Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Books - Chinese Characters

As we've been meandering into the Chinese culture, I've become both fascinated and very much intimidated by the language and writing. Even for a basic exploration, there is much to be said and seen. Starting next week, I'm going to begin a weekly feature around Chinese characters and language, through calligraphy, idioms, and proverbs. In the meantime, the following books are colorful and fun, perfect for introducing children (and quite frankly, this adult) to the wonders of Chinese characters.

The Pet Dragon: A Story about Adventure, Friendship, and Chinese Characters by Christoph Niemann.

In Elle's favorite book, Lin and her pet dragon set off on a journey. This book introduces us to 33 Chinese characters, which are very cleverly integrated into these playful illustrations.







In the Leaves by Huy Voun Lee.

This book is beautifully illustrated with paper cutting. Xiao Ming teaches his friends 10 Chinese characters during a trip on the farm set in autumn. We've only read this book, but Huy Voun Lee has three other companion books set in winter, spring and summer: At the Beach, In the Snow, and In the Park.




Liu and the Bird: A Journey in Chinese Calligraphy  by Catherine Louis.

In this story, Liu sets off on a journey to see her grandfather, helped by many along the way, including a bird. This book is beautifully illustrated with linocuts, and introduces 30 Chinese characters. Each character is shown with an image, the ancient pictograph, and the current character, showing it's evolution and the visual nature of Chinese writing. This book also has a few activities for kids which help see the connection between writing and images.


My Little Book of Chinese Words (Bilingual Edition) (English and Mandarin Chinese Edition) also by Catherine Louis.

This little book, approximately 5 by 5 inches, is a great reference book, with over 100 characters, again beautifully illustrated with linocuts. Each word is seen with a clear, large Chinese character, it's ancient counterpart, the english translation, and it's pronunciation. The facing page for each character are the linocuts illustrating the words.
We used this book as our reference when creating our spring couplets for Chinese New Year.

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lantern Festival - Yuan Xiao

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE
On Sunday, after solving our riddles, we made some Yuan Xiao (as they are known in Northern China) or Tang Yuan (as they are known in Southern China). These sweet glutinous rice balls are eaten so much during the lantern festival that it is also known as the Yuan Xiao festival.


Tang Yuan literally means "round balls in soup", and their round shape represents family togetherness. They can be found with or without a filling, such as red bean paste and black sesame paste, and are served in a sweet soup.

Read more to make Tang Yuan

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lantern Festival - Solving Riddles

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE
Riddle solving is an anticipated part of the lantern festival. The Chinese love riddles and puns, and solving the lantern riddles is often rewarded with a small gift.

In the past, the riddles were extremely difficult to solve, creating the saying that guessing the riddles was as hard as fighting with a tiger, so that lantern riddles have been given another name - 'lantern tigers'.


I found various riddles online, typed them in a Chinese style font, and attached the to the bottom of our lanterns with sticky tack (see lantern tutorials parts 1, 2, & 3).I've included a printable at the bottom of this post if you want to include riddles in your lantern festival celebration. 

We created a special riddle for my mother, whose birthday we will be celebrating later today. It's fun to hear the guesses the girls offer up as answers, and fun to hear them come up with their own riddles. We'll be bringing these, and riddles invented by the girls, to my mother's birthday celebration and see who can solve the most.

Take a look at these Photos to see lantern tigers in China.

Printable Lantern Riddles

Update
Miss Panda Chinese also has printable lantern riddles you can find here.

Learn about the lantern festival, make lanterns (herehere and here), and taste glutinous rice balls in preparation for the festival.



You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:

You can find more school aged activities at the following linkups:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Our Lanterns at Night



Lantern Festival - Lantern Tutorial {Part 3 of 3}

We've been making our lanterns for the lantern festival on Sunday.


I love these lanterns made out of Lai See/Hong Bao. We made the above lantern following the tutorial at Fig, Jam & Lime Cordial. After stumbling across one tutorial, I searched and found so many variations of lanterns made out of Hong Bao. And I love them all. 

Draik at Squidoo has various crafts made from Lai See.
Chinese New Year Lanterns has a plethora of them, including video tutorials

Unfortunately, I found these tutorials a little too late - the asian stores in our area where out of lai see by the time I came across them, being nearly the end of the new year celebrations. Luckily, I still had a stash of older ones bought years ago.

Elle really wanted to make the fish by Draik (fish being a symbol of wealth, abundance and love in the Chinese culture), however it required more hong bao than we had, so she chose some origami paper she liked, and cut out the required rectangles. More work, but she loves her fish lantern.



I really think these are so ingenious, simple (if you've got a tutorial to follow) and have such a Chinese feel...I may need to order more envelopes online.

Learn about lantern festival, how to make more lanterns (herehere ), print riddles, and taste glutinous rice balls in preparation for the festival.



You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lantern Festival - Lantern Tutorial {Part 2 of 3}

We've been making our lanterns for the lantern festival on Sunday.


This second lantern (see Part 1 for the first lantern) comes in large (above) taking six sheets of paper, for the lantern and inserts. The images and decorations are for all ages, however making the body for this lantern is more suitable for older kids and patient adults :).


The miniature version takes one page for the body, and one page with enough inserts for three lanterns.

I've created printable templates for both. Read through cutting and printing instructions on templates.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lantern Festival - Lantern Tutorial {Part 1 of 3}

We've started making our lanterns for the lantern festival on Sunday.


This would be the easiest lantern to make, and despite the enthusiasm I put into the others, I think this is my favorite.


Read more for the tutorial


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Playing with Dragon Puppets

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE











Chinese New Year - The Lantern Festival

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

The Lantern Festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. It takes place on the 15th day, the day of the full moon which, this year, means it occurs this Sunday, February 24.


Photo Credit: Flickr member conan06
Lanterns abound, from traditional red lanterns, to simple designs in shapes of animals, flowers, and birds, to elaborate lanterns depicting various aspects of Chinese folklore. The streets are lit by hundreds of lanterns that have been made especially for this festival. Performers of all sorts, such as acrobats, jugglers, stiltwalkers, walk the streets.

Photo Credit: Flickr member conan06
Solving riddles is a popular custom during the festival. Written riddles on paper are attached to lanterns, and those attempting to solve them pull the paper to see if they are correct.

Photo Credit: Flickr member conan06
The legend behind the Lantern Festival tells of an angry Jade Emperor, unhappy with a certain city. He had decreed that it should be punished, burned down by the Fire Goddess. The city was saved by the wise man Donfang Shuo, who won the goddess' favor by offering her sweet rice balls, her favorite treat. He then had everyone in the city light lanterns and set off fireworks to fool the Jade Emperor into believing the city was on fire.

For the lantern festival, we made lanterns (here, here and here), riddles, and glutinous rice balls in preparation for the festival.



Monday, February 18, 2013

Jade Emperor's Birthday

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE


The 9th day of the Lunar New Year, Ti Kong Dan, marks the birthday of the Jade Emperor. Also known as the Heavenly Grandfather, Emperor of the Universe, and Ruler of all heavens (the Chinese have 33 heavens), he is the most important Chinese God according to Taoism.

On the eve of his birthday, there is more feasting and firecrackers. On his birthday, the Chinese crowd his temple and offer prayers to their Heavenly Grandfather. 

This day is especially important to Hokkiens, whose traditional offering is sugarcane. According to legend, the Hokkien were spared from a massacre by hiding in a sugarcane plantation during the eighth and ninth days of the Chinese New Year, coinciding with the Jade Emperor's birthday. Offering sugarcane is symbolic of their gratitude.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Renri - the Common Man's Birthday

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE
Renri, (literally Human Day), the 7th day of the Chinese New Year, is considered the day human beings were created, and is therefore everybody's common birthday, where everyone is considered one year older.



We decided to celebrate Renri with longevity noodles. These long noodles represent long life, and are often eaten on birthdays and for special occasions. The key is to do your best not to break the noodles when picking them up to eat, since the longer the noodle is, the longer your life should be.


We just cooked the noodles in a mixture of mushroom broth, soya sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil. Mixed those with chopped green onions and sliced mushrooms - simple and good.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Powu- The day to welcome the God of Wealth

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Cai Shen God of Wealth
5th Day is Po'wu, meaning "breaking on the fifth. The prohibitions of the new year, such as not using scissors, or sweeping, are finished on this day.

It's the day to welcome the God of Wealth. Jiaozi (dumplings) are often eaten on this day because they look like ancient Chinese gold ingots. Most people go back to work on this day, and the re-opening of businesses is often accompanied with firecrackers.

The lion dance will parade around the streets to the sound of drums and firecrackers. Stores will invite them to have a lion dance to bring prosperity to the business in the coming year, and reward the lion with a lai see.

Photo Credit: Wee Sen Goh
Firecrackers are also set off to get Guan Yu's attention, to receive his favor and good fortune for the coming year. Guan Yu was born in the Han dynasty and is considered the greatest general in Chinese history. Guan is considered the perfect example of loyalty and righteousness


Guan Yu Statue
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

We're looking forward to eating more dumplings :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Kitchen God Returns

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE



It's the 4th day of the Lunar New Year, and today, the Kitchen God returns to each household. He's back from the heavens, and done reporting to the Jade Emperor. He will watch over our family until the next New Year, keeping tabs on us, in order to report once again to the Jade Emperor.

The image we colored is a printable coloring page of the Kitchen God with the Chinese Zodiac here through Chinese for Families.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Day of Dispute

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Today, the 3rd day of the Chinese New Year, is known as Chi Kou (literally "red mouth"), or Day of Dispute.

On this day, festivities are put on hold. The Chinese stay home to regain inner harmony, withdraw from others to avoid conflict, pray at temples, and go to bed early.

Water and words are easy to pour but impossible to recover.
~Chinese Proverb

This day is an opportunity to discuss taking the time to think about what we say and the impact of our words, especially if speaking when we're angry.

If we take the time to do so, we can come up with gentler ways of saying something. If we take deep breaths to calm down when we're angry, it allows for the possibility of being kind with our words.

Monday, February 11, 2013

2013 Year of the Snake

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Source
It's time to welcome the Year of the Snake. According to Chinese astrology, a year of the snake will bring unexpected changes and surprises. I guess, like a snake, we'll have to be flexible with what comes our way.

In honor of the snake, we printed off some snake finger puppets found at Mr. Printable. These snakes are great! Pea rolled her eyes at the idea, until she had one on her finger, and had fun playing with it :) Elle wanted to give one to all of her friends.



I also found this fun snake printable at Faltmanufactur, a german & english site:

Printable at Faltmanufactur


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Buddha's Delight

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

For new year's day, we made Buddha's Delight. This vegetarian stir fry is traditionally eaten on the first day of the new year.

Some of the ingredients could only be found in our local grocery, such as chinese black mushrooms (dried), ginkgo nuts, dried bean thread and lily sprouts.



The dried bean thread was by far the strangest ingredient. It comes in dry sheets that need to be soaked in hot water for some time. Even hydrated, the texture is unusual - similar to rubber fabric.



Many recipes I came across called for lily sprouts, which as it turns out, is the same as Enoki mushrooms. I had purchased both, not knowing they were one and the same.


Above are the main ingredients, along with mung bean noodles and the sauce. Had I properly managed my time, I would have had all ingredients cut ahead of time, because on New Year's day it is taboo to cut anything, for fear of cutting your new year good luck. For the thinly sliced carrots, I used "carrot slaw" - finely sliced carrots, broccoli and cabbage.



Elle and I really enjoyed this, though Pea and Hubby weren't fans of the varied textures.

Read more for the full recipe

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Happy Lunar New Year everyone! Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Below is the song GongXi, the song heard over and over again during the festivities.



The first verse means:
"In every street and every lane, One everybody's lips, The first sentence we say when we see each other, Must be Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations to you! Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations to you!"


Saturday, February 9, 2013

New Year's Eve Feast

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

The Lunar New Year is a time for families to gather for dinner. When setting the table, a place is set for everyone, even if someone can not make it. People travel from afar to be with their families.

Some chinese families seal the doors of their homes prior to the feast with more red strips, in order to keep out bad spirits. These seals are broken at midnight to let in the New Year.


Our Reunion Dinner turned out a little sparse - my sister and her family were going to join us but we were hit with a strong blizzard.

Making the jaozi from scratch was fun -  the girls helped to fill and close the dumplings, and Elle wanted to do more once we were done. I ended up using the recipe from "Feeding the Dragon" by Nate & Mary Kate Tate, also found on Epicurious. I was making the dough, and this recipe called for 5-10 minutes of kneading, rather than the 25 minutes called for with the Rasa Malaysia dumpling recipe I first planned to make. Less kneading is always an incentive.


We ate our lucky meal, and stayed up until midnight. But Pea was coming down with something, and went to bed early, so we didn't end up using our noisemakers.




Elle enjoying her homemade jiaozi

Friday, February 8, 2013

Chinese New Year Lanterns

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE

Photo Credit: Nick Read
I was going to save lantern making for the Lantern Festival at the end of the festivities, but became enamored with the red lanterns seen everywhere when researching the Chinese new year. At the very last minute, I decided I wanted strings of red lanterns for our house. 8$ being the best price I could find for red paper lanterns, our only option was to make them, so I picked up a package of red cardstock, and got to work.






The lantern above and the ones below where made from a great tutorial found at jellyfishjelly. I had scraps of gold from old Christmas crackers to create bands, and I think these "lanterns" look fabulous. Elle wanted to make a string of smaller lanterns (below) though after completing the first one, was much less inclined :) She enlisted her father to help, and they both completed two. But I think she was very glad to be done with it. If interested in making the smaller bell shaped lanterns, I should note that the paper strips kept coming undone from the bottom, resulting in my getting up on a chair with glue gun in hand to fix. Securely attached, they do look great. 


We also made some basic Chinese lanterns, either with black centers or red ones with a new year wish Chinese character and bands that read "Happy New Year" in Chinese. I put together a printable for the bands, and the new year wish character cylinders, that can be found here:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chinese New Year - The Tray of Togetherness

You can find all our posts on Chinese New Year HERE
Tray of Togetherness, bought at our local Asian grocery


Chuen-Hop, or the Tray of Togetherness, is a food tray divided in eight parts with sweets, to provide a sweet beginning to the new year, offered to guests throughout the festive season. Each part has a sweet snack in it, with it's own special meaning. Lotus seeds represent giving birth to sons, while watermelon seeds represent abundance. Also, if you eat coconut, your family will stay together, because coconut represents togetherness.
 
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