Tag-Archive for » Chinese culture «

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Author:


On our way to the Balkans this summer, we stopped off for a week in our former home of Wuyishan in China. It was wonderful to catch up with some of our old friends and to visit our children’s former kindergarten and teachers. I also found myself stunned (I’m not sure why; I should be used to it after 2 ½ years living in China!) by the number of new developments in Wuyishan and San Gu since we were last there. There’s even a polar bear theme park in the making in San Gu — in the subtropics of Fujian Province!

On the downside, it was a little disheartening to see how much Mandarin the girls have forgotten. By the time we left China at the end of 2012, Ekatarina at six years old was speaking like a native. Yet even though they’re both attending Mandarin class for 3 hours every Sunday here in Australia and doing plenty of homework, they scarcely seemed to remember any when we arrived back in Wuyishan. Clearly it’s as easy for children to lose a second language as it is to gain it!

Wednesday, April 03rd, 2013 | Author:


We are settling into our new life in beautiful Canberra and I am thrilled to report that the family’s Chinese lessons are continuing ‘down under’. We have enrolled the girls in Sunday morning Mandarin classes at the Australian School of Contemporary Chinese and joined the Australia China Friendship Society. The ACFS held a lantern making workshop where we all made paper lanterns prior to the Lantern Festival. And ― big thanks here to the lecturers in Mandarin at the Australian National University ― we have met three lovely international students with the English names of Sandy, Bob and Emma who have very kindly volunteered to tutor the girls in Chinese. So while we’ve accepted the fact that the kids will lose some of their Mandarin now they’re out of their 24/7 Chinese environment, at least they will keep their toes in the water of bilingualism here!


The girls with their wonderful lanterns after the workshop

Friday, November 30th, 2012 | Author:


Last weekend we went to the wedding reception of one of our favourite former students, Butterfly.

As we neared the groom’s house, we passed an excited crowd on the road and spotted the beautiful bride in their centre: a man in flip-flops and with his slacks rolled up to his knees was dragging a small wooden cart in which Butterfly knelt, clad in her scarlet wedding dress and veil. 

Three motorcycles were weaving across the road in front of the bridal cart. While one man rode each bike, another straddled it backwards, using a cigarette to light firecrackers he’d then toss in front of the wedding procession.

The wedding lunch was served in the courtyard of the groom’s family’s house. Another hundred or more guests sat under temporary awnings erected in the laneway beside the house. A small army of caterers prepared all the food on the spot, using massive steamers and portable gas bottles to cook everything right there in the courtyard.

As is usual on special occasions in China, no rice or vegetables were served — just masses of meat and seafood. We ate pig’s ears, crocodile, lobster, crab, lamb, whole steamed duck, some dish involving huge slabs of fatty, steamed pig skin, and several different soups. There was one featuring dried mushrooms and some type of offal; another with bamboo shoots and pork; also a sort of egg custard with dried prawns and dried mushrooms sprinkled on top and finally, very sweet peanut soup. We scarcely had time to taste each dish, much less finish it, before it was whisked away to be replaced by the next.

Once we were all well and truly full, the kids spent a while playing in the marital bedchamber with Butterfly and Ifan’s nieces and nephews. No one seemed to mind a bunch of kids jumping about on the bride and groom’s new bed! Everything in the bedroom was new and either pink or red: new red sheets and pink pillows, floral arrangements of pink and red roses on a red plastic stool beside the bed, a swathe of pink fabric decorating the mirror. Looking down on all this from the wall was an enormous, airbrushed wedding picture of the gorgeous bride and groom. 

It was wonderful to see Butterfly looking so happy, and so beautiful in her traditional scarlet and gold qipao.

Sunday, August 19th, 2012 | Author:


A few days ago, Pazu Kong, the wonderful and very knowledgable travel agent, author (and skilled magician, as my daughters discovered when they met him) who organised our trip to Tibet in 2011, asked me to write some tips he could give other parents interested in travelling to Tibet with their kids. He has included my tips on his list of things to pack/consider before coming to Tibet, and I’ll also reproduce the list below.

For anyone interested in travelling to Tibet (remember, you MUST organise your trip through a travel agent; you cannot get permission to go to Tibet any other way), I would strongly recommend Pazu’s services. He did a great job organising our visit to Tibet and was very sensitive to our needs as parents. You can contact Pazu via his website, http://www.cafespinn.com/.

Some Tips for Parents Taking Small Kids to Tibet…

I guess the number one concern of parents taking their children to Tibetwould have to be altitude sickness. Here are a few tips to help kids deal with it…

  • Don’t worry if they don’t eat too much. Decreased appetite is normal when arriving at higher altitudes. But do make them drink plenty of water. Liquids help with acclimatisation.
  • Explain to your kids that they might feel a little unwell when they arrive in Tibet. Make it clear that they should tell you if they feel headachy or nauseous so that you can get help. But don’t overreact! Our kids were 3 and 4 ½ when we went to Tibet, and other than being a bit irritable at first, they didn’t suffer any ill effects from the altitude.
  • Take things very easy for the first two or three days. Make sure your kids have plenty of time to rest to allow their bodies to acclimatise.
  • Remember to take care of yourself! Altitude sickness can be exacerbated by carrying weights, and that includes carrying your children. We found ourselves really over-exhausted after carrying our kids a lot on our first couple of days in Lhasa. Investing in a stroller might be a good idea!
  • Leave your visit to the Potala Palace for the last days of your time in Lhasa. There are a lot of steep stairs there, and children will struggle with them. So will you, when you end up carrying your kids up them.

Finally, keep in mind that small kids have very different interests than adults when it comes to sightseeing! We’ve found that our children generally enjoy outdoor activities far more than exploring temples. In fact, our youngest daughter was a little frightened by the monasteries in Tibet– the enormous statues, the dimness, the smoky air. The things she enjoyed most in Tibet were playing in the park outside the Potala Palace, having a ride on a yak at Lake Yamdrok-Tso, and running around Barkhor Square with the local kids. The other experience that both children were completely taken with was watching the monks debate in the courtyard at the Sera Monastery — they were absolutely fascinated.

Well, I hope these brief tips help! Enjoy your family holiday in Tibet and please feel free to contact me if you’d like to ask anything else!

–         Karen



Friday, August 17th, 2012 | Author:


Tomorrow we’re taking the train to Kunming. 40 hours, 2500 km! And I bought the tickets myself from a local ticket booking office, lining up with all the locals to do so. What’s the big deal, I hear you say? Well, this is China. Dealing with any sort of office/government department is an exercise in extreme patience and endurance.

It took me 4 trips to the ticket office to get the tickets in my sweaty little hands. The ticket lady didn’t speak any English, I speak execrable Chinese, Kunming in summer is a very popular spot with the Chinese, tickets disappear almost as soon as they go on sale. Especially sleeper tickets.

The first time I went to the office and asked for sleeper tickets to Kunming, the ticket lady told me, “Meiyou” (don’t have). Then she asked me to come back that afternoon and to bring a “Zhongguoren pengyou” (Chinese friend) to help me talk to her. I went back that afternoon with Miss E, my five-year-old daughter whose Chinese far exceeds mine. Again the ticket lady said “Meiyou”. Then she told me to come back the next morning, at 10 am. So Miss E and I did, walking through 35 degree heat from the bus stop to the ticket office only to be told “Meiyou” once again.

But this time, the ticket lady asked me for my phone number and our passport numbers (maybe my determination was impressing her). So I handed over the necessary details and walked all the way back to the bus stop, by which stage poor Miss E was covered in heat rash and complaining incessantly. No sooner did we get to the bus stop then my phone rang and I had my first phone conversation in Chinese. And if my Chinese is execrable face-to-face, it’s even worse when I can’t see whoever’s talking. All I understood were the words “ruan wo” and “er shi er hao” – soft sleepers, the 22nd. So, all excited, I said, “you ma? you ma?” (you have? you have?) and the ticket lady said that magic word, “you” (have). So I gave the phone to Miss E and told her to tell the lady we were coming back right now, and we rushed back through the heat and sun to the office, and emerged moments later with soft sleeper tickets to Kunming! Yay!

Friday, August 17th, 2012 | Author:

We are now officially Foreign Residents in the beautiful coastal city of Xiamen. After two wonderful years in Wuyishan, we decided it was time to move on. Next term we start teaching at Xiamen University of Technology.

Moving house in China was kind of interesting… It cost us just over $100 AUD to get 23 boxes and 3 bicycles transported by truck from Wuyishan to Xiamen (12 hours drive). The boxes arrived looking like they’d all done 3 rounds with Rocky Balboa. Gashes and splits everywhere, hastily patched up with blue tape, our belongings spilling out all over the place. All my glasses bar one were reduced to glass powder. The wire basket on Aria’s bike was totally crushed. But hey, at least nothing went missing in the move!

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Monday, June 04th, 2012 | Author:


To all my lovely students at Wuyi University,

First I want to say thank you to all of you for giving me a wonderful two years in Wuyishan. I’ve really enjoyed teaching you. It’s been a very fulfilling experience for me to see many of you become more confident and relaxed about speaking English with a foreigner, and I hope you’ll continue speaking whenever you bump into any backpackers or visitors in China. I will miss you all very much, but at least I am leaving here with some great memories and, I hope, some lifelong friends.

I’ve had so many good times here at Wuyi University. Some of the things that will always stick in my memory include coming home on Friday nights from English Corner and hearing, from down on the ground, my daughters laughing on the 5th floor of our apartment building because they’re having so much fun with their babysitters (so thanks Jean, Ruby, Irene, Alier, Stella, Vera, Niki, Dawn, Vicky, Shakira, Tyler, Avril and all the other students who have looked after our daughters at various times over the years, and sorry to those who I haven’t named here!).

I will also remember the class parties and crazy games you made up for us to play…  the birthday visit to KTV with Ben, Ruby and Irene and our horse riding trip in Sichuan…  trips to Xiamei village with Alier and Sally…  hiking up Tian You Feng with Mavis and Sunny…  sitting outside Building 1 on a beautiful sunny day and singing Pengyou with Class 2…  sharing tissues with Stella and Kathy while crying over Titanic 3-D at the local cinema…  being guests in Jean and Butterfly’s family’s homes during the Spring Festival celebrations…  celebrating Christmas 2011 with tens of students in our home…  talking with my research/writing classes about foot binding in the old China and superhero movies in modern America…  watching Crystal endure almost 10 hours online and on the phone trying to book our flights back to Australia…  eating snacks Fanny and others brought back for us from your hometowns after various holidays…  and many, many other things.

So all in all, the best thing about my time in Wuyishan was not the fresh air, gorgeous mountains and beautiful scenery, but you — my students. I wish all of you the best of luck in the future and hope all your dreams come true. And if any of you ever come to Xiamen or in later years Australia, please look me up. I’d love to welcome you and guide you around and catch up with you. In the meantime, it’s goodbye for now, but hopefully not forever!

With love from your English teacher,


Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 | Author:


How cool is my Nana! 86 years old and still globetrotting!

We recently had a visit from Nana, my aunt Alison and her husband Robin. In fact, my intrepid Nana celebrated her 86th birthday here in Wuyishan. After a month of rain, the weather cleared a little during their stay. So we were lucky enough to get to see the ancent village of Xiamei and some of Wuyishan’s gorgeous scenic spots, such as Tian You Feng (Heavenly Tour Peak), Yu Nu Feng, and the Da Hong Pao tea plants. I also took Nana, Alison and Robin to a local teahouse with a beautiful, traditional interior decorated with wood carvings, calligraphy and calligraphy tools. And they were kind enough to come to some of my classes, where they enjoyed superstar status for a day and posed for countless pictures with my wonderful students.

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Wednesday, February 08th, 2012 | Author:


The Chinese really know how to celebrate. On the 7th February we went into town to join in the Lantern Festival festivities. Wuyishan town centre was packed despite the rain and cold. The endless racket of the fireworks made it sound like WW3 had broken out. But the atmosphere was magical: strings of lanterns glowing in the darkness, periodic rose and green flashes from the fireworks, happy smiling faces everywhere…

Wednesday, January 04th, 2012 | Author:


We had a wonderful Christmas Day. About 30 students and teachers, foreign and Chinese, gathered in our house to open presents and drink rice wine and eat a roast Lazar cooked in our tiny portable oven. Boxing Day we headed to Shanghai. Now, after 16 months away, we’re back in Australia. It was all a little confusing for Aria at first. She keeps asking when we’re going home. But what she means by ‘home’ varies between our old house here in Sydney and our apartment in Wuyishan. She’s spent almost half her life in China but still remembers the house she lived in for the first two years of her life.

Australia looks to me impossibly clean. So nice not to see piles of rubbish everywhere. But I’m missing our friends in China and especially Chinese food.

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