Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Memorable Birthday and Thanksgiving

Today is Thursday, November 27. When I arrived for my morning class with thirty sophomore English majors, I was stunned by the gifts they had prepared for me. Scott, our class artist, had made some original drawings for me on the chalkboard. Cathay, our class musician, brought her two-stringed erhu. She played "Happy Birthday to You" while the class sang to me, first in English and then in Mandarin. Then Cathay played a tricky traditional melody called "Running Horses" as a special gift for me. Last week, the class took up a secret collection and sent out a delegation to buy me a handmade stocking cap and scarf to protect my health during the Manchurian winter. At Thanksgiving, I always have so many blessings to be grateful for. These young men and women made Thanksgiving 2008 a day that I will never forget as long as live.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November in Dalian

We thought the warm weather would never end, especially when our apartment was invaded by a large batallion of mosquitoes. Susie made an effective bug zapper out of a long cardboard box so that we could kill them when they landed on our ceiling. Our ceiling now looks like it has the chickenpox, covered by dozens of tiny red bug corpses.

But the weather finally turned crisp and cool -- highs around 50 most days -- and we even had our first light snowfall. One thing we have enjoyed observing is the way street vendors sell different kinds of produce as the seasons change -- first grapes, then cabbages and turnips, and now big apples. Previously, we mentioned the custom of drying winter vegetables outdoors for use in pickles and soups. Food and the traditions surrounding it are central to Chinese culture. One reason the Chinese dine on so many "funny things" to us Westerners is that they have lived on the verge of famine for so long. We have read estimates that as many as 30-60 million people starved in the three years' famine of the early 1960s during the disastrous years of the "Great Leap Forward." Today, instead of asking "how's it going," one can still greet a good friend by asking "Ni chi bao le ma?" [Have you had enough to eat?] So things that to us might seem inedible have been transformed by innovative Chinese cooks into a delicious cuisine. Necessity + creativity = culinary art.
Speaking of food and traditions, I am doing a unit this week on Thanksgiving -- Mayflower, pilgrims, turkey, Macy's parade, football, and feeding the homeless. It's one of the most successful topics I have tried so far. I'll try to do the same for future holidays as well. As you can see from the pictures, China is already busy importing some features of our holiday season -- especially as they pertain to retail marketing.