Thursday, 26 February 2009


Our family have used chopsticks at home for many years. I think we started it while our children were growing up and we'd purchase Chinese food for home use, and often went to Chinese restaurants for a meal.

I'm not as clever as the Chinese students, but I manage and manage well.

When I arrived in China we discovered that it was to be the way we ate food there. The university canteen provided wooden chopsticks or a metal spoon (for the soups etc). Not a soup spoon but what we would call a "dessert spoon."

Students would come and speak with me and praise me for using chopsticks, although I had many suggestions of improving my use of the two sticks to pick up food. I tried the methods suggested but somehow came back to the way I always used them.

They were surprised that I knew about Chinese food, and rather stunned to learn that we have been eating Chinese food in Australia (although not quite the same as in China) for many years. Chinese students often have little knowledge of history or geography outside China.

When I told the students that there have been Chinese people living in Australia for many years and that Chinese workers came to Australia in the earliest history especially to work in the goldfields they were mos surprised.

Yesterday I attended a function at the Brisbane Australian National Archives for an open day focusing on "Shake your Family Tree" which was excellent although I was not able to stay for the full program. Luckily the Archives are only a few minutes from where I live in Brisbane, and I have visited often.

They have a publication called "Memento" and I was thrilled to find an article about the early history of Chinese Restauants in China. I will send a copy to some students in China.

An academic, Barbara Nichol, reports on the history of Chinese Restaurants in Australia. It appears that the first Chinese restaurants appeared on the Victorian goldfields, which is not surprising as there were so many Chinese nationals there. It is reported that "By the late 19th centure, despite restrictive immigration policies, and a declining Chinese populations many were operating in major centres."

If anyone has visited Melbourne and seen the Chinese restaurants around Little Bourke Street, will not be surprised to learn that this is where they started. Inthe late 1800's they were called "cookshops".

Barbara writes that most of the Chinese immigrants came from "Kwangtung Province in Southern China", which modern day Chinese maps would call "Guangdong" or in English "Canton" so the emphasis was on Cantonese cooking.

Barbara reports that by 1920 there were 18 Chinese restaurants recorded. During World War II Chinese restaurants were very popular.

I know from my childhood in South Australia that there were quite a few Chinese restaurants, but my veryconservative parents would not have taken me to one. I think I was in my 20's before I actually went to one.

The full article on this can be found in Issue 34 of Momento which is available free from the National Archives. The magazine is full of wonderful information about Australia, and a visit to the Archives is most fascinating.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Time flies and I'm not even having fun!

There seems to be so much to do and I have found little time to write, but hopefully in the next few days I will get some of my major tasks behind me.

I'm trying to "downsize" in the house. I think it makes you think when your partner is stricken with a major health issue, and you realize the task of moving if one has to, would be pretty daunting. We've had occasional Spring Cleans over the 16 years we have been in this house, but there is much that we've not used in that time, and won't use. What does one throw out? I am being rather ruthless, and the loungeroom is piled high with books and magazines that I have chosen to give away or sell. Anyone want to buy some books? We will have a garage sale, as soon as MM is able to as he is a better sales person than me. In the meantime I am doing the hard work of making some hard decisions.

I've finished the bookshelf - and almost filled it and there are piles of books waiting for some decisions. MM has not been able to do anything and I won't throw his books aside. He has heaps of John Grisham books, and others that he will never read again, and quite a lot of good books that he is yet to read.

I have had coffee with a couple of friends, but find that there is little time for things. Next week I will have more time I hope.

I've had messages from students in China, and feel so much for them. One failed his CET6 exam - this is an English test that students must pass to get certain employment. His English is good - but I'm not sure how to comment on the tests. I've not seen much detail about it, but from discussions with a Chinese teacher last year, I found it all strangely confusing. It was not an area that we got involved in, though I am sure we should have been. I'm sure the native English speakers might have been some assistance to the students doing these exams.

I'm still keen to return to China and will follow up on some offers I have had - but not this month!

I still have a big "to do" list - but thankfully each day the list gets smaller. I have managed to do a few things - and next week I will do some writing I hope.

Today I went to an Open Day at the National Archives. Luckily it is not far from home, and it is a place that I have visited often in the past. It is amazing the collections of items on every day life in Australia - and especially if one is writing family history or life stories. I'm keen to do more of that!

The Open Day was called "Shake your Family Tree" and there was much information for anyone exploring their family history. There are so many resources there.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Me - a carpenter?

I've been working on cleaning up and cleaning out the house. Downsizing. Re organising. In part it kept me busy while I was stressed about my husband's health.

I've got piles of my "big" clothes ready for sale or for the used clothing collectors next week, and I've got a pile of magazines that are well past their use by date. And then it occurred to me that I needed new furniture. We had been talking about getting two chairs for the back deck, but had done nothing about it, and our coffee table was looking daggy.

So I spent some time wandering around Ikea at Springwood. Then one day I returned and bought two great chairs for the back deck and a coffee table. The chairs came in a flat pack and I had to follow the instructions to put them together. Then the coffee table which I easily put together.

By now I'm quite confident, and went back for more product. This time I bought a four drawer chest of drawers, a computer desk and bookshelves. The flatpacks were so big they didn't fit in the car, so the large box was transported by my daughter in the Volvo stationwagon.

Eventually all boxes were on the loungeroom floor and I set about putting them together. I worked until 11pm but still had the drawers to assemble. The shell was already in the bedroom.

In the end, with my husband's supervision, we worked out the instructions that were confusing me, and finished the drawers, and installed them.

Boy, if I was in Girl Guides I'd have probably earned my Carpenters Badge! I'm surprised how easily I can put the furniture together.

Tomorrow it is the desk, and maybe the bookshelves!


I've spoken with others that have returned from the Teaching in China adventure, and we all agree that it does take some adjusting BACK to life.

At first I felt it was jet lag and stress, but it is more than that I think. For a start, as overwhelming as the crowds were in China, it is weird walking in a street at home in Australia and not seeing anyone. A sort of discomfort in a way.

The other thing that I can't get over is the obese people here. OK, I know I'm not skinny, but after not seeing many overweight people in China, is sort of screams at you here. Here it is over a month after returning home, and my eyes spy grossyly overweight people and I feel most uncomfortable. And I notice that so many of these grossly overweight people are doing huge piles of food at food outlets at the shopping centre. I see older grossly overweight women walking with the aid of a stick. Perhaps some have a genuine health problem that CAUSED their gross size, but I doubt it for most.

I've been visiting a hospital daily - my husband had open heart surgery a week ago - and I have seen so many grossly overweight people wandering around the hospital - inpatients and outpatients.

What are we doing. Yes "we" - as I too should lost a few more kilos. And I'm trying. I did in fact lose 13 kgs while in China - and I will struggle as usual to keep it off.

I'm still not sure what I want to do. I have spent so much time focusing on others in the last month that I have done very little for me, and it will be a while before I can settle down and makie some decision.

Everyone asks me if I will return to China. The answer is quite clearly, "yes, I do want to return" but it is not as simple as that. If it was only up to me, I'd go as soon as possible, but I have family and other commitments so I will just have to wait and see.

I'm keen to explore "nursing English" opportunities in China too. Maybe a short trip to have a look at that later.

In the mean time I just manage one day at a time, until such time as my husband is further advanced in his recovery.

From next week I will be able to get out and visit friends - something that I have not had the opportunity to do over the past few weeks.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Red Packets and Chinese New Year

The 15 day Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) which this year, 2009, started on January 26th. This is the most important of Chinese Festivals and is celebrated by Chinese people around the world. There are many facets to this celebration - and is a special time for families to come together, so China becomes a bit of a travellers' nightmare as people make their way back to their homes.

I am still trying to understand the many traditions that are carried on during this time. It must be a good time for retailers as everyone needs a new set of clothing, and so many gifts are purchased during this time for family members. As well there is the food - as all festivals in China involved getting together with family and friends and enjoying special foods.

The New Year's Eve Dinner or Reunion Dinner is held on New Year's Eve, and many family members come together to prepare this meal. You can read here more about the food and traditions of the Reunion Dinner.

After the Reunion Dinner family members talk about the great things that have happened to the family during the previous year, and they make plans or speak in a positive way about the coming year.

There are many superstitions at this time. From Wikipedia the following gives some information on how to promote Good Luck for the coming year.

Good luck

  • Opening windows and/or doors is considered to bring in the good luck of the new year.
  • Switching on the lights for the night is considered good luck to 'scare away' ghosts and spirits of misfortune that may compromise the luck and fortune of the new year.
  • Sweets are eaten to ensure the consumer a "sweet" year.
  • It is important to have the house completely clean from top to bottom before New Year's Day for good luck in the coming year. (however, as explained below, cleaning the house on or after New Year's Day is frowned upon)
  • Some believe that what happens on the first day of the new year reflects the rest of the year to come. Chinese people will often gamble at the beginning of the year, hoping to get luck and prosperity.
  • Wearing a new pair of slippers that is bought before the new year, because it means to step on the people who gossip about you.
  • The night before the new year, bathe yourself in pomelo leaves and some say that you will be healthy for the rest of the new year.
  • Changing different things in the house such as blankets, clothes, mattress covers etc. is also a well respected tradition in terms of cleaning the house in preparation for the new year.
The way the house is decorated is important. You can read all about that on the Wikipedia site too.

Red Packets? Children love this part of the celebration - parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts put coins into a pretty envelope decorated with red and gold, and give to the children.

We are now in the year of the Ox, though I have read that some call it the year of the bull, or the year of the cow.

The Palanquin or Sedan Chair

This Palanquin or Sedan chair is on show in Hefang Street, Hanzhou. In old Chinese times this was a popular mode of transport, especially for the wealthy and people holding high office.

An Emperor would have different Palanquins for different ceremonial occasions. This one is quite a fancy one with plenty of RED which would indicated that it's 'owner' held high office or it was an important ceremonial one.

The carvings, the beautiful silks, and other decorations are amazing.

You can read more about the use of Palanquins or sedan chairs here.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Red Lanterns

In China it is common to see red lanterns. Some are the remains of some festival long gone, others you will find in hotels or restaurants or part of some celebration. Like the red carpet. So often there is a red carpet to the entrance of a new shop or business, and there would be many red lanterns too. On December 26th, 08, the red lanterns were being put in place in the towns and cities in preparation for the Chinese New Year. In the photo above, these lanterns by the hundreds were being erected in Hangzhou. In Shaoxing the lanterns were strung every 6 feet along the intire length of Jiefung Lu, the "main" street through the middle of the city. Buildings (especially banks) were decorated with red and gold, to herald in a prosperous new year.

The lone red lantern hangs in our back deck. I bought several of these here in Brisbane during the festivities and the grandchildren have one also hanging in their room.

The Red Knot

Two of the boxes I sent from China with gifts for family arrived on Monday. I'd forgotten about one of them (perhaps NEXT time, I should keep records of the big boxes that I send!), but it arrived safely anyway and in part it was quite a surprise for me to find the things that I had packed away.

One of my "chops" and the stamp pad arrived - I was looking forward to that so that I could use the other chop that I have. (I'll post about them later.)

The Chinese Monopoly sets arrived, the China dolls for the grandchildren, some of my summer clothes and more of the scarves that students had made, or that I had bought before I knew I was to be inundated with lovely scarves. A few other items were included and some I will write about later, but two items that I had not remembered were two
Red Knots.

I have a small collection of them now, but the two in the box are big ones.

First of all, I need to explain that
RED is a favourite colour in China. Red lanterns decorate streets and buildings for festivals, especially Chinese New Year or Spring Festival and the last day of that 10 day festivity is Lantern Festival Day. You can read more about the colour red and how it is used here.

My red knots were gifts from students - supposed to bring me good luck and good fortune. I hope they do.

The knots are made with one single piece of red rope - it is an art to be able to do it, and there are many variations of the knot.

Mine have a big knot at the bottom woven with a gold braid, with more red and gold hanging below.

I'm not sure where these will "live" as I do not wish to put them away. They are so bright and colourful and hold so many memories for me that I would like them to be on show, and my office is the perfect spot I think.

Monday, 9 February 2009

The nurse from China

My husband has been in hospital - in Coronary Care indeed, in one of the large private hospitals in Brisbane. I was with him the other day and a nurse came in to take his observations. She was Chinese.

A lovely girl with a bright personality, she was from Harbin. We had a short chat while she worked. She did not do any nursing in China, but managed to do the IELTS and qualified to study nursing at a university in Australia.

I was so impressed. She did her job efficiently, and also showed great empathy and for a short while chatted. She had come on her own - all her family are back in China, and she has not decided what her long term plans are. She worries that she may not fit in the Chinese medical system.

I hope I see her again. She was quite inspiring.

Students contacting me.

I was thrilled over the last couple of days to receive emails and messages from students at the university. Some are expecting me to return this semester. I did try and explain to everyone that the earliest that I may be back is 2010 - all being well. No guarantees.

I have offered to help the students with their English. One student is already working - on probation for three months. She must work from 7.30 am to 6 pm, for six days a week, and while on probation she will not get paid. The job is 90 minutes from her home, so she is negotiating to live in a dormitory at her work.

It is common in China for employers to provide accomodation for their employees, but the dormitories are quite sparce. This same student told me that her first job, only a couple of weeks ago she stayed in the accomodation provided, but the room she was in was full of other workers, and there were two people to a bed. She resigned.

I heard from another student who will not be returning to college this semester - in part because last year someone stole her laptop. There was no facility to lock up a computer or other valuable equipment - and with 6 students to a dormitory, it is hard to safeguard one's own property.

No wonder the Chinese students are such hard workers. They don't get it easy.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Adjusting to life at home.

It is just three weeks since I returned to Australia from China, and I've had a very hectic time, although have done little for ME. Housework was a high priority and gardening.

I confess to having some challenges adjusting. One thing that I find quite confronting is seeing all the FAT PEOPLE. It is something that we see little of in China. The majority of people there are small and there is little of the obesity problems that are common in Australia.

When I go to the shopping centre, I feel quite angry that people have allowed themselves to get so obese. I know I have been overweight, but never to the extent that I see some men and women. So many older women are walking with the aid of sticks - again something that I did not see much of in China.

On the personal front, I know that I will have to continue to work to maintain my newer body shape after all the walking in China, and so far so good.

And other things change. Roads and buildings are not the same - so it will be a while before I am familiar with my own territory again.

I have been driving the new car - again something to get used to. I had to put petrol in the car on Friday but could not find how to get access to the petrol tank. I spent ages looking for a button to press, like our old car, and as I was on my own I had to scratch my head a little and try a few things. I could have opened the instruction book which is in the "glovebox" but I managed to work it out alone.

The remotes - we have four to manage for the TV, DVD player etc. I have had a few hiccups, but have mastered it now.

I am also going through things in the house - especially my wardrobe and putting aside all the clothes that I no longer want. Some clothes are being discarded as they are 3 sizes too big for me. Will I throw them out or hang on to them in case I do put on weight again?

I think I will be positive and discard them.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Why the different names? Peking or Beijing?

It can be confusing reading/talking about places in China. Most folk know the capital of China as Beijing now, but also know it was called Peking. Or should I say is! Hangchow or Hangzhou? Soochow or Souzhou? One is Mandarin and the other is Pinyin.

Why is this? The explanation is simple, but confusing. It is about the romanization change. So that we westerners can more easily learn the language, and that Chinese children can more easily learn their own language. The best explanation I think is on Wikipedia. I know that is not necessarily the "authority" but it is a good explanation. Click here.

Another site to read.

It is a bit complex. Students in China studying English will have three names. Their Chinese name (Chinese characters), their name in Pinyin, and oddly their English name. Strange as it might be, students choose a name so that their English teacher (if a foreigner can remember, and pronounce his/her name.)

An oddity with this is that Chinese names are different. Perhaps a few wise words. "Heavenly Child", for example. While we might call a girl "Grace" if we want to think of her as a heavenly child, we use a "name" not a "description".

Chinese students choose a strange English names, according to what we are familiar with. Sunny, Moon, Moonshine, Winter, Wind, Eleven, etc. Any word can be a name for a Chinese student. And they change their names from time to time. THAT is confusing.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Zhou Enlai

Statue of Zhou Enlai

The city of Shaoxing celebrates many famous people, and one is the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, Zhou Enlai. He was born in Zhejiang province in 1898, and his ancestral home is in Shaoxing, although I don't think from what I have read that he ever lived there.

I had walked through the street in which the museum and other buildings celebrating his life were, but I had not been in, until the last few weeks of my stay in Shaoxing. One reason was that there was little English to be seen and I had hoped to get a student to go with me, but it was not to be.

In my effort to see all the places on my "to see list", I made a point of going one afternoon all on my own. It certainly was a fascinating place but as usual I was frustrated by the lack of English.

My Tourist card worked again, so it was FREE for me to visit. There are buildings on both sides of the road, and there were few people there. I wandered - reading as much as I could as there was some English, but great things to see.

I never cease to be amazed at the way the buildings fit into one another with beautiful gardens between them. I can't tell much about the photos - but certainly fascinating. Several halls had many photos of Zhou Enlai's family, and others contained photos of him during his political career. One room was like a mausaleum complete with moving music but the reality is there is no body here. He was buried elsewhere.

As usual there were little stalls throughout the buildings and at one I found a lovely book with amazing photos of Shaoxing. It was called "Ancient Bridges and Houses in Waterside Shaoxing" and I was impressed that the photos had English captions, and there was one chapter all in English. It was for sale for 35 RMB. The book that was on display was slightly damaged - it was the copy that obviously many people had already leafed through and there were dirty marks and fingerprints on it. I wanted a new copy. Unblemished.

My Chinese language skills did nothing to convince the two people on the stall that I was happy to purchase - a CLEAN COPY! In the end I left empty handed, and a little annoyed. I looked for the book in other places but it was not until I was inside Lu Xun's Native place some days later that I saw the book again and was able to get my very own clean copy.

Again I enjoyed looking at the wonderful buildings, rooms, furniture, and gardens of the tourist spot. Amazing things.

Zhou Enlai was Premier from 1st October 1949 until his death in 1976, and is hailed as one of the key people in the success of the Communist Party during this time.