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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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Beyond the Great Wall - The Miao Bamboo Instrument: The Lusheng

There are 1.5 billion people who live in China, and approximately 92% are Han Chinese, that is ethnically Chinese. Most of this blog explores the Han culture. However, in the outer regions of China, beyond the great wall,  various ethnic "minorities" abound. In fact, there are 56 officially recognized ethnic "minorities" in China, which accounts for about 125 million people.
Lusheng Players
Photo Credit: Jason Powers
The Lusheng is a bamboo wind instrument with multiple pipes and metal reeds. They range in length from 1/3 meter to 3 1/3 meters.

Lusheng music is played at festivals, to celebrate harvests and to worship ancestors. Playing the lusheng is often accompanied by rhythmic dancing and swinging from side to side.

Photo Credit: Jason Powers
There are lusheng competitions in which the players have been training for years to play the instrument while doing a sort of head stand, essentially playing it upside down.

Hope you enjoy listening to lusheng music!


To learn more about the Miao, check out our other posts for Beyond the Great Wall, including an overview of the Miao and Sister's Meal Festival, a traditional courting festival.



Monday, April 29, 2013

Beyond the Great Wall - Sister's Rice Festival

There are 1.5 billion people who live in China, and approximately 92% are Han Chinese, that is ethnically Chinese. Most of this blog explores the Han culture. However, in the outer regions of China, beyond the great wall,  various ethnic "minorities" abound. In fact, there are 56 officially recognized ethnic "minorities" in China, which accounts for about 125 million people.
Photo Credit: Yuen Yan

The Sister's Rice Festival, also known as Sister's Meal Festival, takes place in late April, and lasts three to five days. This is a traditional courting festival, but it is also a time to celebrate the spring, and the Miao culture.

Along with bull fighting, dragon boat races, singing, dancing and eating, the Miao girls wear their finest and meet with their suitors. The girls accept and reject their suitors with bundles of rice,  especially prepared, which hold a symbolic treasure inside.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Beyond the Great Wall - Miao Ethnic Minority

There are 1.5 billion people who live in China, and approximately 92% are Han Chinese, that is ethnically Chinese. Most of this blog explores the Han culture. However, in the outer regions of China, beyond the great wall,  various ethnic "minorities" abound. In fact, there are 56 officially recognized ethnic "minorities" in China, which accounts for about 125 million people.
The Miao are one of the largest ethnic minorities in China. They are divided into several subgroups. They live mainly in the mountainous regions of the southwestern provinces of China, and also in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.



The Miao are mostly farmers, who generally live in self sufficient villages. They are animists and shamanists - that is their shamans are called upon when ill to rid their bodies of any evil spirits. They also practice ancestor worship.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chinese Language in All Its Forms - Ancient pictographs to present day characters

The written Chinese language is nearly 4000 years old. It began as images representing objects and eventually evolved to represent ideas as well. The first records of Chinese writing was found on oracle bones and bronze vessels. These were records of harvests, childbirths and wars . Chinese characters have continued to evolve over the years, from simple images to the abstract and complex characters we see now.

                                


In order for the girls to see the difference, I created a memory game and "key". First, we looked over the above sheet, the key. There are nine different words, their ancient pictograph, their current character and the Chinese pronunciation of each word. I also made a small note of what to look for when comparing the ancient and present day characters. 



After looking at the characters, we cut out the memory game pieces and glued them to some joss paper (spirit money) for backing. Then Pea proceeded to win, twice in a row. 

If you'd like to see more, Chinese Hour has a great deal of pictographs, and a short explanation of their evolution as well as an image illustrating the meaning.

If you 'd like to make your own memory game, click on the links below the images for a free printable.




See if you can play without using the key!



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

Beyond The Great Wall - Dai Traditional Food & Recipe

There are 1.5 billion people who live in China, and approximately 92% are Han Chinese, that is ethnically Chinese. Most of this blog explores the Han culture. However, in the outer regions of China, beyond the great wall,  various ethnic "minorities" abound. In fact, there are 56 officially recognized ethnic "minorities" in China, which accounts for about 125 million people.

The Dai prefer to eat spicy and sour foods. Rice is a common staple, particularly glutinous rice, and is served in a variety of ways. One of their most noted traditional dishes is bamboo steamed rice. Glutinous rice soaks for hours, and is then packed into sections of freshly cut bamboo. The bamboo is then wrapped in a banana leaf and tied with grass. This bamboo packet of rice is then roasted over a fire for about fifteen minutes. 

Bamboo sticky rice (Source)
It is worth taking a look at the Top Eight Dai People's Dishes, which includes bamboo steamed rice, fried moss, and the pineapple purple rice that inspired the recipe we tried.

Dai Pineapple Rice
Photo Credit: Alpha
Keep reading for the pineapple rice recipe

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Ballad of Mulan

The ballad of Mulan is the epic poem that tells the story of Hua Mulan, the legendary heroine who takes the place of her aging father to fight for her country and save his life. She fights with her army for ten years, at the end of which her only wish is to return home. Her comrades are unaware that she is a women until she has returned home, and gets dressed in her women's clothing and makeup.  

Mulan's patriotic spirit and filial duty is much admired by the Chinese.Written sometime between AD 386 and AD 581, this classic poem continues to be taught to children in China today, and is sung in Chinese operas. Most westerners are likely familiar with the Disney animated version. 

FA Mulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior  by Robert D. San Souci. We read this book first, since the retelling of the poem is in storybook fashion, which is more interesting for Elle (10). The author follows the traditional sequence of events, but uses his historical and cultural knowledge to fill in the scenes as a story.       
The Song of Mu Lan  by Jeanne M. Lee. After reading the story, we read this translated version of the ballad. The book is beautifully illustrated in watercolors, and has the original poem in calligraphy accompanying the translation. The ballad has a great rhythm, and Pea, who particularly enjoys poetry, favored this book.
Wild Orchid: A Retelling of "The Ballad of Mulan" (Once upon a Time) by Cameron Dokey. This short novel retelling of the ballad was read by Pea, and she enjoyed it. She says it was an easy read, with a great degree of focus on Mulan's childhood. 

I've linked up this post to these great blog hops of reviews and activities for Children's books at Mother Daughter Book Reviews and Children's Bookshelf
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.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Beyond the Great Wall - Dai Peacock Dance

There are 1.5 billion people who live in China, and approximately 92% are Han Chinese, that is ethnically Chinese. Most of this blog explores the Han culture. However, in the outer regions of China, beyond the great wall,  various ethnic "minorities" abound. In fact, there are 56 officially recognized ethnic "minorities" in China, which accounts for about 125 million people.
To the Dai, the peacock is revered as a symbol of peace, happiness, good fortune and beauty.

A golden peacock is used as a decoration throughout town, over archways and homes during their new year, also known as the water splashing festival.

Photo Credit: Jordan Sitkin
Continue reading to watch the peacock dance, and make a golden peacock craft

Friday, April 19, 2013

100 Year Old Eggs - An unsuccessful food tasting experience

100 year old eggs are also known as Century eggs, Millennium eggs and Thousand year eggs. This Chinese delicacy is made by preserving chicken, duck or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt and lime for months.


 We bought 4 eggs, one for each of us, at a local Asian grocery. No one was too keen to try these out. But when I put them on the table, there was some excitement at the prospect - mixed of course with fear.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beyond the Great Wall - Dai Architecture

There are 1.5 billion people who live in China, and approximately 92% are Han Chinese, that is ethnically Chinese. Most of this blog explores the Han culture. However, in the outer regions of China, beyond the great wall,  various ethnic "minorities" abound. In fact, there are 56 officially recognized ethnic "minorities" in China, which accounts for about 125 million people.


Traditional Dai houses are high on stilts, using bamboo as the main construction material. The lower level  is used for livestock like chickens and pigs, and as storage for dried goods. It is also a work area for brewing rice liquor, and for weaving. The living, cooking and sleeping areas are upstairs.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Beyond the Great Wall - Dai Water Splashing Festival

There are 1.5 billion people who live in China, and approximately 92% are Han Chinese, that is ethnically Chinese. Most of this blog explores the Han culture. However, in the outer regions of China, beyond the great wall,  various ethnic "minorities" abound. In fact, there are 56 officially recognized ethnic "minorities" in China, which accounts for about 125 million people.

During the Dai New Year, which falls between April 11-14th, the Dai celebrate with a Water Splashing Festival.
  
Photo Credit Dodd Lu
Everyone partakes in this festival, young and old, boy or girl, and tourists and non-locals are encouraged to join in the fun. Water is gathered in buckets and everyone splashes one another to wash away bad luck and make room for luck, happiness and wealth.

Photo Credit Shang Nin

Monday, April 15, 2013

Beyond the Great Wall - Dai Ethnic Minority


There are 1.5 billion people who live in China, and approximately 92% are Han Chinese, that is ethnically Chinese. Most of this blog explores the Han culture. However, in the outer regions of China, beyond the great wall,  various ethnic "minorities" abound. In fact, there are 56 officially recognized ethnic "minorities" in China, which accounts for about 125 million people.

The Dai live mostly in southern and southwestern Yunnan province, and are related to Lao and Thai people. They still follow a degree of their traditional animist religion and practice Buddhism.

Dai boy with traditional headpiece
Photo Credit: Lisa
Continue reading for a printable bookmark inspired by Dai embroidery

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chinese Language in all it's Forms

Chinese writing appeared nearly six thousand years ago. It is one of the oldest systems of writing in the world which began as pictograms (simplified images of the objects they represent) and has evolved into ideograms (symbols that stand for ideas) known as characters. Over time Chinese characters evolved into different styles, and in 1956 many of the characters were simplified by reducing their number of strokes.
There are approximately 10,000 characters, and in order to be considered literate (or in order to read a newspaper) you must know at least 3,000

Below are a few videos that show the evolution of the ancient pictograms for table, fruit and tree respectively, to the simplified characters they are now.



Friday, April 5, 2013

Celebrating Qing Ming

Last night we celebrated the Qing Ming Festival, the Chinese Festival also known as Clear Brightness Festival and Tomb Sweeping Day. This festival begins as a solemn occasion to honor one's ancestors and departed family members with offerings and tomb cleaning, and progresses into an outdoor family outing celebrating the beginning of spring and good weather. 


You can read my earlier post about this festival here.


Over the course of the week, we have been reminiscing about deceased relatives and pets. The grandparents hubby and I have lost are buried in other provinces, so we didn't have a tomb to maintain. Part of Qing Ming is to offer food ceremoniously to the deceased, as it is believed they can enjoy this in the afterlife. We set out dog biscuits for old pets, and we cooked dishes we remembered eating often with our grandparents: Fricot, an Acadian chicken and dumpling soup; and Tourtiere, a French Canadian meat pie.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chinese Language in All Its Forms - Chinese Numbers

Numbers are very important to the Chinese, and based on their similar words,(as noted when learning about tones, Chinese words have various homonyms, that is, various words that sound the same) some numbers are considered lucky or favorable, and others are considered unfavorable. For instance, when buying a house, getting a license plate, or scheduling the date for a celebration, it is important the numbers are lucky.


Two is considered a lucky number - there is a Chinese saying that "good things come in pairs". It also suggests harmony, therefore decorations are always set out in pairs, such as couplets, or a pair of candles.










Four is considered particularly unlucky as it sounds like the word for death. There are often no fourth floors in buildings, some go so far as no floors with the number 4 in it, such as 14, 24, etc.







Six is considered lucky, and especially good for business, as it sounds like smooth, and fluidity.










Seven is a lucky number for relationships, since it sounds like togetherness.
Eight is a particularly lucky number, meaning also fortune and wealth. It is no coincidence that the 2008 Olympics began on August 8th (8/8/8) 





Nine represents longevity, happiness and good luck, and is therefore used in weddings. It is associated with the Emperor of China, whose Forbidden City is reputed to have had 9999 rooms, and his robes had nine dragons on them.


How about writing the number 6 on a school scribbler for school work to go smoothly or the number 8 as a poster for good luck.

If you'd like to use some of these numbers to increase your luck, you can practice writing them on the sheet below.


Printable Chinese Number Practice Sheet

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Qing Ming Festival

The Qing Ming Festival (pronounced ching ming) is also known as the Clear Brightness Festival and Tomb Sweeping Day.

Tomb with offerings for Qing Ming
Photo Credit: The Nameless Bear
Usually held around April 5th, the Qing Ming festival is a time for families to come together to honor their ancestors with offerings and by tending to their graves and burial grounds. It's also a time to celebrate the beginning of spring with outings in the countryside, going for walks, and kite flying.
 
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