Saturday, January 21, 2012

Good Luck in the Year of the Dragon - Now Give me the Money!

Chinese New Year is upon us. Tomorrow night, the Chinese New Year celebrations will start to celebrate the arrival of the year of the dragon. Out with the rabbit, we're now into the dragon.

Dear friends, I wish you 龙年吉祥, or lóng nián jí xiáng, good luck in the year of the dragon!

Thomas got a hongbao, a red envelope, at school. The little red envelopes contain money (or in Thomas' case a chocolate coin) and are passed around to give each other good luck.

I just learned that the fireworks are used to scare off the evil spirits. Interesting. I knew there had to be a reason to blow a bit of money for some noise and air pollution :-)  

Our house is also appropriately decorated, thanks to our ayi Ms Li. Hopefully the decorations will bring us lots of fortune in the coming year! 

Welcome to 203 Beijing Riviera. The red banners are all supposed to bring in happiness, money, and luck. Hurrah!

Good luck to us.

Lots of money please! 

Seriously, the Chinese are kind of into the "give me money."  One of their New Year's greetings is also "Gōng xǐ fā cái, hóng bāo ná lái", which means "Happy New Year, now give me a red envelope (with money).  :-)

Can these bring good luck too?

Come in! Come in!

In het nederlands: Het jaar van de draak begint maandag. Ons huis is alvast mooi versierd (net als alle Chinese huizen) om al het geluk en geld (!) ons huis in te halen! Wij halen die stroken papier aan het eind van de festiviteiten (over zo'n twee weken) wel weer naar beneden, maar veel Chinezen laten ze gewoon het hele jaar hangen. Dat brengt misschien wel extra veel geluk. Gelukkig nieuwjaar allemaal!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Greetings from Macau

Because one Special Administrative Region (Hong Kong) is not enough, on our recent trip we also made a little side-step to Macau, China's other newly acquired property. It's a two-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong, though it feels like you spend the same amount of time getting through all the customs lines, getting out of Hong Kong and into Macau.
Macau has a long history, but in 1557 was settled by the Portuguese. (Interestingly enough, according to Wikipedia, those Portuguese were survivors of a self-inflicted massacre of the Portuguese by the Chinese. ) Portuguese is still one of two official languages--the other one being Chinese--so it was funny to see the various street names and signs in Portuguese.

Paul might have been the only one who actually understood them because it didn't look like Portuguese was still much of an active language. Our guide, who had grown up in Macau, didn't speak any. He said that while they had to learn it in school, everyone focused on English. (His English was excellent.) Our guide's Chinese, by the way, was Cantonese, which is very different from the Mandarin Chinese I've been learning. Cantonese is spoken in the South of China, such as in Guangdong province, just a little swim across the channel from Macau. (Which is how our guide's dad had made his (back then illegal) escape to Macau.)

Trying to recover from so much language education, we had lunch in a cute Portuguese restaurant. Lots of colors, four pairs of friendly eyes focused on "the foreigners," and taste dishes. We had ensalada mixta (mixed salad), peixe (fish), and camarão (shrimp).
The afternoon we zipped around the Macau, enjoying the views and soaking up the mix of cultures.
The ferry from Hong Kong. We arrived at a part of Macau that is on China's mainland, but there are bridges to additional islands that are also Macau. I think these islands mostly have hotels and casinos--Macau today is most famous for gambling--but we didn't really explore those parts. We were interested in the old Portuguese culture, hoping to feel a little bit like in Brazil :-) 

Our guide and driver for the day.

In The Netherlands? Like Las Vegas, Macau seems to want to be all things at once. Here we are in one of the casino/shopping areas. It was around 11:00 am and this place could not be more dead. We quickly took a couple pictures and left.

Side-walk Portuguese style.

I had bough some fish food (why?) so I was happy we finally came across some hungry fish.

The fish themselves.

The Portuguese restaurant. Nice and colorful, just what I had hoped for.

We went up in the Macau tower to get a good view of the city. No Brazilian beaches though.

 The tower was pretty cool. I still feel my stomach sink if I think about standing on just a couple inches of glass, high above the ground.

 Those with stronger nerves could actually go bungee jumping of the Macau tower.

No problems for this guy. 

After the Macau tower we visited the old A-Ma temple. The story goes that the temple was called "A-Ma Ge," (A-Ma temple), which the Portuguese picked up and changed into the name "Macau."

Wall paintings on the way to the temple give you helpful advice for life.
Wishes for good luck at the temple.

The local tourist agency welcomed us with a lion (or dragon?) parade.

No animals were killed during the production of this movie.

A-Ma temple.

If you like incense, this is the place to be. This is the first time I saw it in these huge triangles. I thought of buying one to take home--that would teach those mosquitos a lesson.

Temple fun.

Talking to the gods. I once learned that without the incense, there's no temple. The building, altars, and statues are nice, but the gods (presumably high up in the sky) really need to see the lit-up tip from the incense to see where the temple is and be able to communicate with you. (I might remind the gods that at home I have a bed light.)

 Come'on baby light my fire.

More praying. ("I hope my mom will let me play the Wii when we get back from vacation."

And some more. Can't skip a Buddha.

Walking out of the temple, back down to the square.

Friend Randy from the U.S.

Local culture :-). In fact, it was funny: from the temple you could look down upon the square and see the Chinese lions dancing on the Portuguese-style black and white floor, against a backdrop of reindeer and Santa.

 The ruin's of St. Paul's church, a Portuguese cathedral from the 16th century.

With your back to St. Paul's church. 

I just think this is so brilliant. Where in the world do you have Portuguese and Chinese on one sign?

And this, hahaha. Mr. "Yip Sek" has translated his salon name into Portuguese. Doesn't sound like Mr. Sek himself has Portuguese heritage.

And isn't this just like Curitiba, Brazil?

I wouldn't have included a picture of this normally, but it's just so rare to see this these days. Growing up there'd be one on every square, classroom, and home (I am not even talking about church). Just a little trip down memory lane.
At the end of the day, we left Macau to go back into China, to Guangzhou. It was the weirdest experience and the first--and probably only--time I walked into China.  On the other side, we took a looooong ride to a train station, and hopped on the train to Guangzhou. Incidently, this was the desolate train station I reported about earlier.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Greetings from Hong Kong

Wow, Hong Kong.

I had no particular thoughts about the city before I went there just after Christmas, but I loved it. What a nice place. Sure, a bit expensive (a bit much) but the atmosphere is great. The weather was nice, and the scenery great. Plus, it's so easy to get around. Buses, taxis, metros and ferries can just take you anywhere.

Although Hong Kong has been a part of China again since 1997, it is Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region), so we had to go through customs to go from China to Hong Kong.

What surprised me was that while 95 percent of the city is ethnic Chinese, the city still is so different from other Chinese cities. I guess the British have had some influence beyond shipping opium to China or eating fruit cake at Christmas time.

Looking down to Hong Kong island from Kowloon. (Kowloon is part of Hong Kong also, but it's on the main land, not Hong Kong island.)

Taking the Peak tram up the hill -- a classic ride that tourists have made since the tram opened service in the 1880s. The Peak was the place to escape the city's hot summers.

The original way to travel up the Peak.

View from the top.

Local resident.

Hanging out at Stanley Park.

Another "city of lights."

A visit to Ocean Park.

 Oh, where to go first?

I thought Ocean Park had an excellent layout and lots of green, lots of fun, and lots of animals. To get from one side of the park you could take a cable car up and over the mountain.

A closer look at sealife. (or "proC-life"?)

Fun for young and old!

Fun for black and white. (Do you think he knows he is in a zoo?)

You can take the metro anywhere! -- even home.

In het nederlands: In de kerstvakantie bezoeken we Hong Kong. Ik vind het een erg leuke stad. Het is duidelijk dat Hong Kong wel Chinees is... maar toch ook weer helemaal niet. De stad doet toch heel anders aan dan andere steden in China. Het was ook heerlijk weer en we konden lekker wat bijkomen van de koude winter in Beijing.