Christmas in Beijing – a 外国人 (wàiguórén – foreigner’s) perspective

We had not lived here long by the time Christmas came round last year, but I don’t remember there being very much in the way of Christmas things about, a few small decorations, but not much else. So this year, we were not expecting too many things to be happening to remind us about Christmas, but we have realised that, in some ways, we were very wrong!

From a commercial side at least, it seems that here in the area where 1 on 1 is, Christmas is a fairly big thing. The first thing that gave us a clue was when various shops started to put some decorations in their windows. Then the supermarkets (超市- short for 超级市场 – well we are studying Chinese after all!) started to sell Christmas decorations and trees. Seeing lots (and I mean lots!) of shop assistants wearing ‘Santa’ hats is something we are finding pretty strange, but perhaps most strange is to hear the music that is played in many of the places we go, that certainly I as a westerner can’t keep myself from humming along to. The songs range from older classic secular Christmas themed songs to modern Christmas themed songs (What I think of as the very British ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ being the one I was most surprised by). There are also scores of traditional Christmas Carols (with great lyrics!) to be heard – perhaps even more so than we would have heard in shops at home!

When it comes to personal homes we, unsurprisingly, have not seen much in the way of evidence of Christmas coming. The only obvious Christmas tree we have seen in a home is in that of a Westerner. Speaking to some Chinese friends, some feel that Christmas is important, but for others, they like the excuse to get together with their friends, but beyond that it is not important. We have already been to two Christmas parties, with a lot of Chinese friends there, and have another one to go to yet, so this does seem to be true!


Chinese New Year 2011 – Year of the Rabbit

the year of the rabbitIn 2011, the traditional Chinese New Year starts on Feb 3rd and it will be the year of the Rabbit (兔年 tù nián). And the evening of Feb 2nd is the most important night, Chinese New Year’s Eve – (除夕 chúxī), and then next day Feb 3rd is the first day of Spring Festival. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, as tradition, Chinese families come together for a celebration dinner – (年夜饭 niányèfàn), some traditional dishes include dumplings – (水饺/饺子 shuǐjiǎo/jiǎozi ), fish(鱼 yú) and Nian Gao (年糕 niángāo). What’s else is obvious, you can see and hear everywhere, yes, it’s firewords/fire crackers -(烟花/鞭炮 yānhuā/biānpào), so loud and noisy, you may not like it, but it’s so much fun to watch, if you ever get a chance to play firecrackers, you would love it.

How people would greet each other during Spring Festival? Some the most common greetings probably are:

兔年快乐 – tù nián kuài lè

新春快乐 – xīn chūn kuài lè

过年好/新年好 – guò nián hǎo

恭喜发财 – gōng xǐ  fā cái

Lastly, we’d like to share a funny video made by some foreigners in Beijing, To say “Happy New Year” by singing several popular Chinese songs, creative and fun, pay attention to last part. LOL.


New Year in Haerbin-Ice and Snow Festival

New Years in Haerbin

-This is a guest post written by Joel and his wife Chris who are currently studying Chinese in Beijing at 1on1 Mandarin. In this post, they shared their experience and some pictures from Ice and Snow Festival in Haerbin.

To celebrate New Years in China, that is Jan. 1st New Years, my wife and I decided to go to Haerbin and see the famous Ice Festival. Truth be known, it was early December when suddenly one evening while on-line she told me what it cost to stay there at a hotel she found in her whole-hearted effort to get both of us out of Beijing for New Years.

She succeeded.

So we took the fast train to Haerbin and while waiting in the train station, this young Thai couple approached us and speaking fair English, they told us they were on vacation and didn’t speak any Chinese. Our encounter with them is a story in itself as I served as there translator to help deal with a group of young men who were staying together in several sleeper units and who had strategically placed there 88 year old grandfather in the Tai couple’s cabin.

Let’s just say it worked out.

We arrived to the expected freezing weather and a light snow, checked into our hotel by 8:30AM and went out exploring for breakfast. After breakfast and a long nap, we went to the famous Zhong Yang Da Jie, shopping street. It was beautiful for the ice sculptures and Russian architecture. It was a fun relaxing afternoon with two stops for coffee and hot chocolate, and the discovery that all Russian stores in Haerbin basically sell the same six things. When you’ve seen one…

We found our hotel staff really helpful. The first morning we asked about how to get to the Bing Deng (ice festival) by bus. They explained well and after a great Russian dinner at the shopping street we found our way to the bus stop, boarded and were on our way.

The Bing Deng (Ice-Lantern show) was expensive but worth the 300RMB admission. The horse carriages inside however, are not worth the 100RMB for the approximate 10 minutes it takes for them to circle around. The ticket seller explained the driver only gets paid by the customers, so every time you stop and get off, these guys beg for money, when you pick up another one to travel a little further you face another driver begging for a tip. O well.

Afterward, we, along with about 20 other Chinese tourists, discovered that the return bus that was suppose to run until late was already finished at 7:30. We all walked together for about 1km to the main bus stop. We had no clue what bus to take back, so I asked the driver where it would drop us. A wonderful Chinese woman and her daughter told us to get on the bus, so we did, and in the end, they had the bus stop at their apartment, hailed a taxi, took us back to our hotel, and then for a walk to St. Sophia’s Church and then back to our room where we exchanged personal info.

Obviously, this was totally unexpected.

This turned out to be a great new relationship. The next day we met the daughter, a wonderful seventeen-year old aspiring nurse with a loving and gracious spirit. We spent the day together at the Haerbin aquarium and met her Mom again for a classic dongbei meal with tons of meat and potatoes. The next day, our last, we spent shopping, visiting the cathedral, buying traditional dongbei snacks to take back to our friends in Beijing, and enjoying the crisp cold air of Haerbin. We met our new friends at the hotel and they took us out to dinner at the exact same restaurant.

Then sadly we had to part and make ready to catch the train back.

It was truly a special experience. Neither one of us would trade it.

My dear wife was right in her ambitions. I love her for that.

Here are some pictures taken from Ice and Snow Festival.

The Digital Story of The Nativity

I’d like to share this creative, funny and cute story of the Nativity to say Merry Christmas-圣诞快乐!

How social media, web and mobile tell the story of the Nativity.
Christmas story told through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, Google Maps, GMail, Foursquare, Amazon…

Times change, the feeling remains the same

If unfortunately you are in mainland China, here is the video on Tudou

Tomb Sweeping Day – 清明节 (Qīng Míng Jiē)

China Daily Tomb Sweeping Day’s Chinese name, 清明节 (Qīng Míng Jiē), literally means “clear bright festival”. Clear and bright refer to the arrival of spring. However, Tomb Sweeping Day is also known as Cold Food Day 寒食节 (hán shí jiē). Why? Read on to find out.

traditions.cultural-china.com清明节 (Qīng Míng Jiē) is celebrated on April 5th, 2010 . It is a time to honor ancestors who’ve passed on by visiting their graves, clearing off debris or weeds, and offering flowers, food and incense at the grave site and the ancestral altar at home. 清明节 (Qīng Míng Jiē) is also a time for flying kites of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Many Chinese also burn paper money 烧纸钱 (shāo zhǐ qián) in order to send money that the deceased can use in the underworld. Some also burn cars, houses, and other useful objects to send them to the other side. (By the way, note that 烧纸钱 (shāo zhǐ qián) is not the same thing as 烧钱 (shāo qián), which means to spend money rashly. Don’t get it mixed up!)paper house

But what’s the deal with the cold food?

According to English Bus Club’s blog post on 清明节,

“Qing Ming is popularly associated with Jie Zi Zhui, who lived in Shanxi province in 600 B.C. Legend has it that Jie saved his starving lord’s life by serving a piece of his own leg. When the lord succeeded in becoming the ruler of a small principality, he invited his faithful follower to join him. However, Jie declined his invitation, preferring to lead a hermit’s life with his mother in the mountains.

Believing that he could force Jie out by burning the mountain, the lord ordered his men to set the forest on fire. To his consternation, Jie chose to remain where he was and was burnt to death. To commemorate Jie, the lord ordered all fires in every home to be put out on the anniversary of Jie’s death. Thus began the “cold food feast”, a day when no food could be cooked since no fire could be lit. cold food

The “cold food” festival occurs on the eve of Qing Ming and is often considered as part of the Qing Ming festival. As time passes, the Qing Ming festival replaced the “cold food” festival.”

Information for this post was compiled from, and the English Bus Club.

Traditional Chinese New Year Foods

Traditional Chinese New Year Foods

Besides a time for vacation, sales, and a much less populated/much more comfortable Beijing, Chinese New Year 春节 is also a time for FOOD! If you have (good) local friends, look forward to feasts with their families that may include
Chicken, duck, fish – traditionally eaten at celebrations because in the old days, meat was very expensive and only eat on special occasions. Northerners like to stew the meat, while southerners like to
In the Chinese lunar calendar, during the first day of the new year, called 初一,(beginning-one, i.e. the first day of the first month of the lunar year) (around February 14 this year) dumplings are eaten. By contrast, during February , 初二, noodles are eaten (at least in Beijing). The good news is on 初五 dumplings are eaten again. Personally, I have a tradition where I eat dumplings on the days that end with “y”. I think it’s a good tradition. 正月十五 on the 15th day of the first month of the year, Chinese eat元宵yuanxiao round glutinous rice dumplings. The sweet variety is more common and have hawberries, black sesame, red bean, peanut, dried fruit, sugar as filling. Some also eat salty yuanxiao, filled with meat.
If remembering what to eat on what days is too confusing, just eat whatever your local friend’s family gives you on that day. Alternatively, you can click here to get a basic understanding of the Chinese lunar calendar. Click here for a Western calendar to Chinese calendar converter.
年年高升 年糕 Northerners eat steamed or fried (golden brown, like gold, so you can get rich or die trying. Many people like it better fried because it gets chewier) glutinous rice cakes shaped like fish. 超市发 Some are made with corn flour with dates.

Besides a time for vacations, big sales and a much less populated/much more comfortable Beijing, Chinese New Year 春节 (chūn jié) is also a time for FOOD! Chinese New Year food is referred to as 过年饭菜 (guònián fàncài). If you have (good) local friends, look forward to feasts with their families that may include:

Fish & Chicken


Chicken, duck, and fish – traditionally eaten at celebrations because in the old days, meat was very expensive and only eat on special occasions. Expect a lot of delicious stewed meat if you’re in the north.

Life-stages of a dumpling

The first day of the new lunar year is called 初一 (chūyī, lit. beginning-one, i.e. the first day of the first month of the lunar year. This year, it’s  February 14) and it is traditionally a day for eating dumplings 餃子 (jiǎo zi).

On 初二 (chū èr), noodles are eaten (at least in Beijing). The good news is on 初五 (chū wǔ), 餃子 (jiǎo zi) are eaten again. Personally, I have a tradition where I eat 餃子 (jiǎo zi) on the days in the week that end with “y”. It is, without a doubt, a fantastic tradition. 餃子 (jiǎo zi) are filled with combinations of different types of ground meat, vegetables, tofu, egg, and even bean thread noodles. You can dip them in vinegar, soy sauce, or both, and each family prepares the dipping sauce differently. 餃子 (jiǎo zi) can be boiled, steamed, or fried.

yuan xiao

正月十五 (zhēng yuè shíwǔ) on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar year, Chinese eat glutinous rice dumplings 元宵 (yuánxiāo). They are made with rice flour and are usually white and round. Sweet 元宵 (yuánxiāo) is more common and have hawberry, black sesame, red bean, peanut, dried fruit, or sugar as filling. Some also eat salty 元宵 (yuánxiāo) which are filled with meat. If remembering what to eat on what days is too confusing, just make friends with a local and eat whatever your local friend’s family gives you on that day. Alternatively, you can click here to get a basic understanding of the Chinese lunar calendar. Or check out for a Western-to-Chinese calendar converter.

(zhùnǐmen chūnjié kuàilè, niánnián gāo shēng)
We wish you a happy Spring Festival, and may each and every year get better and better!

Where to get Christmas decorations in Beijing


If you’re still looking for Christmas decorations 装饰品 (zhuāng shì pǐn), you can find almost anything you need at Golden Five Stars 金五星 (jīn wǔ xīng). It’s a huge indoor market that has everything and anything from plastic forks to pingpong balls to fabric by the meter to office supplies to bedding to long cow-shaped gel-filled wrist rests. The one I went to is the one closer to 3rd Ring Road. Take bus 319 or 86 from 五道口 (wǔ dào kǒu) and get off at 青云路 (qīng yún lù). Walk in the direction that the bus is going for about 5 minutes and the market will be on your right. Alternatively, take bus 101 or 425 from Dazhongsi subway station 大钟寺城铁 (dà zhōng sì chéng tiě) and get off at 大钟寺 (dà zhōng sì). It’s only one stop.

I got tinsel 圣诞彩条 (shèng dàn cǎi tiáo) of different colors at less than 3rmb for each strand, plastic trees 圣诞树 (shèng dàn shù), all kinds of lights 圣诞彩灯 (shèng dàn cǎi dēng) in the shapes of reindeer 圣诞驯鹿 (xùnlù), tiny plastic Santas 圣诞老人 (shèng dàn lǎo rén) in different colors, drums, presents, antlers 鹿角, multi-colored lights in the shapes of Chinese bottle gourds?!?!!?? 葫芦 (hú lú) in different colors. I paid 5 rmb for a 3 meter strand. You can also get snowflakes 雪花 (xuě huā), banners, and almost anything you can think of.

Of course, bargaining, 讨价还价or 讲价钱 (tǎo jià hái jià  or jiǎng jià qián) is a prerequisite. Try, “Can’t you go a little lower?” 能不能便宜点儿? (néng bú néng biàn yí diǎn ér?) It’s a great place to practice your Chinese/learn more Chinese. You can go around the various stalls and ask the shop owners, 这个叫什么? (zhè gè jiào shěn me?)

If you have some time, some of the other stalls have Christmas cards 圣诞贺卡 (shèng dàn hè kǎ) and other odd knickknacks that might be good presents. It’s a great place to pick up gifts for white elephant gift exchanges and a fun place to browse if you have a few hours. It’s best to go on the weekdays to avoid the crowds.

If you’d rather go after Christmas to get decorations for next year you might get a steeper discount on the after-season stock. No guarantees, though.

Although Christmas isn’t about presents at all, it’s encouraging to get a thoughtful gift from someone who cares about you. I hope that you’ll be able to say, “Thanks for your present!” 谢谢你的礼物 (xiè xiè nǐ de lǐ wù!) many times this season.

(zhù dà jiā shèng dàn kuài lè!)
Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Mid-Autumn Festival

mid-autumn-festival The Mid-Autumn Festival(中秋节)zhōnɡ qiū jié, also known as the Moon Festival, , is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese people. It is held on the 15th day of the eighth month ((八月十五) in the Chinese calendar. The eighth month is also called zhònɡ qiū (仲秋), so 中秋节 also called 仲秋节.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important holiday in China, as the  Spring Festival is the most important. Traditionally, on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, , and eat moon cakes, dates, pomegranate and other fruits.

Stories of the Mid-Autumn Festival:

—-Houyi and Chang’e (后羿- hòu yì和嫦娥- chánɡ é)

There are so many variations and adaptations of the Chang’e legend; here we share one of the more widely-known and accepted versions:

Once upon a time, the earth had ten suns. They burned the crops and people suffered from famine. Houyi, a lesser god and a highly-skilled archer, felt sorry for mankind, so he decided to shoot down nine of the suns. After he shot down the suns, he became a hero. He had a beautiful wife name Chang’e (also a lesser god) and they lived happily together. Houyi gathered many followers and one day they all went hunting together regularly. One day, on Houyi’s way back home the Jade Emperor (the highest god) gave Houyi a pill which granted eternal life as a reward for shooting down the suns. He warned Houyi, “Make no haste to swallow the pill.” Houyi loved Chang’e very much and did not want to leave her, so he gave the pill to Chang’e and let her store the pill in a safe place. Chang’e put the pill in her jewelry box. But one of Houyi’s apprentices, Peng, discovered this secret. He decided to steal the pill.

One day Houyi and some other disciples went to the mountain. Peng pretended he was sick so that he could stay at home. Everyone went to the mountain except Chang’e, who stayed at home. Peng burst into Chang’e’s room and forced her to give him the pill. Chang’e knew she was no match for Peng so she took flight and flew far away. She did not want to leave her husband, so she stopped at the moon which is close to Earth. After Houyi discovered what had happened, he was very angry and heartbroken. He looked up into the night and called Chang’e’s name. He saw that on the moon there was a shadow that looked like Chang’e, so he ran and ran and tried to get to the moon. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t reach the moon.

As for Houyi, he built himself a palace inside the sun as “Yang”-阳 (the male principle), with Chang’e as “Yin”-阴(the female principle). Once a year, on the 15th day of the full moon, Houyi visits his wife. That is why the moon is full that night.

The moon cake (月饼- yuè bǐnɡ):

The moon cake is a traditional symbol of the Mid-Autumn Festival. There are  many legends surrounding the moon cake. In one tale, moon cakes originated in ancient times to pay homage to the moon. According to other sources, the moon cake was invented as a way to honor the Moon Goddess Chang’e. In what is perhaps the most famous tale, it is said that during the end of the Mongolian- ruled Yuan era Han Chinese rebel Zhū Yuán Zhānɡ distributed a secret message baked in moon cakes giving the instructions “revolt on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month”.  On the night of the brightest moon these revolutionary fighters successfully attacked and overthrew the Mongolian army.

Traditional moon cake fillings:

The most common fillings are Lotus seed paste, (莲蓉- lián rónɡ)Sweet bean paste,(豆沙- dòu shā)Jujube paste(枣泥- zǎo ní)and five-kernel (五仁- wǔ rén including rice, two kinds of millet, wheat grain and beans). I personally like Jujube paste filling the most even though I usually don’t eat it that much.

Here is a video that gives you an overview of the Mid-Autumn Festival and the moon cake:

Hope you have a great Mid-Autumn Festival! Let us know what fillings you had and what your favorites were in the comments.

Today, Honor Your Teachers

September 10, 2009 is Teachers’ Day. Students all over China will present flowers, gifts, and cards to their teachers to show appreciation for their hard work.

In 1985 the National People’s Congress designated September 10 of every year National Teachers’ Day to honor teachers for their hard work. See an excerpt from Chinese Festivals by Límíng Weí and Lang Tao on Google Books about the origins of this day.

I’m thankful for all the good teachers I’ve had growing up who’ve taught me more than knowledge. And while Rosetta Stone is good, it can’t answer questions. My Chinese teachers have helped me understand Chinese culture, history, and food, and basically have helped me to adjust to life here. Instead of just learning vocabulary and grammar from my teachers in my one-on-one classes, I’ve had many great conversations with my good friends.

Anyway, hope that you have a chance to honor your teacher today. You can send a text, give flowers, write a card or give a present. You can use these phrases:

jié  rì  kuài lè
Happy Teachers’ Day

老师, 辛苦了!
lǎo shī,  xīn kǔ le
Teacher, you’ve worked hard!

And if you REALLY want to thank your teacher…

拨动真诚的心弦 (bō dònɡ zhēn chénɡ de xīn xián),
You’ve inspired me to do my best,

铭记成长的辛酸 (mínɡ jì chénɡ zhǎnɡ de xīn suān),
you’ve helped me through the hard times,

成功的道路上永远离不开您 (chénɡ ɡōnɡ de dào lù shɑnɡ yónɡ yuǎn lí bù kāi nín),
I couldn’t have succeeded without you.

亲爱的老师 (qīn ài de lǎo shī),祝您节日快乐 (zhù nín jié rì kuài lè)!
My dear teacher, happy Teachers’ Day!

rén shēnɡ lǚ chénɡ shànɡ nín wéi wǒ diǎn rán xī wànɡ de ɡuānɡ mánɡ fēnɡ fù wǒ de xīn línɡ)
On this journey of life, you’ve filled my spirit with the light of hope

增添我的智慧 谢谢您!老师 愿您永远 健康!愉快!幸福
(zēnɡ tiān wǒ de zhì huì   xiè xiè nín ! lǎo shī   yuàn nín yónɡ yuǎn   jiàn kānɡ ! yú kuài ! xìnɡ fú)
and increased my wisdom. Thank you! I wish you health, happiness, and good fortune always!

Qi Xi Jie-Chinese Valentine’s Day

qi-xi-jie Qixi Festival-七夕节( qī xī jié) literally “The Night of Sevens“), also known as Magpie Festival, falls on the seventh   day of the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar.  In 2009, it’s on August 26th.

A love story for this day is about the 7th daughter of Emperor of Heaven and an orphaned cowherd. The Emperor separated them. The 7th daughter was forced to move to the star Vega and the cowherd moved to the star Altair. They are allowed to meet only once a year on the day of 7th day of 7th lunar month.

Watch this video below,  it provides one common version of this Chinese traditional love story.

References and other resourses:

1. To read Qi Xi Jie story in Chinese-from Baidu

2. The story of Chinese Valentine’s day

3. Qixi Festival-from Wikipedia

If you are in China or have some friends, most likely, you would hear people talking about this festival.

Watch this video and read some referenced artiles,  you would know more about this festival than average Chinese do.