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition for Amazon.com. before departing to become Co-Founder and CEO of Mobile Recruiting Ventures. He previously worked for IBM and Computer Sciences Corporation. 
In 2011, Brian and his wife Kristin spent a day walking around Shanghai with me, and they will return to Shanghai in 2013. I can’t wait to show them more of Shanghai.  They have a very nice blog for their world cruise.
Following is their story of the Shanghai trip in March 2011.
When we woke at 6a, we were already tied up alongside the dock.  I went out looking for a city view or possibly a peek at a sunrise, but we’re pretty boxed in here at the port and it’s still pretty foggy.  Here is the best pic I could get from port side of the ship (we are tied up starboard side):
This pic is of the Yangtze River with the Pudong (new Shanghai) skyline in the background.  Just to put size and scale into perspective, most of those skyscrapers in the background are 40-60 stories and the tower is the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, one of the world’s largest TV towers.  Behind those two boats going further upriver are scores more stretching as far as the eye can see up the Yangtze River.  I was talking to one of the ship’s officers and he said that we arrived so early to get on the other side of the convoy, which he said will continue in one direction for 6 hours, then the boats going in the other direction will go for six hours.  Most of the boats are carrying coal, like the boat in the foreground of the pic above.  Shanghai is the world’s busiest container port.  There is a building with “Cosco” on the top of it right outside our balcony, not sure if that is global headquarters for Cosco, but we see Cosco ships all the time in Puget Sound back home.
Shanghai has a total population of 23 million, so about 3x the size of New York City.  It is the world’s largest city proper in the world (some other cities are larger in their metropolitan area).
It’s going to be a pretty warm day today, although this is a high chance of rain.  Forecast high is 62 and low is 51, which is warmer than normal.  We’ve had a string of good weather throughout this trip.  Yesterday was rainy, but we were at sea, so we were snuggled up inside with plenty of indoor activities going on.  Our port days have all been warmer than the normal average and very dry.  We’ll see if today keeps the record going, in spite of the forecast.
We did a Bible study and video sermon this morning from John Elliott entitled “Freedom from Slavery” then did some walking around Shanghai later in the day.

Janny Chyn was our local walking tour guide for the day.  She gave us a good overview of the city in several different areas.  We went first to Yu Garden.  Here is a gate as we came near (but not yet to) Yu Garden:

These people were doing a form of tai chi that looked kina like our Zumba class in the morning:

This is the more traditional tai chi, being done on the sidewalk with scooters racing by:
They were lined up along the sidewalk, about 10 or so people, all doing tai chi:
Another traditional Chinese building on our way to Yu Garden:
Look at the people in the foreground of the picture with their dogs in the basket of their bikes.  Janny said that this is one of the ways people take their dogs out for a walk in China.
This is a local dumpling maker.  How would you like that job, filling up the dumpling containers?
Lots of the dogs we saw in Shanghai were dressed in a variety of outfits.  I like how this one had both a top and pants:
This is at the entry to Yu Garden, these flowers floating on the water:
Inside Yu Garden, one of the traditional buildings facing the garden.  Note also that the trees are blossoming behind Krissie:
Note the lentil in the doorway above.  Janny said that the Chinese are very superstitious and they build things to keep the evil spirits from entering.  So the bridge to enter is in a Z configuration, because evil spirit can only walk straight and they cannot jump (hence the door lentil).  There is a mirror in the house to keep them away, since if they see their own reflection, they will be frightened and run away.

I liked how this stone entryway framed the garden behind:

You can see more of Yu Garden here.  And note that throughout the day you will see what looks like a “mist” in the background of the pics.  That is actually mist and it lasted the entire day:
There were dragons in several areas of the garden, this wall was topped with one:
There are elaborate lanterns and ceiling decorations in the buildings:
Still in Yu Garden, very picturesque:
This is on the top of one of the buildings, note the warriors and the dragon:
Two dragons facing each other over a gate:
There was a nice koi pond in Yu Garden as well:
Note the stone behind Krissie—that is a very rare and valuable stone, so it was made the centerpiece of what the owner of the garden would face from the nearby building:
Another tree in early bloom:
Look closely at this poodle.  It is wearing shoes:
Do you know what this is in the pic below?
We guessed cable box, Internet connection, phone connection, electrical box, all wrong.  It is a milk delivery container.  One key for the milkman to open it, another key for the local owner.

These children were walking down the local street:

Note that they all wear pants with a flap that allow them to both have their diaper changed easily as a baby and to go to the bathroom as a toddler.

Do you know what this guy is carrying that looks like a big flower pot?

Yes, it is a pot, but not for flowers.  It is a chamber pot.  He had just emptied it and is returning home.

This guy is cleaning out his chamber pot after emptying it:

We then went to Xia Hai Temple where Janny showed us how they lit the incense…
…then bowed at each position in each direction:
This is the entrance to the first temple:
Buddhism in China is a combination of several influences, including Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto.  Lots of Buddha statues:
Afterward we walked through a market area where they were cooking local delicacies:
And selling live chickens  If you look closely, you will see the remains of chickens in the red tub below:
They kill and de-feather the chicken right there at the shop.
This guy was selling a variety of beans as we made our way to the Jewish Ghetto:
There is a mix of different modes of transportation including bicycles, scooters, strollers and walking, all mixed on the same streets:
This is the interior courtyard of the Jewish Ghetto.  Many Jews relocated here between 1933 and 1939, although only one Jewish family stayed in 1949 when the Communists took over:
There is a park in the Jewish Ghetto where the kids were out playing:
The three boys on the right were fighting over the green ball:
These two men were playing a form of Chinese chess:
This is a hot pot restaurant, where you buy food on a stick, then cook it in a hot pot:
We had lunch at Shanghai Min Restaurant:
Shanghai food uses more soy sauce, is sweeter and uses more oil than typical Chinese food.  We had chicken soup, beef tenderloin wok style with peppers, asparagus and Shanghai style fried rice.  It was the highlight of the day for Krissie (mine was cricket wrestling and marriage market, coming up soon).  The lunch was wonderful, the dessert (sticky rice) was awful—yuck!
Even though I didn’t get a picture of it, several times during the day we saw people walking around in just their PJs.  Janny said it’s more comfortable for them to walk around in their pajamas.
Then we went to the cricket and bird market.  Outside they were selling cans for storing your cricket, small ones for normal crickets and large ones for fighter crickets:
Do you know what these are for?
The trays at the front are food dishes and water dishes for your cricket.  The grey and orange pentagon pots in the back are “cricket taxis” for moving them from one place to the other.  Top right are brushes, which are used to tickle the crickets to get them to fight.
There were all sorts of birds for sale in the market, cage after cage after cage:
This is the different type of bird food for sale, made right there on the premises:
Or you could buy a little worm to feed to your bird:
This is cricket food, sold in small packages:
Here are the fighting crickets for sale.  No kidding.  They have cricket fights (looks more like cricket wrestling) and then bet on the matches.  The Chinese like to bet on just about anything, including cricket wrestling.  Janny said this guy was probably there all day examining the crickets to decide which one to buy as his fighter:
He would take out a cricket and put it into this small container, then tickle it with one of the brushes you see on the right.  If the cricket showed its teeth (I didn’t know that a cricket has teeth?), that is a good sign that it will be a good fighter.
This is a cricket match on TV, the one on the right is about to attack the one on the left:
Yes, this is two crickets in a duel to the death (or until one of them breaks a leg), then the match is over:
You could just buy a “normal” cricket to make a cricket noise that you could carry around in your pocket.  Or several crickets to give you a peaceful sound to put you to sleep.  But a fighting cricket would cost anywhere from $1 to over $1,000.
Krissie in front of the more expensive birds.  If they sing and/or talk, that commands a higher price:
Krissie in front of the Shanghai Museum at People’s Square:
Then we went to the Marriage Market:
Parents come to the Marriage Market to make matches for their children.  It’s more than just a few parents coming together to try to matchmake their kids, they are very organized about it, including putting up personal ads about each guy or girl:
Note the pic in the one that is top left.  It’s rare to see a pic.  But you will see age, what type of job they have, how much money they make, where they live, what kind of car they drive, etc.
I had to act like I was taking this pic of Krissie and Janny to get the actual pic I wanted of the people behind them.  Most of the ads are placed on an open umbrella:
This guy was very popular:
When Janny read the ad, she found out that the guy’s son is 28 years old, earns 180,000 RMB/year (about $30K/year) and she said he was a hot commodity.
Janny is 28 and said that when you are over 30 and single in China, you are viewed as being “expired.”  She said that the A guys go for the B girls, the B guys go for the C girls, the C guys go for the D girls, so the D guys and the A girls are left without.  She’s an A girl, so if you know of an A guy in Shanghai who isn’t intimidated by an A girl who has a good education and a great job, contact Janny.  If you need a good tour guide in Shanghai, she’s great.
We rode a subway over to the French Concession.  When we first got on, we were squished in like sardines.  But then we switched to another subway after a few stops and it wasn’t as crowded.  Note the girl and the little boy in this pic working the crowd for money (the girl is singing, the little boy is begging):
We went into a part of the French Concession that used to be narrow back alleys, but is now converted to retail shops and restaurants:
Nice place for young people to hang out:
We ended our day on The Bund, with a view of Pudong on the right of the pic and our ship (very faint) in the middle left of the pic (not the one in the middle of the river, further back).  It’s still very hazy, but we haven’t had any rain:
Janny also took us to the Fairmont Peace Hotel, which has some wonderful art deco design:
Then we walked from The Bund back to our ship (also visible in the background of this pic, but again very hazy):
We ate dinner on the port side of the ship, where we could see the Pudong (new Shanghai) skyline when a brightly colored ship went by:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Image

I am what they call in our village “one who has not yet died”—a widow, eighty years old. Without my husband, the days are long. I no longer care for the special foods that Peony and the others prepare for me. I no longer look forward to the happy events that settle under our roof so easily. Only the past interests me now. After all this time, I can finally say the things I couldn’t when I had to depend on my natal family to raise me or rely on my husband’s family to feed me. I have a whole life to tell; I have nothing left to lose and few to offend.

Sometimes the way you find a good book, is similar to the way you find a good friend. Since a year ago, I wanted to read this book by Lisa See, although I have to mention that the film based on it was a total disappointment 😉

After the foot-binding museum visit, Myrna gave this book to me and said that she wanted to know what do I think about it – actually she wanted to give to me in the last summer but we have been too busy to catch up. However, strangly enough, now it is perhaps the best time to read it as I just learnt everything about foot-binding from the old shoe collector and then lead tours and talks about the three inches lotus feet.

For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me—as a girl and later as a woman—to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life.

Still as usual, Lisa’s writing is all about woman, but it is powerful. Before reading this book, I know nothing about the secret writing of nushu and laotong relation, it seems to be as old as the custom of foot-binding. The struggle and suffering of Chinese woman in old times is just such a big contrast with the amazing life style and freedom that I am enjoying right now.

I finished the book in 2 days. If there was really a past life, I wonder what I could had done as a woman.

“The Story of the Woman with Three Brothers”

A woman once had three brothers. They all had wives, but she was not married. Though she was virtuous and hardworking, her brothers would not offer a dowry. How unhappy she was! What could she do?

She’s so miserable, she goes to the garden and hangs herself from a tree.

The eldest brother walks through the garden and pretends not to see her. The second brother walks through the garden and pretends not to see that she’s dead. The third brother sees her, bursts into tears, and takes her body inside.

A woman once had three brothers. When she died, no one wanted to care for her body. Though she had been virtuous and hardworking, her brothers would not serve her. How cruel this was! What would happen?

She is ignored in death as in life, until her body begins to stink.

The eldest brother gives one piece of cloth to cover her body. The second brother gives two pieces of cloth. The third brother wraps her in as many clothes as possible so she’ll be warm in the afterworld.

A woman once had three brothers. Now dressed for her future as a spirit, her brothers won’t spend any money on a coffin. Though she was virtuous and hardworking, her brothers are stingy. How unfair this was! Would she ever find rest?

All alone, all alone, she plans her haunting days.

The eldest brother says, “We don’t need to bury her in a box. She is fine the way she is.” The second brother says, “We could use that old box in the shed.” The third brother says, “This is all the money I have. I will go and buy her a coffin.”

A woman once had three brothers. They have come so far, but what will happen to Sister now? Elder brother- mean in spirit; Second brother- cold in heart; but in Third brother love may come through.

Elder brother says, “Let’s bury her here by the water buffalo road.” (meaning she would be trampled for all eternity) Second brother says, “Let’s bury her here under the bridge.” (meaning she would wash away) But third brother – good in heart, filial in all ways – says, “We will bury her behind the house so everyone will remember her.”

Lost and Forgotten Shanghai – Years of Heavenly Lights

Most people think that Shanghai has only a short history, starting with the Opium Wars in the 1840’s. However, Shanghai has a much longer history, with its beginnings as a small fishing village. The more you explore the history of Shanghai, the more you will find it  fascinating, as this city has a special power to attract interesting people from all over the world.

To explore these hidden parts of the city, I love to walk around the old town and try to reveal some of the lost stories.

The oldest Shanghai city corner, known as Qiao Family Road, dates back to this amazing city’s origins. This small street is now only 539 meters long, but in the very beginning, it was a small river creek with traditional Chinese houses along both its sides. This area was the heart and soul of Shanghai where temples for the Medicine God and the first local government were located. You can still find 700-year old trees and some century-old family houses here.

The Qiao Family

On Qiao Family Road, there are amazing stories of some of the richest Chinese families in Shanghai. One of the most famous is the well-respected Qiao Family, former governors of Shanghai.

During the Ming dynasty, in 1618, thirty year old Shanghai-born Qiao Yiqi took the national military examination, in which he won first place and became the best warrior in China. Later in life, he was promoted to one of the highest ranking generals. He was also famous for his contributions to classic poetry and traditional Chinese painting. At the age of forty-nine, he lead the battle against intruders from the Jing kingdom. Qiao’s army lost the battle. In the end, he committed ritual suicide by jumping off a cliff as a form of protest against the intruders. You can still find the residential compound of this well-known general on Qiao Family Road. He is the most famous member of the Qiao family.

Qiao Yiqi became established as a heroic example, as his action evolved into a standard epitome of loyalty in Chinese culture. His descendants were forever granted governorship status in Shanghai.

The Richest Chinese Artist

Wang Yiting (also known as Wang Zhen) was born in 1867 and lived in this area as well. He was a celebrated modern Chinese artist of the Shanghai School. Wang Zhen was a master calligrapher, as well as a painter of flowers, birds, personages and Buddhist subjects. He was closely associated with and considered the disciple of the painter Wu Changshuo. Numerous people believe that many of his teacher’s paintings were from Wang Zhen himself.

Apart from being a well-known artist, Wang Zhen had also achieved a very successful business career. From a poor kid working as an apprentice at a local Shanghai framing workshop, he later on become the chief representative for the Japan & China Trading Co. Many Western people, including Einstein, visited his beautiful house in Shanghai.

In 1923, the Great Kantō earthquake occurred in Japan. It was the deadliest earthquake in Japanese history, and at the time, it was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the region. Wang Zhen represented China and donated tons of food and huge amounts of money. The ship he sent was the first one to arrive in Japan to help. He was called “Wang Buddha” by the Japanese. Later, the Japanese emperor sent his best architect to Shanghai and built Wang Zhen the most beautiful Japanese roof on top of his Western-style garden house on Qiao Family Road.

However, Wang Zhen’s association with the Japanese has led to his undeserved lack of respect from his countrymen. When Japan started the war with China, Wang Zhen left everything behind and went to Hong Kong, as he did not wish to work for the Japanese government. He became a monk instead.

Heavenly Light Lane

The most amazing thing is to walk on Heavenly Light Lane, the very first street where Shanghai set up electric street lights. In the very beginning, it was called Bamboo Palace Street. Later, locals regarded the light as sent from heaven that guided people safely home and changed the name of the street. During the Qing Dynasty, this street was very close to the local Chinese government building. It was also near one of the top three gardens in Shanghai, Ri She Garden. Therefore, it was a very important location, once the paradise of the rich and famous.

The Secret Garden

In the end of the Heavenly Light Lane, there is a secret garden house. In the past, it was known as the Secluded Library, the remnant of a lavish garden complex built in the 16th century by a famous scholar. He lived alone in his vast mansion, surrounded by literary treasures. He named his garden house the Secluded Library because he treasured all his books so much. A 12-meter wall separated the house from the outside and was built in a way to deter any fires. The house covered 2,272 square meters and many locals think that it has a total of 99 rooms because its large size.

During the 1900s, the rich Guo family from Fujian, China moved to Shanghai for trading and business. They bought this garden house and made it their home for over 100 years. During the Cultural Revolution, a toy factory, a metal factory and workers’ dormitories came to occupy this once regal courtyard. Many amazing stories have happened inside this house.

Every time I guide people around this neighbouhood, they end up asking me how long this area will be there, as none of them could believe such places still exist in Shanghai. Honestly, I don’t know how to answer such a question, as the old Shanghai has been disappearing everyday and we can only wish and hope for the best.

The World Is Flat

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“When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate”. But, how did the world `become flat’? Friedman suggest the trigger events were the collapse of communism, the dot-com bubble resulting in overinvestment in fiber-optic telecommunications, and the subsequent out-sourcing of engineers enlisted to fix the perceived Y2K problem.

Those events created an environment where products, services, and labor are cheaper. However, the West is now losing its strong-hold on economic dominance. Depending on if viewed from the eyes of a consumer or a producer – that’s either good or bad, or a combination of both.

Compare to the past, it is so much easier for people to connect and meet, therefore ideas can develop into business and free information are available to grab by a simple click.  Perhaps that’s one of the major reason why Asians are making more progress these days. Understanding that Chinese and Indians are coming from a much worse position and there is an uncontrollable desire to catch up and having a better life style.  While the west is getting lazy because people there already got so much to sit on.

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century is an international bestselling book by Thomas Friedman that analyzes globalization, primarily in the early 21st century. The title is a metaphor for viewing the world as a level playing field in terms of commerce, where all competitors have an equal opportunity. As the first edition cover illustration indicates, the title also alludes to the perceptual shift required for countries, companies and individuals to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical divisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

A Bite of China

 

A Bite of China, a televised documentary with the delicacy theme, became a new CCTV evening program since May 14th, 2012. No one would expected that this documentary series soon turned into the hotspot on the screen. Those epicureansgourmet gourmet who promised they would never watch TV began sticking in front of their televisions on time, waiting for this program starting from 22:30 every night on CCTV channel 1.

Never before in Chinese history has a documentary film aroused so much public enthusiasm. In my case, as someone who is trying to stay away from TV, I only heard about this documentary from people around me, over and over again, which caused me to search the 7 series online and started to watch it….so far only made to the 3rd part but it has been an amazing experience and the food has made my mouth watering. At a point, I felt a need to follow the movie travelling around China in order to meet these local people who made these yammy food.

There are many TV programs on Chinese cuisines, but few are like A Bite of China. The majority of Chinese audience sees this program as more than just the regular food show; they see it as a revolutionary program to reflect the value and quality of Chinese food and societal changes. It is a serious documentary providing a unique view of Chinese as well as the relations between people and food and between people and society from the perspective of food.

More interestingly, according to Taobao, China’s biggest online retail website, just five days after the series began to air, nearly 6 million people went to the site in search of various local specialties, particularly those mentioned in the documentary. More than 7.2 million deals were concluded.

Stay in Shanghai – The Hotels

Finding a good Hotel in Shanghai can be tricky, but here is a list of good suggestions:

The Bund Area

Go with Les Suites Orient will be a good choice, it is the largest boutique hotel in Shanghai. The building’s foundation and first four floors date back to 1860, a small yet warmly decorated restaurant and eclectic decor that mixes vintage radios with traditional Chinese pottery and interesting antiques.  The river-facing rooms of this Shanghai boutique hotel provide sweeping views of the entire Bund and the curve of the Huangpu River. The night view is particularly impressive when buildings on both sides of the river are lit up. Inside their room, everything is controlled within a small magic box – placed right next to your bed, which means, you don’t even have to move your leg or left your arm to open the window curtains – this maybe the real reason why I fancy it so much. However, their food is really just so so, but this is the only 5 star hotel in Shanghai which provide umlimited tea(all western tea bags, no Chinese), cookies, internet and nice free hotel rooms for their guests. 

Pudong

About 20 years ago, Shanghainese used to have a saying that “I’d rather have a bed in Puxi(the old Shanghai) than have a house in Pudong”. Well, things in Shanghai just change too fast. Pudong has become a really fancy area in 20 years and it has the best and the tallest hotel in China, Grand Hyatt, Park Hyatt and Shangri La are the top choices.

French Concession

JIA Shanghai, it is a place includes sleek furniture, funky lighting and edgy artwork, super good for your eyes but you will have a hard time to find where is the hotel entrance. URBN boutique hotel is China’s only carbon-neutral hotel. It recycled and sourced every piece of building material locally. It has its own water filtration system for on-site purification. Environmentally friendly cleaning products, light bulbs and shades are used to cut down the hotel’s energy use.

Contemporary Art in China

The more you look into the Chinese Contemporary Art, the more you will find it is interesting and related to politics and the social development in China.

1980s: A Book form the Sky by Xu Bing. Attracting a lot of attention when it was shown at the National Art Museum, it consists of a bunch of books and wall scrolls that appear to replicate ancient literary text but up are comprised of intelligible characters. The work was interpreted by many to be criticism of Communist propaganda.

The “China Avant-Garde” show in Feb 1989 at the National Gallery of Art in Beijing – the first contemporary art exhibition permitted in an official forum. It lasted for only a few hours. Female artist Xiao Lu whipped out a pellet gun and fired two shots into a mirrored sculpture made from two telephone booths, which she created with another artist, Tang Song. Police officers swarmed into the museum. The international media covered the story as an act of rebellion. Xiao was embraced by the Chinese intelligencia as a hero and became the most famous female Chinese artist ever. Some even said the incident was an inspiration for the Tiananmen Square demonstration a couple months later. Later Xiao said that the motivation for her action was not political or aesthetic but emotional. She was expressing anxiety over her relationship ship, and firing at a reflection of herself. Many found this revelation trivialized what was perceived as great revolutionary act.

Cynical Realism” is the name of the movement that sprung up after Tiananmen Square. Typical of this period was an oil painting by Fang Lijun showing a bald man with his back to the viewer, facing towards clonelike men in grey Mao suits; and sculpture by Wang Keping called “Fist,” consisting a wooden bust of a man with a giant hand wrapped around his mouth.

In the early 1990s the art scene in Beijing was centered around an artist colony called Dong Un (East Village) behind the city’s Third Ring Road. There was a very lively underground scene there. In the mid 1990s, the art scene was largely underground and most artists were poor, often living in squalid conditions. Artists were accused of being sources of “spiritual pollution” and worried about being arrested if they talked to foreign reporters. Shows were held in basements in out-of-the-way areas to avoid police detection. If an exhibit stayed open a week that was considered a long time. With money in short supply, censors watching them and no galleries to market their works, they mounted one-night shows that doubled as rent parties in their small apartments.

Artists working in the late 1990s and early 2000s explored the social dislocation and isolation associated with the economic reforms or did various takes on Mao or Chinese iconography. The art market in China has attracted speculators. It was not unusual for the value of pieces to double in a single year. Stories abound about works of art that sold for 50,000 yuan in the mid 1990s and were resold for 3.5 million yuan in the mid 2000s. By one estimate 80 percent of the people who buy Chinese modern art do so for investment purposes. Many are young entrepreneurs or people that made money in the real estate market.

Among the well-known collectors of Chinese art are Hong Kong real estate heiress Pearl Lam; Uli Swigg, the Swiss Ambassador to China form 1995 to 1998 (he amassed a huge collection when paintings sold for a few hundred dollars a piece); Baron Guy Ullens, a Belgian philanthropist, and David Tang, the founder the Shanghai Tang fashion brand. The main auction house in Beijing, Poly Auction, is run by the Poly Group, a former unit of the People’s Liberation Army, and founded by Wang Yannan, daughter of Zhao Ziyang, a high level official who opposed the crackdown ay Tiananmen Square.

In 2006, total sales in the art market in China topped $300 million and was 21 times higher than in 2000. The same year Southbys and Christies sold $190 million of Asian contemporary art, most of it from China, compared to $22 million in 2004. The market peaked in 2007 and 2008 and then collapsed. Princes plunged by more that 60 percent in 2009, hit hard by the global economic crisis, a glut of art and a declining interest in it as collectors were showing more interest in classical Chinese art and porcelain than contemporary Chinese art. Plans to build new galleries and art spaces were canceled, artists with inflated egos were brought back to earth.

M50 is the name of the complex that has become the Moganshan Road Art District in Shanghai. Formerly a set of dilapidated warehouses, the complex, just south of Shanghai’s Suzhou Creek, has been turned into the premier location for Shanghai’s modern art movement.

M97 Gallery: 1st galleries in Shanghai to exhibit contemporary and fine art photography.

ShanghART Gallery: initiated in 1996 by Swiss owner Lorenz Helbling, one of the most influential art institutions and a vital resource to the development of contemporary art in China

island6 Arts Center: founded Liu Dao, a multimedia art group composed of performance, sound, photography and video artists collaborating with engineers to create electronic art.

Studio Rouge: a gallery of contemporary art, presents the best of China’s young artists who reflect the color, energy and vibrancy of their time.

Fall and Rise of China

  • Fall and Rise of China (Audio) Taught by Richard Baum
  • From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History (Audio) Taught by Kenneth J. Hammond

Just finished 2 audio books recently, both contain tons of historical information. While from Yao to Mao made me fall into sleep from time to time, I plan to go through the Fall and Rise of China again, simply because it is too fascinating.

If you are more interested in modern Chinese history, then Richard Baum’s course will give you a detailed understanding of all the core events in China’s century of stunning change, including these major happenings:

* Collapse of the Qing dynasty: You study the interlacing social, political, and economic factors that led to the fall of China’s 2,000-year empire and the implacable call for new political paradigms.
* The Republican era and civil wars: In the wake of the defunct empire, you witness the drama of the short-lived Chinese Republic, followed by political chaos and the long strategic battle between Republican forces and the seemingly unstoppable Communist Party.
* The “Great Leap Forward”: In a landmark episode of the Mao era, the regime’s grand-scale projects to communize agriculture and galvanize industry saw bureaucratic mismanagement leading to tragedy for tens of millions of Chinese.
* The Cultural Revolution: During this bitter era of the 1960s, festering tensions between the Maoist regime and its critics erupted in a brutal campaign of terror and repression against perceived enemies of Socialism.
* China’s post-Mao economic “miracle”: In the later lectures you track the specific reforms and ideological shifts that opened China to global economic engagement and forged its new role as a free-market dynamo.

Lost by director Zhou Xiaowen

Shenzhen, China, the present day. Nineteen-year-old Wang Baihe (Wang Zitong) is a migrant worker from a village in Shaanxi province. She has a baby son from a one-night stand with a man from Hong Kong and a small income from making Chinese decorative knots at home. Her dream is to open a noodle restaurant and “make lots of money and become a city person” but she finds it difficult to find regular employment because of her baby boy. Her story emerges through interviews with journalist Liu Nan (Lü Liping), who is writing a book about her. When Baihe discovers her son has congenital heart disease, she tries desperate ways to raise the RMB80,000 (US$12,000) for the operation, helped by her friend and fellow migrant worker Hu Jinling (Zhao Yaqi). 

Excavate the issue of humanity

At the moment,  four types of films prosper more so than others within the current context of the Chinese film market: patriotic “red” movies, crime thrillers, action movies and romance stories. There are few films that truly concern common people and disadvantaged groups such as women and children. Sometimes I wonder if there will be a situation where these movies disappear altogether.

Eating bitterness

China is now experiencing the fastest economic growth in recorded history. Little known however is the fact that millions of young women from poverty-stricken areas have migrated to the more developed coastal regions trying to make it in the cities. Many of them have to endure all kinds of miseries and humiliations in order to live better lives. Some of them become rich men’s mistresses while others work 16 hours a day at the cost of their health. There are also a great number of them who become single mothers. The population of such single mothers has reached three hundred thousand and the number is still growing.

Though intimate in its portrayal of a village girl’s yearnings for success in the big city despite her increasingly dire social circumstances, Lost (Baihe) offers a thought-provoking case study that suggests that this is not just the story of one fictional woman, but of a vast (and largely unspoken) cross-section of modern Chinese society.

Here is a better idea: Chinese official government estimates put migrant workers in China at 221 million (16.5 % of the total population) and expected to grow another 100 million over the next 10 years.

There, but for the grace of God

Watching this movie, I can’t help but think that this could happen to me or just any person. We are who we are because of where we are, when we are born and who we know. In the end of the movie, we have 3 totally different endings and all seems true and highly possible.

Hunting for Congyoubing

A cong you bing or green onion pancake is a savoury, non-leavened flatbread folded with oil and minced scallions(green onions).  It is crispy and doughy, with layers of fragrant spring onion that are at once salty and sweetly caramelised. The trick to cooking this is in the creation of paper-thin layers, sprinkled with finely sliced spring onion and salt. Whilst the outside crisps and browns from its contact with the oil, the layers fill with steam and cook the bing from the inside out, giving it that perfect consistency of crunch, chew and moisture.

The Chinese Legend

There is a legend in China that pizza is an evolution of green onion pancake, brought back to Italy by Marco Polo. Here is one version of the legend:

Marco Polo missed green onion pancakes so much that when he was back in Italy, he tried to find chefs willing to make the pancake for him. One day, he managed to meet a chef from Naples at a friend’s dinner party and persuaded him to try recreating the dish. After half a day without success, Marco Polo suggested the filling be put at the top rather than inside the dough. The change, by chance, created a dish praised by everyone at the party. The chefs returned to Naples and improvised by adding cheese and other ingredients and formed today’s pizza.

Follow the Smell

At  the corner of Maoming road Nanchang road in Shanghai, there is a famous street food stall, locally known as the A Da Congyoubing. Each congyoubing cost RMB3, it is actually the most expensive bing in Shanghai, usually it only cost RMB1 or 2. I guess quality comes with a price.

A Da, the congyoubing master only makes 300 bings every day and it takes 20 minutes to make 10 each time. So you will need to learn to be patient to wait for at least 1 hour as the line is just so long.

My special hunting trip for congyoubing was really funny. Since I am so lazy and slow in the morning, I have to camp at my friend’s place nearby the market to make sure I could arrive there by 7:30am, and then I promised my mom that I will bring home 10 bings for her as she did wonder why it is so special.  Actually, I have been planning this for weeks, everyone around me has been waiting for their share of the best cong you bing.

When the finally time arrives, the funny thing happened, A Da decided to have his day off on Wed…..so my effort went in vain and I had to find something else for my empty stomach – bad luck!!!

C’est la vie ~ life sometimes feels like a joke.

The Rich Hunchback Guy

A Da is his nick name – in Chinese it means big brother. He is really a strange looking guy, when he was young, he hurt his back and that’s how he become a hunchback. Since he is disabled, he could not find good job and so he spent RMB20 which was a lot of money at the old time to learn how to make congyoubing. Later he has been selling congyoubing to make a living for over 30 years. Now at the age of almost 60, he has provided his son a good life and bought 3 downtown apartments in Shanghai’s French concession.

In short, he is a millionare now and does not need to work hard and make congyoubing any more. So what makes him get up everyday at 4am and finish by 2pm? A passion for his food, I guess.

At his spare time, he love to sing songs and smoke 😉 After 10 years, he said that he will retire and travel around the world. But he is worried that no body will make congyoubing like he does any more.

The Afterwards Story

After my failed attempt, I have been receiving reports from friends about their experience with the congyoubing:

Nat – the chef: I went to the cong you bing place the other day. Waited 1.5hrs! They are certainly very good, but not worth waiting so long. I bought six and can report that they heat up pretty well for breakfast the next day.

Bobbie – my friend: It is so so so good! His cash register is an honor system, self pay and make your own change system. Amazing thing to contemplate is that his stove looks like a half barrel. It looks like he has gas tanks that run into the barrel. He knows his stove perfectly – how to regulate the heat, which are the hotter and cooler parts, how long to keep each congyoubing in which part of the grill. He measures nothing, but each congyoubing is perfectly shaped with a uniform size. He puts the first ones in the middle and knows how long each side gets and how hard and how often to press them. After the ones in the middle are just right, he moves them over to the edge to finish and puts new ones in the middle. The kitchen he cooks in is his kitchen. When you go up to take his picture, he smiles and says “ni hao”… He does not like for people to buy and then resell. He only makes 10-20 at a time. Many people who wait in line buy all 20 to take to family or colleagues in the offices they work in.

Chinese Umbrella

Perhaps I was born as the kind of person to save the Chinese umbrella industry. It is embarrassing to admit that I lost at least one umbrella every year. Today I almost lost my umbrella for 2 times. 

Thanks god that these umbrellas are so cheap. Otherwise I will need to find one with GPS.

The history of Chinese Umbrellas

As early as 3500 years ago, umbrella had emerged in China. Regarding the invention of umbrella, there are many folk legends, among which the most widely spread one is the story about Luban inventing umbrella. According to the story, umbrella was invented by Luban’s wife out of care and concern about her hardworking husband. As the folklore tells, daily meals delivered by Luban’s Wife Yun were often spoilt by downpours. So Luban built pavilions along the road. Later on, as inspired by children using lotus leaves for rain shelter, he invented the first umbrella by making a flexible framework covered by a cloth.

In ancient China, the umbrella was not only a day-to-day appliance, but also with sociological significance. In late Wei Dynasty, umbrella was used in official ceremonies and rites and was called the Luo Umbrella. It is the symbol of rank and status as the official robe. For example, officials of the Han Dynasty above the third rank used Green Umbrella and emperors in Song dynasty used yellow and red umbrellas while the common people would carry blue ones. Therefore, umbrellas were used in the inspection tours of emperors or senior officials in ancient times to show protection over the people. As umbrella indicates wealth and honor, it is often used in wedding ceremonies in China. Umbrella is often used in opera, song and dance, and acrobatics art as well.

Shanghai taboo – umbrella gift

Since I lost my umbrella so often, I always wanted to have someone gift me an umbrella. However, this probably will never happen. In Chinese, the word umbrella sounds very similar to separation, so the gift of an umbrella symbolizes a desire to end a relationship.

Peace Hotel: High-Tea

The famous green roof Peace Hotel
 
China may be a land of contrasts, of high rise cities and rice paddies tilled by oxen, but few cities offer the varigated past of Shanghai — colonial port city with a history of war, capitulation, blockades, and stunning architecture that spans almost a 100 years of style and design. One of the icons of that past is the Peace Hotel which started life as the Cathay Hotel, built by Victor Sassoon as part of his real estate empire in Shanghai.
 
The Peace Hotel Lobby
 
The original hotel officially opened on August 1, 1929. It was widely known as the “Number One mansion in the Far East “, due to its prime location along the Bund and for its luxury, including the distinctive copper-sheathed roof 77 meters above ground, white Italian marble floors, and priceless Lalique glass artwork. It was also the tallest building in Shanghai and hosted many famous guests over the years including Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, General Marshal, Noel Coward and President Bill Clinton. It was known for its Old Jazz Bar and band, which has been resurrected and plays again today. From 1949 to 1956 it was used for government offices, but in 1956 it resumed its use as a hotel, the name being changed from the Cathay Hotel to the Peace Hotel. A major 3 year renovation was just completed in 2010 to bring it back to its 1920′s glory.
 
The gorgeous high tea experience
 
Yesterday, I ended tour at the Peace Hotel with a lovely British couple – Michael and Adrienne, they have been married for 49 years. Adrienne’s eyes lit up when she discovered that it is still the high tea time in the hotel’s Jasmine Lounge. In her words, it is the perfect way to recalling Shanghai’s ‘Paris of the Orient’ and its fame for having introduced European high tea to the city in the 1930s.
 
It was a lot for tea, can’t find any space for dinner afterwards
 
To me, I could never resist good food and it is wonderful to have British people confirming that the quality of the high tea in Shanghai is as good as what they have in London. The other thing is that you don’t really have to dress up to enjoy it 😉

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