Spring Festival in China is the most important holiday of the year. Many Chinese return home from distant countries as part of their traditional filial duty to pay respect to elder family members.
As I prepared for this trip to China there was a small snag in the plan. Good friend, Lana offered to come and stay with Mother again. It is nice that Lana is retired now and she also gets on well with Mom (who has a tendency to be somewhat difficult), but the start of her trip from New Orleans was delayed. Apparently, there were weather issues in the Mid-west and this caused her flight to be cancelled. She tried to change to another flight or a different airport, but nothing was available. Her home is about 2 hours drive from the airport and to drive home and wait would mean she would just about get home and need to turn around and go back to the airport. Truly a good friend to endure this kind of hassle. Thus, she waited patiently at the NOLA airport until a later flight. Instead of arriving in PA around 4:30 PM on the 1st of February she arrived at 9:30 PM. Thanks Lana! Her late arrival interfered with my normal sleep pattern and thus I was not able to get a good rest that night.
Additionally, Lana and I had only a day together before I departed on my trip. I left home on Wednesday the 3rd of February at 4:45 AM and arrived Beijing on Thursday at 3:00 PM. The journey began with a bus ride to Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) in Manhattan then, subway to Penn Station to catch a Jersey Transit train that connected with the Air Tram into Newark Airport. This first leg of the journey consumed approximately 4 hours, but allowed me to pass through the security check point by 9:30 AM with enough time to have a good breakfast before take-off.
When I arrived at the boarding gate, I learned that my flight was over-booked and United Airlines was actually seeking people to surrender their seats. Their offer was to reschedule for the next day and a $400 cash incentive. After spending all morning just getting to the airport I had no interest in their offer. I had only carry-on luggage, but as I checked in for boarding I was told there was not enough room for my case and it needed to be sent as checked baggage. This did not please me, because I intentionally pack light to avoid having to deal with waiting for checked baggage after the 14 hour long flight. Fortunately, my suitcase appeared on the receiving carousel after disembarking and passing through customs.
Echo met me at the arrival gate. She had landed earlier that day after a grueling 3 week, two continent business trip. I was grateful to see her as always. We spent the first night in Beijing to avoid becoming too fatigued at the end of our respective journeys. I was not sure what to expect in terms of weather as I’ve never been to China in winter. To my surprise the sky was bluer than any other time I’d been in the capital city. Though, it was quite cold and the stiff wind made it feel much colder.
We arrived early at the train station and sought to change our reservation. Trains were crowded due to the holiday but we were able to upgrade to business class. As I’ve noted before, the high-speed trains are clean and quite comfortable, but this was truly luxurious after being cramped on a stingy airplane seat the previous day. I slept for most of the 90 minute trip to Jinan. Price of the upgrade was substantially more, but, for me it was well worth the comfort.
For the first night (2/5) in Jinan we had dinner with some of my students.
It was a nice time as always.
The menu included some interesting dishes; Jellied pig’s feet, sea intestines, egg with chives and tomato, hearts of celery with clams*, bean noodle with squid, scallops and shrimp. eggplant with squid, a battered and deep fried shrimp dish, green beans with mushrooms*, and finally, dumplings with either shrimp or pork*.
Items with an asterisk after them (*) = my favorites. The restaurant name – Shunhe Seafood. This restaurant is part of a hotel that has several good reviews on Trip Adviser website. Service was good, but few of the staff speak English.
On day three (2/7) of my visit we got together with Echo’s cousin, Irene, her husband Nemo and Irene’s family for a Cantonese feast. The menu from this meal was quite interesting. Here is the list of items to the best of my memory; a salad of frissee (curly endive) and cherry tomatoes with a light vinaigrette*, fava beans in a sweet pineapple sauce, roast duck with sweet fruit sauce*, butterflied shrimp and garlic, slice beef shank with peanuts, spicy hot-pot with shrimp, chicken with squid in garlic sauce, a whole fresh water fish (carp I think), frog with melon and pineapple, leeks and celery with squid, sea cucumber soup*, snow peas with black fungus and celery, beef with oregano, sweet potato in coconut sauce.
We visited Da Ming Lake and Five Dragon Park during this trip and both of these parks were filled with decorations for the Lantern Festival. As you may notice the blue sky in these pics, the weather was pleasant.
The photo at right is the Temple of Transcendence at Da Ming Lake.
After the walk around Da Ming Lake, We spent the evening preparing traditional foods at the home of Echo’s Baba. Young and old alike share in the making of these long standing family recipes. The main item was a style of dumpling called Bao Zi.
The idea of preparing a large amount of food on the eve of the Chinese New Year is to allow everyone to have time off from cooking duties for the next few days – a true holiday.
I was charged with the duty of thinly slicing the lotus root and then, slitting each slice to allow for the meat filling. These slices are then stuffed with the pork and garlic chive filling, battered and deep fried. They were delicious, but I am not keen on re-heating deep fried foods.
The various dumplings were filled with different stuffing; one was a mix of dried dates, chopped walnuts, a bit of pork fat and a touch of sugar–very tasty! Another filled with ground pork and chives, another that I did not care for was a mix of flour, pork fat and some sugar. Bland and dry for my tastes.
It was fun to do some of this food prep with Baba and young Mr. Pie.
The following day we had a lunch feast with two of Baba’s sisters and the daughter, her husband and their baby girl who was quite shocked by my beard and deep voice.
The Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is a time of family reunions and prayer to ancestors. Some of the traditions included leaving gifts like an orange and glass of wine for relatives who have passed. This is sort of an insurance that their ghost will not haunt the family if they return. The fireworks go on late into the night and start early in the day and these are said to keep away evil spirits. It is forbidden to do any cleaning on the first day of the New Year for fear of sweeping away good fortune. Cutting your hair in the first lunar month is also said to bring bad luck for the remainder of the year. The color red is significant to Chinese people during the New Year Holiday. It is considered a lucky color and represents loyalty, success and happiness. Red underwear is often given as a gift between couples. Buying new clothes on the first day of the new year is also meant to bring good luck. If it is your zodiac year red is to keep away benming nian or bad luck and some article of red clothing should be worn everyday of the year. Children receive hong bao (the red envelope with money) from their elder relatives. The Chinese people hold many superstitions and follow a lot of curious customs and traditions especially during the new year. Follow this link to read about the Legend of the Lantern Festival. It is also important to avoid using curse words during the new year or you may bring bad luck to your uncle. All of my uncles are long dead so I don’t have to worry about that one!
I attended several other big dinners with students and met friends and other relatives of Echo. The many other foods we shared are now too numerous to remember. Many thanks to Messi and Jennifer. It was nice to see them again and Messi promises to get back on a regular study schedule.
The hectic schedule finally caught up with me by the 12th of February and a couple of days with extremely poor air quality combined with my fatigue of travel and busy meeting new faces every day, had worn down my immune system. I caught a very nasty head cold that eventually developed into a chest cold with a lot of bad stuff coming up. Flying home was even less enjoyable with plugged up sinuses.
I also finally connected with Ellen Zhang. I was very happy to see her after all the connection issues I had with my phone. The phone issue was such a nuisance because I had purchased an unlocked iphone, but when I took it to an Apple store in Jinan to find out why I had such troubles, they informed me that the phone was not “un-locked”! This explained why I was not getting messages and could not access internet. Very annoying and embarrassing when I tell people I will contact them but I can not because of technical issues with the phone. Sorry Ellen, but glad we could have afternoon tea.
After the two days of extreme pollution the winds blew in a little snow storm. Much of the remainder of this trip is a blur due to my head-cold.
However, on my last night before flying out, Echo and I had a lovely dinner with two of my friends (former students who have been to my home) Vivian and Julia. It is always great to see them and we shared a nice evening with delicious food and lovely conversation.