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, June 25, 2013

Chinese Brush Painting - How to Paint Bamboo


Chinese brush painting is one of the Three Perfections, along with calligraphy and poetry. Although we will not be perfecting these crafts, we will be exploring them. 

In Chinese brush painting, the artist uses brushstrokes developed in the practice of calligraphy. The medium is ink, which can be diluted to create various tones. And most often, brush painting is done on silk or rice paper. 

The subject is most often nature: landscapes, plants, and animals. Paintings of plants and animals are filled with symbolism, and landscapes represent the grandeur of nature and our small role as people within it. 

The most important principle in Chinese brush painting is not to create a realistic likeness of the subject, but to capture its spirit and its Chi, its life energy. 

How do you tune it with the spirit of what you want to paint? Can you study the subject in its natural environment, truly observe it. Imagine what it feels like to be that subject, to be relating to the other elements of nature around you. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Our Weekend in a Nutshell


This weekend started off with Hubby and I going away for a night, off to Cape D'Or, with a group of friends. It was rather strange going away, exploring a piece of our province without the girls, but it was an overdue get away with a great group of friends. We had a great time, and I've come home with a plan for a 3 (maybe even 4) day mini vacation for our family to enjoy the area properly, taking our time, and taking in Nova Scotia scenery.


On Sunday morning, we picked up the girls and headed for the Multicultural Festival - an annual festival that highlights a variety of cultures, with performances, food and informative booths. Unfortunately, Pea finally caught Elle's cold from last week, so she wasn't up for a full day in the sun. We did get in some great performances and a meal before heading home. It's always fun to see the various dances, and we saw Sri-Lankan dances, Bollywood style and classical Indian dances, belly dancing, and Scottish highland dancing. Pea and I loved watching the women from the Sikh society dance since you could tell they were truly enjoying themselves. Elle and Hubby enjoyed Chinese food, but I thought I'd try something different and tried a few dishes from the Islamic Society booth - one dish had chickpea flour pastry of sorts in yogurt which was so refreshing in the heat. We also tasted a rosewater drink, that reminded hubby of his childhood days eating rose petals (well, I learned something about him too!), with its strong rose flavor.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Chengyu: To Have an Image of Bamboo in One's Mind


To Have an Image of Bamboo in One's Mind

There once was a scholar, Wen Tong, who was renown for his beautiful bamboo paintings. His pieces were requested almost daily, from near and afar, for it seemed the paintings were so beautiful, you could almost see the leaves fluttering in the wind. 

Wen Tong loved bamboo, and would spend time every day observing it, whether in the forests or within his own gardens which were filled with bamboo. He would observe their stalks and leaves, the way they swayed in the wind or stood upright on calm days, how the colors changed with the light. He spent so much time observing bamboo, that when he sat down to paint it, he had a clear image of bamboo in his mind. That is why his paintings were so beautiful and sought after.

This idiom refers to knowing what you intend to accomplish before you begin, and having a well thought out plan or design in your mind which ensures its success.

Discuss: Have you ever had an experience of doing something you had thought out so clearly, planned for so long, that when you did it, everything went smoothly. Did you feel proud of the hard work and time you put into planning and accomplishing it? Have you ever done something you wished you had spent more time planning and thinking through ahead of time? How would planning it have helped?

An idiom is an expression that is not meant to be taken literally. For example, in English, we often use the expression "It's raining cats and dogs". Obviously, we don't take this expression literally, we come to learn that it means it's raining hard outside. 

Though the Chinese have many proverbs and idioms, Chengyu are formalized idioms, usually using only four characters and relating to folktales, classical literature, and historical accounts. The four characters typically state a moral, and in order to properly understand their meaning, it is important to know the story behind them. There are at least 5,000 Chengyu. 


To learn about Chinese idioms is to gain another insight into the Chinese culture, their mores, and their history. We will be learning Chengyu, and their related stories, regularly for the rest of our "year in China". I believe the insights we'll gain will highlight many universal facets of human nature within their cultural context.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Lucky Bamboo


Hubby bought some lucky bamboo during the Chinese New Year - he spotted some at the grocery store, and knew the girls and I would love it. We placed it in a vase with water, and it's been easy maintenance since. Just give it fresh water the odd time you think of it  every week and enjoy!

With the importance of bamboo in the Chinese culture, and the virtues it represents, it is no surprise that bamboo placed in the home is considered auspicious within the Feng Shui principles (proper energy flow in the home). The number of stalks bunched or woven together are determinants of the luck and energy the bamboo can bring - it is believed that the more stalks you have, the greater the good fortune you will be blessed with.

Two bamboo stalks are often given as an expression of love, and are said to double your fortune.

Three bamboo stalks is the favored combination of  bamboo in the home as it brings three types of luck: Happiness, Long Life, and Wealth.

The number six in Chinese also sounds like the word for luck, so six bamboo stalks attracts prosperity and greater achievements. 

Be sure not to have four bamboo stalks, as the number four in Chinese also sounds like the word for death, and is considered incredibly unlucky.

I think getting two bamboo combinations with three stalks was unwittingly a very lucky combination on hubby's part. 


Learn more about bamboo with us: Learn about its cultural significance in China and watch its amazing growth over just 24 hours; Paint bamboo with Chinese brush painting; and listen to, and make a replica of a traditional bamboo flute, the Dizi.

Dizi: The Chinese Bamboo Flute

Chinese Dizi - Bamboo Flute
Photo Credit: Alex Stoll
The Dizi, a popular traditional Chinese instrument, is a side blown flute made of bamboo. What particularly distinguishes it from other flutes is a special membrane hole that vibrates, creating a bright tone that carries quite far. The membrane is made from the inner skin of bamboo. It is used for folk music, in Chinese operas, and modern orchestras.

In this video, you can listen to a beautiful rendition of "Flying Partridges", a classic dizi melody. 

You can also make your own Dizi flute replica by following this tutorial offered by the British Museum.


Learn more about bamboo with us: Learn about its cultural significance in China and watch its amazing growth over just 24 hours; Paint bamboo with Chinese brush painting; and increase your luck with Lucky bamboo in your home.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

China: Kingdom of Bamboo

Photo Credit: Henry Burrows 
Bamboo plays an integral part in the Chinese culture, whether practically or symbolically.

Known as one of the Four Gentlemen (representing the four seasons), the bamboo plant's strength, uprightness, flexibility, deep roots and long life makes it a symbol of traditional Chinese values.   It represents the virtues of modesty, tenacity, and honorability. 


Bamboo Shoot
Photo Credit: Emily
China has more bamboo than any other country, which includes 400 different species. It is an evergreen plant from the grass family, and is one of the fastest growing plants. It feeds the beloved pandas and houses the tiniest of creatures, including bamboo bats.

This short video shows a time lapse of bamboo growth over 24 hours. It's pretty incredible!

There is a history of bamboo agriculture and use for 7000 yrs, becoming in wide, daily use during the Shang dynasty. Ancient Chinese wore large bamboo hats to protect themselves from the rain and bamboo shoes to walk on muddy roads. Before paper was invented, writing was done on rolls of bamboo slats.

Bamboo has been, and continues to be, used for food, clothing, housing, transportation, weapons, and musical instruments.

Bamboo from our local Asian grocery store
Bamboo is used when cooking as an ingredient, vessel and utensil. The Dai have a special dish of bamboo rice in which the rice is cooked in the hollow of a segment of bamboo. We've used bamboo when making Mu Shu Pork and Buddha's Delight.



We've seen bamboo used in architecture when looking at traditional Dai housing.





And we listened to the traditional Miao bamboo read instrument, the Lusheng.







So many versatile uses for this incredible plant. Do you have anything made of bamboo in your home?


Explore bamboo with us: Paint bamboo with Chinese brush paintingincrease your luck with Lucky bamboo; and listen to, and make a replica of a traditional bamboo flute, the Dizi.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our Weekend in a Nutshell


This past week, Elle welcomed her half sister into the world! She is enamored with that sweet girl and has come home regaling us with stories of baby hiccoughs and fist sucking and gurgling sounds. And of course, baby's sweet scent.

This weekend was spent at home. My June calendar had events penciled in for every weekend, and we haven't made it to one yet! Ironically, just as the rain kept us home last weekend, it was the sun that kept us home this weekend. The first rays of sun in a week meant we needed gardening and yardwork done. The vegetable garden is in, and the girls took charge of the pumpkin patch by weeding, amending the soil, and planting three types of pumpkin plants. I loved the shocked look of disgust they gave me when I informed them they would have to dig in some alpaca manure - ok, I said alpaca poop. I knew I'd get a better reaction for it.

While Pea worked on an end of year project, and studied for her exams, Elle read in the hammock for hours, making up for a very late night sleepover. I've been painting the inside of our garden shed, de-cluttering and re-organizing it. I was amazed at the volume of garden centre plant pots, shocked that I could ever have afforded to buy so many plants. Then I noticed the labels on a few pots, reminding me they were from a friend's house when I helped with her landscaping, and I realized most of those pots were from others. It occurred to me that I was the proverbial pot calling her husband a hoarder. I filled three recycling bags of garden pots alone.  

Sunday we celebrated Hubby for father's day. He truly is a wonderful father to Elle, and stepfather to Pea, and this past year, with the personal difficulties both girls have been facing, he has been unconditionally supportive to them, and always filing our house with laughter with his quirky sense of humor. It was a joy to honor his indispensable role in their lives. 

Chengyu: Stuffing the Ear When Stealing a Bell

Stuffing the Ear For the Purpose of Stealing a Bell

There once was a thief who sneaked into a rich family's house. He noticed a large bronze bell, which was a prize since bronze could be used as currency. He tried to carry the bell out of the house on his back, however it was much too heavy to carry. The only solution he could think of was to break the bell into pieces, and carry those. 

He found a large iron hammer and hit the bell with all his strength. The bell started to ring so loudly that the thief covered his ears, which immediately muffled the sound. Feeling better once the sound was muffled, he continued to hit the bell. Of course the neighbors heard the noise and the thief was caught in the act.

This idiom refers to those who fool themselves into ignoring the reality of a situation. 

Discuss: Have you ever wanted something to be true so badly that you ignored all the signs that it wasn't? Have you ever pretended something was not happening so that you would not have to deal with it? In what ways can this behavior be hurtful?

An idiom is an expression that is not meant to be taken literally. For example, in English, we often use the expression "It's raining cats and dogs". Obviously, we don't take this expression literally, we come to learn that it means it's raining hard outside. 

Though the Chinese have many proverbs and idioms, Chengyu are formalized idioms, usually using only four characters and relating to folktales, classical literature, and historical accounts. The four characters typically state a moral, and in order to properly understand their meaning, it is important to know the story behind them. There are at least 5,000 Chengyu. 


To learn about Chinese idioms is to gain another insight into the Chinese culture, their mores, and their history. We will be learning Chengyu, and their related stories, regularly for the rest of our "year in China". I believe the insights we'll gain will highlight many universal facets of human nature within their cultural context.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dragon Boat Festival: Recipe for Zongzi - steamed rice dumplings

In celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival, we made, and enjoyed, traditional Zongzi, a sticky rice dumpling made especially for this festival.


You can find all of our Dragon Boat Festival posts here.


Preparing and eating Zongzi, also known as Bak Chang, is an essential part of the festival. They commemorate Qu Yuan, and the legend that rice, wrapped in bamboo, was thrown in the river in which he drowned, in order for feed his spirit. 

Festival Zongzi
Photo Credit: Omefrans
This recipe is time consuming, being prepared is key (I know, because I wasn't altogether prepared, and we did not end up eating any until 8:00pm on a school night, which is almost Elle's bed time). The most important part to be prepared with is soaking. Ideally overnight, though a few hours of soaking was enough for me - I started the rice soaking in the morning (because I forgot to last night), and the rest as late as 3:30 (because I needed to send hubby to the store to pick the stuff up!) So if you want to enjoy the process, take a few minutes the night before for preparations. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dragon Boat Festival: Make a Fragrant Sachet


Xiangbao are fragrant, scented sachets worn and given as gifts during the Dragon Boat Festival because they were believed essential at this point in the season to repel insects, infectious diseases and evil spirits. Traditionally, they were filled with various herbs and powders from traditional Chinese medicine, though these days they are filled with stuffing and chemical fragrances. They are often given as gifts for well wishes, and come in many different shapes and patterns.

You can find all of our Dragon Boat Festival posts here.

Photo Source: Cultural China
We decided to make our own. After looking at images (we googled dragon boat sachets), the girls each decided how they wanted theirs to look. The bags (center, above) are the easiest to make.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dragon Boat Festival: A Roundup of Dragon Boat Crafts

If you'd like to make your own dragon boat, in celebration of Duanwu, the Dragon Boat Festival, here are a few tutorials found online.

You can find all of our Dragon Boat Festival posts here.


At myweb3000 you can find a printable dragon boat with a short description of what is found on a dragon boat.








Mummyshymz also has a printable dragon boat along with a few homeschooling ideas done for the festival.












The following tutorials are for viking boats, but I think with a few decorative adjustments, would make great dragon boats.


Looledo has a great step by step tutorial for a milk carton viking ship, but if you forget the sail and viking emblems and axe, you've got a fine, waterproof (milk carton part, anyway) dragon boat.


Ikat Bag, as always inspiring with patterns and tutorial for cardboard Narnia boats, that, again, could be converted to great dragon boats. 















All our Dragon Boat Festival posts can be found here, where you can learn about Duanwu, find a review of a couple of books worth reading, a tutorial to make your own protective fragrant sachets, the story of Qu Yuanand a recipe for zongzi.

Dragon Boat Festival: The Story of Qu Yuan


You can find all of our Dragon Boat Festival posts here.

Qu Yuan was a Chinese poet and minister to the Chu King during the Warring States period (343-278 BCE). Due to his strong position against corruption, various officials tricked the King into believing that Qu Yuan had committed treason, and he was sent into exile. 

Qu Yuan spent much time composing poetry, and it is said he spent much of his time walking along the banks of a river singing sad poems. When the Qin invaded the Chu state, Qu Yuan jumped into the river to drown rather than see his country governed by those he deemed corrupt and unworthy. 

Qu Yuan is revered by the Chinese and honored for his integrity and patriotism.

The legend of Qu Yuan is honored with the Dragon Boat Festival. It is said that when the fishermen saw that Qu Yuan had jumped into the river, they jumped into their boats, and raced off to save him, beating drums in order to keep evil spirits away and throwing rice in the water, so that the fish will eat the rice and leave Qu Yuan's body alone.                  Another legend tells of a fisherman, who threw a handful of rice into the river to appease the River Dragon, and ensure a bounty of fish. Rather than catching fish, he was confronted with the ghost of Qu Yuan, lamenting of his hunger. Qu Yuan's spirit told the fisherman that the River Dragon eats all the rice that is thrown in the river, leaving nothing for himself. He asked the fisherman to place bundles of rice in bamboo leaves tied with strings, ensuring the dragon would not be able to untie and eat it. The fisherman returned the next day, threw a handful of rice to appease the dragon, and bundles of rice packages for Qu Yuan. From that day on, there was a bounty of fish for the fishermen. 

Learning about the Dragon Boat Festival Through Books

You can find all of our Dragon Boat Festival posts here.

The following books are a good resource for learning about the Dragon Boat Festival with your kids.


Awakening the Dragon: The Dragon Boat Festival
 by Arlene Chan

This book is a great resource for anyone interested in the festival. With colorful, detailed illustrations, the author explains the cultural and historical significance of the dragon, as well as the festival, and notes the variations of how it is celebrated between regions. She describes typical customs and traditional foods, and the ways in which children participate. The author is also an experienced dragon boat racer, and goes into detail about the boats, and the preparations required of the athletes. 


Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes by Nina Simonds

I've mentioned this book before, and it bears repeating for the Dragon Boat Festival - this book is a fantastic resource if you're interested in exploring Chinese festivals with kids. It focuses on the four most important Chinese festivals: Chinese New Year, Ching Ming, Dragon Boat, and Mid-Autumn Moon . For each festival, the book includes some of its history and how it is currently celebrated; the folklore in story fashion, and various hands on activities, crafts, and recipes. 



All our Dragon Boat Festival posts can be found here, where you can learn about Duanwu, learn about Qu Yuan, a roundup of dragon boat crafts, a tutorial for making your own protective fragrant sachetsand a recipe for zongzi. 
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.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Duanwu: The Dragon Boat Festival

Duanwu, the Dragon Boat Festival is held on the fifth day of the fifth moon, which happens to fall on June 12th this year.


You can find all of our Dragon Boat Festival posts here.


Photo Credit: Hugo Lim
The festival has been taking place for thousands of years, to appease and honor the river dragon, and ensuring plenty of rain; and as a way of commemorating Qu Yan, a poet and minister to the king who drowned himself as a protest to the corruption in his country. 

Photo Credit: Mr. Wabu
Dragon boat racing is the highlight of the festival. Each boat represents a village, or an association. These long boats have carved dragon heads attached to their bow and dragon tails attached to their sterns. They can be as long as a hundred feet, with up to eight paddlers, though most often are forty feet long, with twenty paddlers. At the bow of each boat is for the leader, beating a large drum, to set the pace for the paddling. The racing memorializes the rescue efforts for Qu Yan, as fisherman raced in the river to rescue him from his drowning. 

Photo Credit: Geoff S.


During the festival, people hang certain plants, Artemisia and Calamus, around their doors, for good luck, and to repel venomous insects and evil spirits carrying disease. They also hang xiangboa, little sachets with incense and bits of these plants, around their necks as a protective charm.



Zongzi
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Bouché
Preparing and eating Zongzi is an essential part of the festival. Zongzi are rice dumplings steamed in bamboo leaves, and legend holds that they were dropped in the river for Qu Yuan to ensure his spirit was fed.

You can find a sweet online book for younger kids about the festival here.

Here's a video by UNESCO to see Duanwu being celebrated in China:




**

Our city has its own dragon boat festival each summer in July, though focused solely on the boat races. It will be interesting to watch knowing its origins and legends. 




To celebrate Duanwu, there are a couple of books worth reading, a roundup of dragon boat crafts, the story of Qu Yuan, making xianboa, and enjoying zongzi

All our Dragon Boat Festival posts can be found here.

You can find more ideas for multicultural activities at 


Our Weekend In a Nutshell


We did not leave the house this weekend - on Saturday, with good reason, as the rain was nearly a tropical storm, but on Sunday, out of sheer coziness. We did crafts, explored China, learned a bit of science (compass), but mostly, we curled up and read Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix (the long one -It is astounding how much longer it takes to read a book when doing it out loud!) I love sharing stories with the girls, and I love how it brings us together. I'm sure the time for Pea, who is almost 15, to lose interest in joining our reading cuddle is soon upon us, so in the meantime I will soak it up. Rain, or no rain :)

The highlight of the weekend for the girls was our "power outage" - which did not literally happen, but we turned out all the lights, cooked our (unpolitically correctly named) "Hobo" meal, wrapped in foil, in the wood stove, lit many candles, and continued reading. We also enjoyed a lovely brunch with Grandma, who stopped by for a catch up with the girls. 

And tonight, Pea and I completed a six week Women's Self Defense class. We did, of course, learn many different ways of physically defending ourselves, but most importantly, the instructors stressed the importance of being aware of your surroundings, trusting your intuition, and feeling confident in yourself - not paranoid and worried that an attack is waiting to happen. Our family is remarkably guilty of not being aware of our surroundings, except perhaps Elle. Pea is mostly zoned out, and Hubby and I are considered the klutziest couple there is. A challenge is upon us, to open our eyes, focus on the present moment and be aware of what is going on around us. Not only will we be safer, (if only from walking into things!) but also not miss out on what is going on around us. I have a feeling this will be difficult. 

The Chinese Invented It: The Compass (And How to Make Your Own)

The Compass is one of the Four Great Inventions, along with Gunpowder, Papermaking and Printing. These inventions are celebrated in the Chinese culture for their historical and far ranging impact.


Model of a Han Dynasty Sinan - a precursor to the modern compass with a south facing ladle, carved from lodestone
There are references to the Chinese using magnetic south pointers as early as the 4th century BC. The first mention of a magnetic spoon used to point south, like the sinan in the above picture was around 70 AD. And the earliest reference to magnetic direction finder used for navigation is dated to 1040 -  these were said to be south pointing fish floating in a bowl of water. 

Initially the sinan would have been used for Feng Shui, an ancient system used to orient buildings, in order to increase energy flow and auspiciousness. 

Here's a short video which explains the use of a ladle, and shows various Chinese compasses.

Make your own compass


Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Glimpse at Education in China (& Book reviews)

The most recent Chengyu "Light Reflected by Snow and Collected from Fireflies", based on the story of two young men determined become educated despite the hardships, seemed timely with the end of the school year upon us, and Pea bemoaning the influx of schoolwork she's been receiving. 

Free education, available for all, is something we take for granted here in Canada, and something kids often consider a nuisance. And I remember feeling the same way :) But that isn't the case in many places, including China. 


School exercise in Guangdong, China
Photo Credit: Steve Monty
We took a few minutes and looked at these "Amazing Snapshots of Education Around the world" and were shocked at the lengths students will go through in order to feel prepared for college entrance exams - the stress of which seems unimaginable. We were also floored to see the classroom taking place inside a cave in a remote Miao village, that students have to walk one to three hours to attend. It puts a new perspective on getting up early to catch the school bus.

School in rural China
Photo Credit: Sameer Vasta
In China, there is a 9 year school system that is required and "free" (though there are still school fees for books, uniforms, heating and food), beginning from age 6 to 15. However, in rural areas, due to the difficulty in paying the school fees, and the labor required at home, many must leave school before the age of 15, most often girls. 

Below are two books, the first a picture book, the second an edited diary of a teenager, both true stories, and both bringing about interesting discussion about education and opportunities, or the lack thereof. 


Ruby's Wish  by Shirin Yim
This picture book is a historical story based on the true story of the author's grandmother. Ruby is an engaging character, a young Chinese girl who lives in a wealthy household, and has the opportunity to attend grade school. However, the expectation is that she marry once she graduates, while her brothers attend university. Not content with this, Ruby does manage to persuade her grandfather, the patriarch who makes these decisions, to allow her to attend. The story emphasizes her blessings as well as her challenges, which can lead to some interesting discussions. Elle found it difficult to wrap her head around the idea of being denied simply because of being a girl. It was a lovely, inspiring story, with sweet illustrations we all enjoyed. 


The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl  edited by Pierre Haski. 

No more money for school this year. I’m back in the house and I work the land in order to pay for my brothers’ education. When I think of the happy times at school, I can almost imagine myself there. How I want to study! But my family can’t afford it..” – Ma Yan, May 2, 2001

This book contains the entries of Ma Yan's diary, written by Ma Yan, a young girl from a remote village, thousands of miles from Beijing. The entries start in September 2000 at the age of 13, and ends in December 2001. It came into the hands of Pierre Haski, a french journalist, when Ma Yan's mother thrust it into his hands while he and his crew where stationed at her village working on a documentary.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Chengyu: Light Reflected by Snow


Light Reflected by Snow & Collected from Fireflies

During the Jin dynasty (AD 265-420), two young men, Che Yin and Sun Kang, wanted very much to learn and be educated, however were too poor to attend school. Their days were filled with working the land, and helping their parents leaving little time to study during the day. The night was the only real time they had to set aside for studies, but both their families were so poor, they could not afford to buy oil needed for their lamps. Each young man found a way around this problem, in order to study at night.

On a cold winter night, Sun Kang woke up in the middle of the night to notice light coming in from his window. He looked out the window to realize that the light was the moon light reflected by the snow. It was much brighter than indoors, so Sun Kang took his books outside, and read by the moonlight, in the snow. 

One summer evening, Che Yin was mesmerized by the flying fireflies, and was struck with the idea that their light could be of help. He caught the fireflies and kept them in a white cloth bag, which he hung up to use as a lamp. Che Yin could now study at night, by the light of the fireflies.  

Both young men took every opportunity to study, and later became senior officials.

This idiom is used to denote those who study diligently, despite their circumstances. It is also used when someone is wasting time that could be put to better use with studying.

Discuss: Why is education so important to these young men? Is there anything you are passionate about that you would work on it, no matter the circumstances?

An idiom is an expression that is not meant to be taken literally. For example, in English, we often use the expression "It's raining cats and dogs". Obviously, we don't take this expression literally, we come to learn that it means it's raining hard outside. 

Though the Chinese have many proverbs and idioms, Chengyu are formalized idioms, usually using only four characters and relating to folktales, classical literature, and historical accounts. The four characters typically state a moral, and in order to properly understand their meaning, it is important to know the story behind them. There are at least 5,000 Chengyu. 


To learn about Chinese idioms is to gain another insight into the Chinese culture, their mores, and their history. We will be learning Chengyu, and their related stories, regularly for the rest of our "year in China". I believe the insights we'll gain will highlight many universal facets of human nature within their cultural context.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Recipe - Corn & Crab Soup



This popular Chinese soup was light and tasty, perfect for an early summer evening. The girls both enjoyed the soup, which makes it a success.

We used fresh corn, because we had leftover cobs of corn, but canned or frozen corn can be used. The recipe calls for fresh or frozen crabmeat, but we used canned crabmeat. 

Corn & Crab Soup

recipe adapted from ''Foolproof Chinese Cooking'' by Ken Hom
Serves 4

3 ears of cooked corn, or 1 1/4 cup canned or frozen corn
1 egg white
1 tsp sesame oil
5 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp dark rice wine
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 can crabmeat (or 8oz fresh crabmeat)
2 tbsp chopped green onions

1. Cut the corn off the cob if using fresh. Whisk egg white and sesame oil together, set aside. Whisk cornstarch with 2 tsp water, and set aside.

2. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil. Add the corn and simmer for 5 minutes. 

3. Add the rice wine, soy sauce, ginger, salt, pepper, sugar and cornstarch slurry. Bring soup back to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Add the crabmeat.

4. Take the soup off the heat, and slowly pour in the egg white mixture while stirring all the time. This gives you the ''egg flower'' - strands of egg in the soup.

5. Serve with a sprinkle of green onions.

Enjoy!
 
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