Wednesday, October 21, 2009


"Friends are the family you choose."

-Anna Doherty

Happy (late) Mid-Autumn Festival! During my October break, there were not one but two holidays: National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional Chinese festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival was October 3, so I celebrated it in a small town in Hunan, where I was visiting a friend. We had the good fortune of making friends with some locals who invited us to celebrate the festival with them. That meant playing traditional Chinese music, singing, drinking tea, and eating moon cakes.

The Mid-Autumn Festival centers around the moon. One traditionally gives "moon cakes" to one's friends. Moon cakes are little cakes filled with different flavored paste fillings: fruit, bean, meat, peanut- you name it! Many of them have an egg yolk in the middle, to symbolize the moon. I'm not such a big fan of the egg yolk; I like the plain fruit-flavored ones the best.

One is also supposed to gaze at the moon on this night, and think of friends and family in other places who are also staring at the same moon. This festival then was particularly poignant for me, as I am separated from most of my friends and family right now.

Below I've posted a video from our night. You can see and hear the traditional Chinese music - be forewarned! It's very different from Western music.

This festival was a good time not only to think of loved ones in far away places, but also to appreciate the people I have around me here. For example, when my 2 day stay in Shanghai turned into 2 weeks, I felt like such an imposition on the friends I was staying with. They honestly didn't think anything of it though. My friend said to me, "So many people have helped me. I'm happy to help you out too."

I think that when you move so far away from everything and everyone familiar, you have to construct a new support structure, one that plays the role of "family" in your life. So all of us ex-pats support each other whenever we can - when I needed a place to stay, my friend in Shanghai opened her home to me without a thought.

Similarly, when I traveled to Guilin (on my way to Hunan,) a friend there let me stay with him. And when his money ran dangerously low because his employer was a week late in paying his (first!) salary, I was happy to cover meals. And when I arrived home in Quanzhou at the end of break, though they were both 2 provinces away, it was my friends in Guilin and Hunan that checked in with me to make sure I'd gotten home okay.

So don't let me fool you into thinking I'm too brave or independent, because I've got lots of help.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Happy (belated) Chinese National Day! October 1 was the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Not long after was another important Chinese holiday, so I had a long break - October 1-8. I used my time to do a bit of traveling and visit a friend in Hunan province, west of me.

He lives in a very small town in Hunan though, so the nearest airport is five hours away by bus in a city called Guilin. Guilin is pretty famous for being beautiful, and all the pictures in this post are taken during my brief tour of one of it's parks: the Seven Star Park. I had the chance to see a little of Guilin before heading to Daoxian, the city in Hunan where I was ultimately headed. Unfortunately, all the best sites in Guilin require at least a day, if not more, to travel to and see, but this park was a good sampling. It really was quite beautiful, but it's hard to tell in the pictures, as the day was overcast and my photography skills are amateur.

Even in this little bit of preserved greenery in the middle of Guilin, there were signs celebrating the 60th anniverary. China was quite proud, and the celebrations in Beijing were very impressive. It was similar to the scope and beauty of the Olympics' Opening Ceremony. China certainly knows how to put on a show.

It struck both my friends and I as a little odd though to be celebrating the 60th anniversary of a country that was first unified in the third century BC, and has had a continuously used writing system and recorded history and culture ever since, but as it is, China is celebrating its anniversary as a nation less than half as old as the United States.

Pictured above is Camel Mountain, typical of the karst formations in Guilin (and neighboring, even more beautiful, Yangshuo.) If you ever get the chance to see a Chinese 20rmb bill, you will see Chairman Mao on the front, and Yangshuo's river on the back.