Sending Winter Clothes on Single’s Day

During my time in China last month, two “holidays’ coincided, one that represents old China and one that represents new China.

The traditional holiday was songhanjie (送寒节), the day on which one is supposed to “send winter clothes” to his/her ancestors. The way to do this is by burning paper “clothes” (and money); as the item burns, its ashes are carried off to the departed ancestors. On the days leading up to the holiday, hawkers line the streets selling paper clothes, food, and money to burn.



Representing new China was “Single’s Day” (11.11 because of all the “ones), a recently made up holiday to promote online shopping. It can best be described as Black Friday, Cyber Monday all rolled in together and hopped up on steroids. Consider this: according to the BBC, China’s largest e-commerce company Alibaba made $14.3 billion in one day!

In the days following, Beijing was completely overrun by 3-wheeled delivery carts, the backbone of e-commerce in China.


A friend of mine wrote about the convergence of these old and new holidays over at the ChinaSource blog:

“As Singles Day demonstrates, the new China is definitely here, and it is a world that is increasingly familiar to many of us who have come from the outside. And yet I haven’t seen any piles of ashes on my WeChat feed, nor is there much chatter about the economic and social forces that compel so many young, rural men to risk their lives driving poorly maintained trucks over dangerous mountain roads. On a day that trumpets the supremacy of new China—when iPhones and iPads are purchased in staggering numbers from other iPhones and iPads—I kept crashing into the old China and the ways in which it continues to exert its influence over people’s lives. Let’s not be fooled by the familiarity of the flashing neon and growing conveniences we see on the surface: old China remains, distinct and different. In order for our witness to remain cogent and meaningful we must be careful not to lose sight of these less apparent aspects of life in China that continue to function as controlling narratives for many Chinese citizens.”

That’s a very good reminder, and, as they say, read the whole thing.

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North Shore Thanksgiving

For the fifth year in a row, I spent the Thanksgiving weekend with family and friends at the wonderful Lutsen Resort, on the North Shore of Lake Superior. If you have not had the opportunity to explore this gorgeous wilderness area in the heart of the country, put it on your bucket list. Here are a few photos from the weekend to whet your appetite:


Nothing like a Lake Superior sunset.


The sunset reflected in the windows of Lutsen Resort.


Saturday was a gorgeous day to hike the Oberg Loop section of the Superior Hiking Trail.


The beach at Lutsen Resort.


There’s nothing like a lakeside bonfire under the moonlight!

And yes, this resort is the site of my niece’s famous wedding in a blizzard.

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Beijing Eats

Bear with me for just one last post on the great food that I ate in Beijing earlier this month. You may want to protect your keyboard from drooling.


One of my favorite dishes is called ma la xiang guo (hot and spicy dry hot pot). You choose the ingredients, and the chef stir fries them up. Those are peppers, not tomatoes. Don’t worry, this was a dish for 2 people!


Home-made jiaozi, lovingly “wrapped” by a friend, waiting to be boiled. Yum!


If you can’t get to a friend’s house for home-made jiaozi, not to worry; there’s usually a mom a pop shop nearby that makes delicious jiaozi and baozi.


Not all meals in China are created equal. One day Amy and I found ourselves dining in the cafeteria of a large company. The food wasn’t that bad; it just never tastes as good when served on a metal tray!


And finally, I stopped into one of my favorite American burger joints, Fatburger. I’ve never been to one in the US, but it serves up a great plate of comfort food in Beijing!

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Random Observations on a Trip to Beijing

I had the privilege of spending a couple of weeks in Beijing. I love being back in the city I called home for 14 years. So much changes and so much stays the same.


Herewith are a few random observations:

Beijing still has some of the best food in the world! (Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.)

Even though the government announced that air quality had improved overall in 2015, I saw no evidence of it. Beijing (and all of north China for that matter) was enveloped in a soul-crusing soup of fog/smog/dust the entire time I was there. And yes, I came home with an upper resperatory infection.

The government recently announced plans to combine Beijing Tianjin and part of neighboring Hebei Province into one municipal district to form a mega-city (as if Beijing’s 20 million doesn’t already qualify). Supposedly this will make for a more livable and affordable city. I talked with a friend who has recently purchased an apartment in the Hebei portion of this soon-to-be megalopolis. It is an hour and a half by train from where she works. I fail to see how this is going to help.

Most people that I spoke with seemed to be taking the announcement of the change in the one-child policy with a shrug. Those who really want a second child had already figured how to get around the policy, and many believe they simply can’t afford a second child.

It’s time to take down and replace the Beijing West Train Station. Unlike the new ones being built, which are open and airy, this one is a warren of dark rooms and underground walkways to nowhere.

That said, the bullet trains remain a fantastic way to get around the country. I made a quick trip to Taiyuan, Shanxi and back. What used to be an 11 hour journey now takes only 3.

Of course the best thing about Beijing is the great friends I have there. I am grateful for the opportunity to get back there and see them from time to time.

Friday Photo: Unlucky License Plate

In China, the number 4 (四) is considered to be unlucky because it shares a pronunciation with the word for death (死); only the tones are different. As a result, people often go to great lengths to avoid using the number 4. Mobile phone numbers that have lots of 4’s typically cost less money (my Chinese number has 4 4’s, so it was really cheap!). Elevators often do not have a 4th floor labeled. And no one in their right mind would want a license plate with a 4 in it!

So imagine my surprise when I spotted this license plate in China last week:


Talk about tempting fate!

Friday Photo: Smog

Beijing has some of the most fantastic food in the world. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the air.

beijing smog

A soul-crushing blanket of smog descended on north and northeast China last Friday (just as I landed) and has not lifted for a moment since. Even though I love being back in The Jing, my lungs are decidedly NOT happy!

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Friday Photo: Summer Palace Bridge (then and now)

Even though I am on my way to Beijing today, part of me wishes that I were in London to visit the Asian Art in London event. One of the exhibits this year is a collection of photos of Beijing taken in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Here’s a description of the event, as reported by BBC:

Photographs of Peking, now known as Beijing, made by Thomas Child in the 1870s and 1880s are to go on show in London’s Chinatown as part of Asian Art in London season.

More than 30 original photographs from the Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection, the largest holding of historical photographs of China in private hands, are included in the show. During two decades as a resident, Child documented life in the city with his camera.

The BBC also included a few of the photographs, which I studied with great interest. The one that really caught my eye was this one of the moon bridge at the Summer Palace:

photo by Thomas Child

photo by Thomas Child

Here’s why:

summer palace

I took this photo of the very same bridge in May of 2006! It’s always been one of my favorites!