FINDING MY WAY AROUND SHENZHEN - PART TWO        Close your eyes, close your eyes and get a surprise       

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     This fun children’s chant could not be more apt in describing my experience in Shenzhen. With every day that comes by, and the shut-eyes in between, I find myself learning more about the environment that lays around me.  Despite the temperamental drenching rain, and the (at times) stifling heat that so threatens to envelop you, the Shenzhen air is clear and the sky is bright.  For those of you who are considering joining the au pair  programme , don’t forget your sun cream – you’re certainly going to need it once you’re here!  One of the most important things to do whilst you are out here, asides from maintaining your work and class duties, is to find and build a support system. I know personally that my experience would not have been the same had it not been for my fellow au pairs.  Wechat  is such a nifty tool to communicate with others, and it is something that I have definitely taken advantage of whilst I have been here.    Moments  for  wechat  users is what   stories are like for fans of Snapchat, Facebook or Instagram. Something you can use to show off your lesson plans, and travels. It’s a great way of keeping track of those around you, and of highlighting some of your favourite moments in China. It is these personal touches, aided by digital bytes, that are ubiquitous here. Certainly what surprised me when I arrived, was the seamless integration of technology that exist in everyday life here. For example, people can pay for meals or simple trinkets using  wechat  pay. You could come across, even the most remote shop in the city, and they would accept payment by mobile. Just scan the QR code, and you’re a-go.  It is with this in mind, that I am left wondering why Chinese stereotypes are not extended to technology. A city full of digital minds and hearts, Shenzhen certainly has a reputation for being the pinnacle of technological innovation (having been dubbed China’s answer to  Silicon Valley ), however the same could not be said of reputations elsewhere. China is opening its mind (and wallet) to the possibilities of open networks and constant trade of information and goods, and the rest of the world should take note. With one of the biggest e-commerce markets in the world, China is making a stand for modernity and connection.  It would, however, be a digression to delve further into the inner mechanisms of Chinese society. Certainly that can be left to the sociologists, anthropologists and economists of the world.  What are worth noting instead are the smaller connections that are forged within this community. Recently, I attended a KTV session (essentially a karaoke booth) with some other au pairs. From this, I had hoped for two things: to gain a finer appreciation for Chinese culture, and to stretch out my vocal chords. As I expected, I was able to achieve both objectives. There is something special about sharing a song with others. Amidst all your struggles and worries, you can left everything go in the middle of a Beyoncé or ABBA song. It was something I needed, and something I really enjoyed. Despite the lack of up-to-date English songs (unfortunately  Despacito  doesn’t count, however memorable and fun it may be), the booth was packed with throwbacks. Picture Jamilla and Natasha Beddingfield: absolute classics in their time, and you can begin to have some idea as to what the atmosphere was like that night.    It is from this high that I hope to embark on new adventures in my journey here in China. Warm air and picturesque surroundings – what more can you ask for?

Follow Ayah-Sofia's journey in Shenzhen as she experiences traditional Chinese activities and their equivelant to social media and all things technological... 

      端午节 ( Duānwǔjié) ' Dragon Boat Festival'     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Crossing the finish line in Heiwai, Ronggui. (Photo: Caiguanaho)  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


     In honour of the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (May 30th 2017), here is a short excerpt from one of Qu Yuan’s most famous poems, translated by  Hugh Grigg .  離騷 ( Lí Sāo ) 'The Sorrow of Parting'  朝      發  軔   於  蒼    梧  兮,                                                                     Zhāo fā rèn yú cāngwú xī,                                                                    Taking off the brake, departing from Cangwu at dawn,   夕 餘  至  乎    縣    圃;                                                                               xī yú zhì hū xuán pǔ;                                                                                and before night falls, arriving at the Hanging Gardens;   欲   少    留  此 靈    瑣  兮,                                                                         yù shǎo liú cǐ líng sǒu xī,                                                                              I wish to stay at this gathering place of the spirits,    日 忽 忽  其 將     暮;                                                                                   rì hūhū qí jiāng mù;                                                                                    yet the sun is about to set;   吾   令    羲 和 弭  節 兮,                                                                             wú lìng Xīhé mǐ jié xī,                                                                                  I   order Xihe to slow to a trot;   望       崦   嵫 而  匆    迫;                                                                           wàng yān zī ér cōng pò;                                                                        gazing at Mt Yan and Mt Zi, yet not anxious to approach them;   路  漫   漫     其 脩   遠    兮,                                                                       lù mànmàn qí xiū yuǎn xī,                                                                          the road is boundless - cultivation so distant;   吾    將      上     下   而  求 索。                                                                   wú jiāng shàngxià ér qiúsuǒ.                                                                      I shall explore it from beginning to end.      What has Dragon Boat racing got to do with Qu Yuan?  Well, the story goes that Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC), poet and political advisor to King Huai of Chu, recommended that Chu ally itself with the enemy state Qi to defeat the mutual enemy state of Qin. However, in exile from Chu for allegations brought against him by corrupted ministers influencing the King, Qu Yuan hears that his beloved homeland has been defeated by Qin after King Huai did not take his advice. Upon hearing this news, he drowned himself in the Miluo river in an act of political martyrdom and in protest against political corruption.   After his drowning the locals are said to have rushed into the water in long boats, beating drums to scare evil spirits away and throwing rice wrapped in leaves into the water to prevent the fish from eating him. Another version is that they threw rice to feed Qu Yuan's spirit but it kept getting intercepted by catfish the size of dragons. So, a few years after his death, Qu Yuan appeared and told them to wrap the rice in leaves. Either way, at the Dragon Boat Festival people race long boats, eat 糭子  zòngzi  (rice dumplings wrapped in leaves), and remember Qu Yuan for his poetry and patriotism.   In recent years people have begun to suggest another reason for his committing suicide based on alternative readings of his poetry.  Usually, his prose is understood as patriotic, but some scholars suggest that it can also be understood as an expression of his love for King Huai, who exiled him before ignoring his advice. This has led to some of the Chinese LGBTQ+ community, as well as a number of scholars, interpreting Qu Yuan’s suicide as that of a jilted lover, rather than an exasperated patriot.  Regardless of the reason for which he committed suicide, he was a much-loved figure and this yearly celebration of his life, death, and poetry has left a great legacy in sport and cuisine. Over the last 30 years or so, the sport of Dragon Boat Racing has become popular around the world and the International Dragon Boat Federation support competitions and leagues everywhere. The  zòngzi  have also gained popularity as a regular snack food, sometimes plain, sometimes stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings.  Sources:   https://eastasiastudent.net/china/classical/qu-yuan-li-sao-extract/    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-legends-behind-the-dragon-boat-festival-135634582/    http://shanghaiist.com/2012/06/23/duanwu-festival-gay-valentines.php    https://www.idbf.org/history    http://thewoksoflife.com/2015/05/zongzi-cantonese-style/

In honour of the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (May 30th 2017) here's the tradition and story behind the yearly celebrations.

      Chinese Language Indie-Pop and Alt-Rock     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     ‘How can I find out more about Chinese indie-pop and alt-rock?’  It's a question I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves at some point. Well, the answer is ‘Watercress FM’; a Chinese mash-up of LastFM, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Goodreads, IMDb.... Basically it is a site for finding new music, books and films. It contains content from all over the world but also, and crucial for those in search of China’s indie music scene, lots of Chinese content.     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     
   Anyway, this blog post is not just to alert you to the delights of the Chinese hipster scene (yes! China has hispters too! They are called the w ényì qīngnián  or 'cultured youth') but also to highlight the usefulness of music for learning Chinese, or any other language.  The sounds of Chinese are so different from those of English that it can take a while for our ears to adjust to the new sounds. As such, it is important to 'open our ears' to these new sounds from the very beginning. This is usually done in class through 'listen and repeat' exercises - how many times have you repeated 'ni hao' just trying to get the tones right?  Music provides us with a much more interesting way of doing 'listen and repeat' exercises because we tend to listen to our favourite songs on repeat anyway. The trick is finding some music in Chinese that we like, so that we find ourselves  wanting  to listen and repeat. This is where Dòubàn comes in handy!  Simply make an account and listen to some songs under the 'Chinese music' heading. When you find one you like, click the heart icon and the site's algorithms will bring you into contact with other songs you might like. You can even search for your favourite music in English (or other languages) so that every now and again a Chinese song will just pop up in amongst your regular playlist!  Here are a few of our favourites to get you started (they open in new windows - click on the green 'button' if it plays the previous song again).  1.   Carsick Cars: 中南海/Zhōngnánhǎi    2.   Queen Sea Big Shark (后海大鲨鱼/Hòuhǎi dà shāyú): 'Bling bling bling bling'    3.   Hedgehog (刺猬 Cìwei): 'Asphalt Road' (柏油公路 Bóyóu gōnglù)     If the thought of learning Mandarin makes you nervous, don't worry! Our pre-departure packages include a short introduction to learning Mandarin, plus lots of pointers on independent language learning.       

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
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If you're learning Chinese, listening to music is a great way to improve your listening and spoken skills. But how do you find songs you like? This blog post tells you how...

       
 
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     In China, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival is the most important festival of the year, like Christmas in the UK. It is celebrated on a different date every year because the date is based on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. A lunar month is two days shorter than a solar month and so, every few years an extra month is added to make up for this, hence why the date changes every year.      How is it Celebrated:    Spring festival is celebrated in several ways in China. The most important event of the Spring Festival is a giant feast. People from the North of China eat dumplings during their Spring Festival feast whereas people from the South eat glutinous rice cakes.  Family members will come from far and wide to enjoy it together. Chinese people go to many lengths to attend the Spring Festival feast with their family, with some travelling across the entire country to attend. Family members returning to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year can be described as the largest human immigration event on the planet.       
  
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
  
  
  
  
           The next way the Chinese New Year is celebrated is through the exchange of red envelopes or “hong bao”. The packets contain money for good luck for the new year. Traditionally the packets were given to unmarried young people and children by those that are already married. Nowadays red packets tend to be given from the older generation to the younger generation as a sign of good will.        Other ways Spring Festival is celebrated in China is by decorating the house with red lanterns, paper cuttings, door couplets and upside-down Fu characters. All these red decorations are displayed to bring in good luck for the new year. Red is a lucky colour in China, furthermore, the Chinese New Year monster, Nian, is said to be afraid of the colour red. He is also afraid of loud noises which is traditionally why Chinese people set off fireworks during the festival.       

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


       
  
 
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     Chinese lion dances and dragon dances:    Lion dances are a tradition in China spanning thousands of years, originally the lion was thought to be a mythical creature, with lions only being introduced to China during the Han dynasty because of the silk road. Lion dances take place during important occasions such as the Spring Festival or other big occasions as the lion is thought to be an auspicious animal in China and so brings good luck. In the South of China lion dances play an important role in bringing good fortune. Some Chinese businesspeople will even hire a lion dance troupe when launching a new product etc. to bring good luck to their business.        Dragon dances originally came about as a way of praying for rain as the dragon created rain for the thirsty animals in the Chinese zodiac story. After this a dragon dance became a ceremonial activity when worshipping the ancestors. Nowadays dragon dances usually take place at important festivals like the Chinese New Year as a symbol of wisdom, power and wealth.      
  
 
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      Animal Zodiac:     This year will be the year of the rooster so for any roosters it’s your “ben ming nian” literally your origin of life year. This is a year that will bring you bad luck because people in their ben ming nian offend the God of Age.     The Chinese zodiac years follow a twelve-year cycle, with the order being determined by the Chinese zodiac origin story below.       The Chinese Zodiac Story:      

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      The story goes that a long time ago the Jade Emperor in China wanted to create a way of measuring time and so he declared that a race would take place. The first twelve animals to cross the river would have a year named after them.        Rat and cat, who could not swim, asked the kind ox to carry them across the river and ox agreed. However devious rat pushed cat off ox’s back and into the river and cat drowned. This is why cats do not have a year named after them, it is also said to be why cats and rats hate each other. As ox reached the finish line rat leapt from his back and crossed it first, earning him 1st place, with ox coming second.     Next to finish was tiger who used his strength to swim against the strong current and earn third place. While rabbit hopped across stepping stones and logs to arrive in fourth place.    In fifth place was the dragon, who flew across the river. The emperor asked the dragon why he did not finish first since he could fly, but the kind dragon was delayed by creating rain for thirsty animals. The emperor, impressed by his kindness, stated that the dragon’s son snake could take sixth place as a reward.    Next to arrive was horse, closely followed by rooster, monkey and goat, who had worked together to arrive to the shore by using a raft to cross the river.    Eleventh to arrive was dog, who was delayed to arrive because the rivers water was so clean that he stopped to bathe in it.    The last animal to arrive was pig, again the Emperor asked him why he arrived so late. The pig replied that he was hungry and stopped on the way to have something to eat, after this he fell asleep, eventually crossing the river in last place.         
 
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In China, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival is the most important festival of the year, like Christmas in the UK. It is celebrated on a different date every year because the date is based on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. A lunar month is two days shorter than a solar month and so, every few years an extra month is added to make up for this, hence why the date changes every year. 

Read more about the Chinese new year here:

          In the Mood For Love   •   花樣年華     (Wong Kar-  wai   2000)               </iframe>" data-provider-name="YouTube"            Clip: Criterion Collection's  Three Reasons to watch In the Mood for Love    Two married couples, the Chans and the Chows, rent rooms from Shanghainese neighbours in   1960s   Hong Kong  . Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung)   begin to   suspect that their partners may be   having an affair with each   other  .        Partly out of   lon  e  liness   and partly out of curiosity,   Mr  .   Chow and   Mrs  .   Chan begin to spend more time toge  ther. Their initial curiosity turns into real affection but,   as Mrs. Chan says, ‘we will not be like them’.        The film follows the development of their feelings against an opulent   backdrop of damask wallpapers and   sultry slow motion encounters   in the corridors and alleyways of their home and   neighbourhood  , all perfectly framed and paced to the sounds of  Yumeji's Theme    by   Shigeru   Umebayashi     or     Nat King Cole’s cover   of  Quizás quizás quizás  by   Osvaldo   Farrés  .       The reserved and brooding   characters of   Mr  .   Chow and   Mrs  .   Chan   contrast   sharply   with the lively and carefree Shanghainese families   with whom they each live. This   creates a humorous backdrop to   a   story of desire and restraint in a   very   retro,   very   transnational  ,   19  60s Hong Kong.        Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan     eat steak dinners as well as   traditional dishes, and get their accessories from Japan.   Characters are constantly on the move between Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Cambodia, the Philippines and the USA, and filming took place partly in Thailand.   However, the framing of Hong Kong as a hub of transnational activity is distinctly set in the past.   Mrs.   Chang's   endless supply of qipao dresses     and Mr. Chow's persistent   smoking at the typewriter in a Western business suit all contribute to   the captivating     retro-nostalgic aesthetic  .           In the Mood for Love    is   often cited as one of the first in     a wave of Hong Kong-Chinese   coproductions   with W  estern countries (in this case, France), that would garner critical and   commercial   success among Western audiences.   However, u  nlike o  ther 'crossover' films   it is not of the W  uxia (Martial Arts)   genre.  In the Mood for Love  uses a cinematographic register of international commercial art cinema and is more comparable to films such as  Amelie      (J  ean Pierre   Jeunet   2001)  .     Having won prizes at awards ceremonies around the world, i  n 2016    In the Mood for Love      was     named the second-best film of the 21  st   century after  Mulholland Drive    (David Lynch 2001) by a g  roup of 177 critics for the BBC.     Definitely worth a watch!           BMC Cultural Exchange are putting on a free screening of In the Mood for Love at Quilliam   Brothers’ Teahouse in Newcastle upon Tyne on Wednesday February 5  th   2017   at 7.30pm.         See our  Facebook  events page for more details.            
 
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Explore Chinese culture through film!

BMC are putting on a free screening of In the Mood for Love (dir. Wong Kar-wai, 2000) to celebrate the end of Spring Festival. 

Read our review of this wonderful film here. 

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