Saturday, January 31, 2009

Jing An Temple

Happy Chinese New Year from the Jing An Temple

I'm including lots of photos as I know you will be interested to hear about the customs and traditions of the Chinese people during the Spring Festival.

You will see the beautiful photos of the temple with the gold leaf lions' heads. Check out the huge bronze piece sitting in the courtyard. The participants toss coins into the bronze piece - if your coin goes in, you are guaranteed prosperity in the New Year.

Check out the brazier in the courtyard. Participants pay to purchase incense to burn and pray to Buddha.

The gold Buddha is absolutely beautiful. There were many people waiting to get into this special room where they offer fruit and vegetables and money - of course - to Buddha praying that they will be richly rewarded.

You also see a bronze piece that is placed on the staircase leading to the big temple room. There are actually two of these pieces - one is a dragon and one is a phoenix. People are rubbing their hands on them before and after they enter and leave the big temple room. There are actually three rooms with three different Buddhas. In the largest room is the dark bronze Buddha.

The huge bell is in the corner of the big temple room. Please notice all the beautiful wood carvings to the right above the bell.

Mike and I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the religious customs and traditions of Chinese Buddhists.

World Expo 2010

Greetings from Shanghai!

Tuesday morning, Mike and I took a Shanghai Expatriate Association (SEA) tour to the World Expo 2010 Exhibition Hall. There were about 25 people on this tour. We had to be at the St. Regis - Portman Hotel at 9 am so we grabbed a taxi and got there early enough to grab some coffee and tea at the Element Fresh there. It was the only restaurant open before 9 in the plaza due to Chinese New Year - Starbucks wasn't even open yet.

We went via tour bus and rode through a section of Shanghai I had not been to yet. Lots of shops and malls so it looks like the Girls will be taking a field trip sometime soon. It was funny that we turned up at the Hong Kong Plaza which is right across the street from the Huangpi Road Subway stop. This is the same subway stop we use when we go to Xintandi - like we did for the Dragon and Lion Dance on Monday.

This was a very interesting tour in that our tour guide was a young man who spoke excellent English. He wore some crazy shoes though - red metallic tennis shoes. We have found that the Chinese like to make statements with fashion and express themselves through fashion - I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder but we've seen lots of strange accessories. You know what Suzi always says - Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!
The Expo will begin in May 2010 and run until October. I've included a photo of the diorama (the last photo) that is very interesting. There are areas set aside for pavilions on both sides of the Huangpu River. There is a separate area for each section of the world. Unfortunately, there will not be a United States pavilion. There are many corporate sponsors - mostly Chinese names you would not recognize but Coke and General Motors are committed and of course many nations.
You can see the Chinese pavilion in the top photo - it will be enormous and I'm sure every bit as grand as the 2008 Olympics were. I also included a photo of an adorable little girl posing with Haibao who is the mascot.
Haibao means "treasure of the sea". The blue color represents the water, which also speaks that Haibao is from a coastal city Shanghai. Haibao is confident, lovely, happy, witty and lively. Its hair is like the wave of the sea; its motion shows his generosity and hospitality; he thumbs up to show the appreciation and warm welcome to the friends from all over the world. His smile manifests an optimistic spirit and a will to showcase the achievement of world's civilization. Haibao is expressing his sincere greeting from China -- "World Expo 2010 Shanghai China welcomes you!
They will be looking for thousands of volunteers and I'm so looking forward to doing so.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dragon and Lion Dance

Good evening everyone!

Today was the first day of the new year. Mike and I slept in because, well, we were up 1/2 the night with all the fire power going on around us.

Cathy R - I keep thinking about how you would have enjoyed this evening. The cultural experience is alive and well and we are so enjoying it.
We decided to check out the Dragon and Lion Dance over in Xintandi. So we rounded up the Westinghouse team that is still here - Manny, Jacques and Lucienne, Sue and Ulhas and grabbed the subway for the journey to Xintandi - about a 20 minute trip.

We arrived and had a coffee at Coffee Leaf and Bean because it was really cold outside. Then we checked out the latest decorations.
The last photo is of Manny and Mike with the lion heads between them.
The next one is of Mike and the man who passed out the hong bao - the red envelopes with the gifts in them. We were fortunate as we received some great gifts. Some of us received gift vouchers from Lawry's and some others received some coupons for a discount at Simply Thai - a great Thai restaurant - I'll think about you when we go there Matty! I might even try some Indian food next week.
The photo above that the man who led the dragon dance - there were maybe 10 guys pulling the dragon through the plaza.
The top photo is of the lions who performed the last portion.
After the dancing was over - we ambled over to the Dumpling House and ate dumplings, wonton soup, fried rice and vegetables with garlic. Yum, Yum - it was the best meal I've had in Shanghai! It cost about $100 for 7 of us - not too bad!
Stay tuned for more exciting events this week. Tuesday, Mike and I are going to the 2010 Expo site for a tour. Wednesday we are probably going to the Shanghai Museum or to Pudong. Thursday we're off to Hanzhou with David, one of the (W) drivers. Friday, it's the Shanghai Circus - better than Cirque de Soleil from what I'm hearing.
Lots to see during the Spring Festival or Chinese New year - we're going to experience all of it.

Chinese New Year's Rocking Eve

Good evening everyone!

The Chinese here in Shanghai did an amazing job on New Year's Eve. It was truly something Mike and I have never experienced before. We are used to checking out the Zambelli show at Point State Park or watching a Capital Fourth on WQED but hey, this was amazing. There were fireworks EVERYWHERE. And I mean everywhere!
And for those of you living on Prince George Drive in Plum Borough, PA - none of these people were "certified" by the US Fireworks Commission or any commission for that matter. Everyone here does it - big people, kids, old people - young people - and they set them off right on the sidewalk or in the street. In fact, there is an apartment building in the next block where we saw strings of fire crackers hanging out the window - someone lit them and they were swinging in the breeze. Long, long strings of firecrackers that take maybe 5 minutes to burn down. And sky-high rockets of color that send off lots of sparks. They do have sparklers too. I saw some kids playing with them.
The people here at Shama - our apartment courtyard - set some off right underneath our bedroom/living room. The sparks were landing on the balcony and some even came inside the living room. We had to close the door pronto in order to avoid a fire. Needless to say, it was pretty crazy and LOUD.
Mike said he read that there were about 50 fire incidents in Beijing alone.
You can see some photos above - the top one is of some rockets bursting high in the sky near our apartment complex.
The second one is of Rosie (one of the waitresses), my friend, CeCe and one of the bartenders dancing on the bar at the Blue Frog - yeah, we had a great time. Shane, the main bartender makes a mean strawberry margarita. I didn't get up on the bar - wouldn't want to embarrass the Beaver girls.
The third one is of a Chinese man (check out his new jacket - everyone gets new clothes for the New Year - his is of gold brocade - very elegant) setting up a giant sparkler just down the street - his little boy who had to be about 6 years old was helping him. I was amazed that the mother was standing by proud as can be!
The last photo is of the balloon man on the corner - it kind of reminded me of First Night about 4 weeks ago in Pittsburgh - only it was a wee bit warmer here.
I hope you enjoyed reading about this as we did experiencing it.
Happy New Year!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Robbie Burns Supper - Shanghai Edition

Good afternoon everyone!

I'm pleased to include some photos of our group at the Burns Supper held last Saturday - January 17th at the Shangri-la Hotel in Pudong. It was a glorious affair - note the luxurious table setting - the haggis - and check out the clothes on those people.

Mike, Devin (our Irish lads) had tuxedos made by our favorite tailor, Ball, as did Kirk and Denice (representing the Scottish-Americans). Sandy showed up in his favorite tartan and he looked smashing! I had my green Thai silk sheath dress and jacket made at the fabric market as well. Denice and I wore our pearl jewelry to dress it up a bit. Denice's pearl earrings were real pearls - mine were shell pearl jewelry that I made in jewelry class - earrings, bracelet and necklace. If I have to admit it, we all cleaned up pretty darn good.

This was the 250th Anniversary of Robert Burns' birth and those Scots sure know how to party! There was a bottle of Famous Grouse whisky on each table and red and white wine was flowing as well.

I've included some important background information for you to peruse so you've got a wee bit of information going into the evening. Some of you might not know much about Mr. Burns as I was not familiar with his works; but I've since learned he is responsible for quite a lot of international flair. Please read the excerpt below courtesy of the Hartford Courant newspaper.

Burns' political radicalism, romantic verse and use of Scots' dialect have made him a heroic figure to many Scottish people, especially to nationalists like the Scottish National Party, which governs in Edinburgh. "Burns is the inspiration behind our yearlong celebration of some of Scotland's great contributions to the world: golf, whisky, great minds and innovations, our rich culture, wonderful heritage and of course, Robert Burns himself," said Scottish tourism minister Jim Mather. But critics accuse tourism chiefs of preaching to the converted. They point out that a sentimental television commercial starring former James Bond actor Sean Connery, pop star Sandie Thom and triple Olympic gold-winning cyclist Chris Hoy singing the ballad "Caledonia" has, so far, only been shown on Scottish networks.

Maybe Americans should stand up and take notice of this gentleman who has brought lots of literature and music too, mind you, to the world's stage. Note Auld Lang Syne - he wrote the words. And we find out that he was very much the ladies' man. He died when he was only 37 years old.

The evening consisted

  • The Selkirk Grace - a short prayer
  • Address to the Haggis (a ceremony where a piper leads the chef into the room with great enthusiasm)
  • The Immortal Memory where a man is invited to give a short speech on the man being honored.
  • Then there is a Toast to the Lassies given by a gentleman. Originally this was to be a thank you to the ladies who cooked the food for the dinner but since most of these dinners are now held in hotels or pubs, sometimes the ladies don't have much to do with the cooking.
  • Followed by The Response that details men's foibles -this speech should be humorous but not insulting and it was done by a lovely Scottish lass who is a school teacher in the area.
  • Dancing, dancing and more raucous dancing and since by this time in the evening, the whisky is almost gone - the dancing had taken on lots of sore toes to ladies and gents who had partners who couldn't and shouldn't have been out on the dance floor.
  • Lastly, Auld Lang Syne sung and danced around in a circle.

I thought the food was better at this event although it wasn't as well attended. Some of the fashions were beautiful - lots of men in tartan kilts - no, you are not supposed to ask what is under them. It's not proper etiquette. However, we saw a woman in a strapless, plaid tartan silk, strapless dress that was absolutely beautiful. I don't know if it was her tartan but she wore it well! And she danced the Scottish dances like she knew what she was doing.

Then there were the usual people who don't know how to dress for an event such as this and they just shouldn't have been wearing denim. Let's not go there. . .

The menu consisted of :
  • the haggis with neeps n'tatties (whatever that is or was)
  • Roasted Beef of Tenderloin with mustard served with whisky mushroom sauce
  • Parsley turnips, cauliflower and roasted potato
  • Scottish apple pie served with vanilla custard sauce and caramel ice cream, blueberry trifle scented with whiskey

Yes, I did taste the haggis, although I didn't find it exceptionally inspiring Sandy stated it wasn't as good as what he was used to.

So this was an event we all enjoyed!

Stay tuned as the Irish will show us all how it's done - we're going to the St. Patrick's Day Ball - same hotel - March 14th. Mike had to do some slick negotiating to get us tickets. This event is advertised to Irish passport holders and since we don't have such a thing - although I think we're thinking about dual citizenship now - he had to do a wee jig!

So I'm off to the fabric market - I know the dress I want to have made - I just need to discreetly tell my dressmaker and choose the Thai silk.

Porcelain Lecture

Good afternoon all,

On the 15th of January, I attended a lecture on Chinese porcelain at the Shanghai Museum. It was without a doubt, a highlight of my last six months here in China. Mr. Joe Zhou is an English-speaking curator with 13 years experience working with the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation in China and he is now involved with the Shanghai Museum and the Shanghai Moca.
The lecture took place at the Shanghai Museum. As you can see, it was a bright, sunny day in Shanghai. He spoke about the many pieces in their collection talked about the history of porcelain, how it is made, how they get the beautiful, bright colors they get and about a tour sponsored by the Shanghai Expatriate Association to Jingdezhen - the city synonymous with Chinese Porcelain.
The tour will be March 27-29 and Denice, CeCe and I are thinking about going. It should be a fabulous tour, especially at that time of the year when the weather is warmer.
I've been making some jewelry and would love to center more of it on porcelain versus pearls and jade. I've been scouring the Pearl Market for porcelain pieces but haven't found the items I'm looking for. Maybe when it warms up a bit later next week, I can run to the Commodity Market with Mike. This should be a huge adventure for him. I want to take some photos to document his face once he sees for himself how exciting it can be. It is near Yu Yuan Garden which always proves to be great for people watching!

Happy Birthday to Skip!

Skip is CeCe's driver and we so enjoy his company and his great driving skills. Not to mention his patience in helping us learn Chinese.

Skip had a birthday on January 13th and CeCe decided to have a Surprise Birthday Party for him.

He had never had a surprise birthday party before so not only was he surprised, he became emotional and so did I.

The food was great! CeCe made her award winning Sloppy Joes and potato salad. We opened a bottle of wine and had Skip's favorite desert - Blueberry Cheesecake. CeCe hunted those blueberries down at 3 different grocery stores. She also made a chocolate cake and had ice cream too.
A good time was had by all of us - CeCe, Denice, Nancy, myself and of course, Skip!

We're Baaaaack

Good morning everyone!

It's Saturday, January 24th and we're waking up to sunshine and a bright blue sky. It is very cold though - for Shanghai - 28 degrees F which is below 0 degrees C. It seems that anytime you mention cold to the Chinese, and it includes the words "below zero", they freak out. I was telling Mr. Chen our driver about how cold it's been in the US and -58 F in Minnesota and he just couldn't fathom how cold that would be.

I'm looking out the office window waiting for Mike to come home from the dry cleaners and the bank and the number of people on the street is almost minimal - LOL - there is almost no traffic though which is amazing.

It is almost Chinese New Years Eve. This past week Denice, CeCe, Sue and I went to a Chinese New Year Lecture hosted by the American Women's Club of Shanghai and presented by Lawrence Lo (see photo above). He is originally from Hong Kong but his father was a diplomat so he lived in Belgium and in the US. He's a graduate of Georgetown University. Very nice guy and very knowledgeable. He filled us in on what to give as gifts to our drivers and ayis (maids - you know we live in a serviced apartment so we gave each of our housekeepers a hong bao - red pocket envelope). I've also included a photo of Denice and I at Xintandi a glitzy nightspot not too far from Shama. We went there for dinner the other night and posed so you could see the Year of the Ox decorations. The third photo is a photo of some meat hanging in the sun, drying. Yes, friends, they do this at this time of year. I cannot tell you what kind of meat it is because (1) I don't want to look to closely, I get a wee bit squeamish and (2) I don't care what it is because it won't be on my table . . .

I will also add some more Blog notes once we get CNY kicked off. Mike and I might take a day trip to Hangzhou with David one of the (W) drivers. Denice and Kirk are traveling to Hong Kong. Sandy went to Spain and England and Mark left yesterday for the States. Devin tried to leave but the plane had to be towed to the hanger (with his bags still in the belly). He, unfortunately texted us this morning to tell us that he was off to Seoul on the first leg of his journey back to Boston. I hope he gets there - he doesn't expect to see his luggage for a few days. John is on his way to deliver his new baby - a bridal veil fern - to me so I can babysit it for him while he's in the States visiting his lovely wife and children. I hope his trip is smooth as Chinese silk!

As the Westinghouse contingent living here at Shama, Denice and I went to the Oriental Department Store and bought a large fruit basket, some shortbread cookies and some fruit filled candies for the front desk staff and doormen. We are now finished with the gift-giving and are waiting for the onslaught of fireworks to begin. They have been setting some off every once and a while but we expect tomorrow night - Sunday - New Years Eve to be huge! We expect to be up 1/2 the night! We're hoping to run over to Zapata's - a local Mexican bar/restaurant for the CNY feast/free margaritas and hopefully, we'll win some hong bao too!

Mr. Chen told Mike and I yesterday that his son is getting excited about CNY. He is waiting for his hong bao - the little red envelopes - kids receive money too. Parents and grandparents give to the children and then they can go and buy that special toy they've been wanting all year. It kind of reminds me of Christmas though we act as Santa and purchase those toys - sometimes without the child knowing and sometimes it turns out disastrous. I think the Chinese have a great idea - let the kid's get what they want. They also get gifts of new clothes and shoes and coats.

I'm very sorry that I haven't been as diligent in writing since I got back. Christmas in Pittsburgh was very stressful - so many people to see and so little time - we changed our plans at the last minute. Kate and Katie Mo thought it would be good to stay at our house so we could save some money - a novel idea in the times we are now living in. So we went out and bought an Aero bed and sheets, pillows and blankets so we could sleep in Laila's room. Then, Kate felt sorry for us and let us sleep in her bed which was great.

Since we've been back, we've been very busy. It has been quite cold. I've got some great photos to share of some great events we've been to in the last 3 weeks - read on. . .