Archive | January, 2012

Year of the Dragon

23 Jan

Today is the Chinese Lunar New Year. It’s now the Year of the Dragon, a very lucky year indeed. People try to marry, buy a house, and have children during this year, as it is seen as very fortuitous. So if you were born in 1952, 1964, 1978, 1988 or 2000, you’re in for a good year!

Traditionally, Chinese families are meant to gather together and have a great big dinner (niányèfàn). This causes the world’s largest annual human migration as millions of migrant workers and errant family members try to head to their hometowns for the holidays. The documentary “Last Train Home” is an excellent example of the craziness that ensues. This is also why I’m not traveling around China by train despite the nice long break. There are more people traveling around China than living here during this period; I’ll do my touristing around when it gets a little calmer, thanks.

Instead of presents under the tree or stockings hung by the chimney, young Chinese children can look forward to red envelopes. You say “gōng xǐ fā cái!” to an older family member and they will hand you a lucky red envelope stuffed with money. If you’ve been a good little girl or boy and did well on your exams this year, you can usually come away from a large family gathering with a decent haul.

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè





In the Country of Heaven will be on hiatus until February 13th.


Programming Notice

13 Jan

For the next month or so my posting schedule is going to be erratic or downright nonexistent. China’s major holiday is the Spring Festival aka the Lunar New Year. It’s like Christmas, New Year’s and your birthday rolled up in one, plus enough fireworks to make your last Fourth of July display look like a couple of bottle rockets. Therefore, I’m on break for the next four weeks or so.

Right now, I’m hosting my Dad for a few days and then I’m meeting Mom for a two week tour of Australia. I’ve never seen Sydney and I really want to go to the Great Barrier Reef as well. Given my neon white complexion, I foresee large floppy hats and a bucket of sunscreen in my future. Then, I’ll try to meet my friend Katia in Beijing for a week before scooting back to Chengdu in February.

Should all go well, I should have a few moments here and there to post updates, but I’m not promising anything. :D See you all in February!

In the Country of Heaven will be on hiatus until February 13.

The Tea Market

11 Jan

The Chinese have been boiling the leaves of the camellia sinensis for thousands of years. It’s understandable that they’ve figured out the tastiest variations by now. Personally, I love tea. It is so much more than “hot leaf juice”. A nice Earl Gray with milk and sugar? A green tea so sweet you don’t need any sugar? Yes please. You’d never imagine I spent three summers working at a tea shop.

this is basically exactly what I did at You, Me and Tea.

The tea situation in China is a little different. Yes, you have individual shops here and there, hawking tea and various accoutrements, but the majority of the sellers in Chengdu are located in a small neighborhood north of the train station. To get there, you can either take the no. 55 bus or the subway. Chengdu’s fledgling subway (only one north-south line is currently open) costs more than the bus, but the ride is much smoother. We took the subway, if only because driving in Chengdu is insanity in practice and kind of terrifying, in that “whaddya mean, road test? Rules? There are rules to driving??” *swerves into oncoming traffic*.

I went with Ann and two other kids from UW. (Go Huskies!) The subway dropped us off at the train station, which is a total shitshow these days due to the looming Spring Festival. (Chinese people go home for the Lunar New Year. This means public transportation is mobbed with millions of people who each want a ticket on that last train home and are willing to trample someone to get it.) We fought our way past the train station and headed off into the decaying industrialish neighborhood. Ann’s sense of direction did not fail us, so after fifteen minutes of walking, we made it to the small tea market.

a typical tea store

We spent a couple of hours wandering around, going from one favored shop to the next. We spent a lot of time at two place, just drinking tea and making small talk about the quality of the leaves and aromas and whatnot, which is customary, before actually purchasing anything. I went with a sweet osmanthius green tea, which is a flower that the Chinese have been cultivating forever. It tastes delicious. Next door, I looked at various dried flowers and whatnot, before asking for 20 kuai worth of what appeared to be chamomile. (You pay by the weight.) I should have remembered that chamomile is light.

Assorted interesting things: my purchases

You pour the discarded tea out onto these things. It’s lucky to keep the penny in the frog’s mouth.
(Other places had the ever-so-classy peeing-baby. Think “Pissing Calvin”. Potty humor is universal, I suppose.)

This is a far cry from the storage facilities at You, Me, and Tea.

Tea is a fundamental part of life here in Chengdu. In ancient times, the water here was unsafe to drink unless boiled. So, tea drinking was widely adopted by pretty much everyone who didn’t want to die of dysentary. (I don’t actually know if it was dysentary back then, but you get the point.) Even today, hot water for tea is seen as a basic right and not a privilege.

It’s Like Windows95 All Over Again

9 Jan

I lost two days of work on my translation this weekend. LibreOffice, the open source alternative to Microsoft Word, has a recognized bug where it will crash every time you hit save after futzing around with columns. It crashed and lost two days worth of translating. I was almost done. I had two fucking paragraphs left.

Look, LibreOffice, I get that you’re open source. I appreciate you trying to give people an alternative to Microsoft Word or whatever the hell Linux users write with. But this only works if you work. And Ubuntu? You’re not off the hook, either. You launched Natty and Oneiric with a known fuckup. TWO DAYS OF WORK. That’s not a minor bug, ladies and gentleman. There’s a fix, but gosh, wouldn’t it have been lovely if one of those pesky Updates that you send every three days had included one for this? And the temp backup only works if it comes preselected. You guys promised it would be better on Ubuntu than Windows, but I’m freezing/crashing at the same rate, I can’t play any of my Steam games, and for some freaking reason, I have data recovery issues? What gives? I’m not a coder, I barely make the Terminal work. Give me some guidance here.

As usual, XKCD gets exactly what I mean.


6 Jan

I’m working on a translation today. Why I volunteered to do this, I can’t even… the hells was I thinking? I’m about two-thirds of a way through “Sexual Harassment is a Gender Equity Issue”. I should probably be done by tomorrow

My last translation job was for my senior thesis, wherein I translated a 20,000 character science fiction story. It was about genetically engineered rats. And the gender imbalance between men and women in modern China due to the one-child policy, but mostly about rats. It took me about three months of concerted effort, with fevered eleventh-hour revisions and review with help from friends and family. So when the guy from China Development Brief (CDB) gave me this article I was kind of like, 2000 words? No biggie. And it really isn’t terrible, to be honest. I know most of the words, thanks to third-year Chinese. (Somewhere, Dr. Wang feels incredibly vindicated for making us learn things like “gender equality” and “sexual harassment”.) It’s just the fact that I’ve been mostly lazing about and putting the nose back to the grindstone is a little shocking. Boo frickety hoo, right?

It’s almost enjoyable, getting back into the hang of translating. Clearly, I’m a crazy person. I’ve got some new tea and a few scones – let’s do this thing.


(I’ll link to the article when it’s finished. After I’m through with it, the article has to go through another two rounds of editing before it gets published. Yay for redundancy and editors!)

Jet Lag

4 Jan

Sorry guys, I’m jet-lagged to hell today. I’ve been trying to get back to a normal schedule, despite the fact that I’m an unrepentant night owl and normal for me includes sleeping in until noon. Seriously. Trying to get me up before 11 am is like poking a hibernating platypus bear, but I can stay up to three am with nary a yawn. In any case, I totally ascribe to the William Gibson theory of air travel, where your soul is left behind in the wake of the jet. Those curious few days of disorientation and discontent after traveling a long distance are a result of it bobbing along behind you, being reeled on after you hooked on invisible fishing wire. I like the idea of my soul, ethereal and tied to a brightly colored balloon, muttering severe curses as the whiplash from my return journey to China ricocheted it along faster. (Read Pattern Recognition, guys. Bizarre and disorientating and wonderfully deliciously prescient.)

Have some baby pandas instead.

h/t Susan. Thanks for feeding my obsession with these adorable yet useless creatures!

What a Wonderful World

2 Jan

Somewhere over the Pacific, I lost a day due to the date line. I don’t quite get how that happens but them’s the breaks.

In honor of the new year, I (belatedly) give you Planet Earth.

h/t to Anibundel.