Chinese New Year Parade in Manhattan, NYC

The highlight of the day for me was two dogs, a husky and a golden retriever dressed in traditional golden Chinese lion uniforms. Just like the ones that are worn for the lion dance!

Yesterday, on February 17th, we went to see the Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown! As you may already know, Isaac and I lived in China for two years before moving to New York. We ended up going to the parade with a friend who we met in Shanghai! It was the first time we saw her since we had payday sushi and it was great to see her!

Our friend had actually been to this parade before so she convinced us to meet her for brunch at Jing Fong at 10:00. We thought it was ridiculous to meet so early when the parade didn’t start until 13:00, but she just said to trust her and we’re glad we did!

The brunch at Jing Fong was interesting. You need to keep in mind that we didn’t enjoy our time in China as much as our friend, so while she thrived in the chaos of Chinese waiters yelling and carts of mystery food rolling by, we felt like we were back in a place we didn’t love. Also, although the official menu had a lot of vegetarian and vegan options, this dim sum brunch did not.

So even though we were less than two blocks from our favorite vegan dim sum place, we were stuck eating the same two overpriced dishes, one of which was a dessert. It wasn’t the best experience but if you’re a meat eater and want to enjoy a new culture, I think you’d like this place!

The way ordering works, is that everyone gets a ticket – sometimes there will be several groups of people at one table if it’s crowded. We had two older Chinese gentlemen sitting with us which was interesting. When the carts come by, you can take plates of food and they will stamp your ticket in the correct category: small, medium, large, special, etc. Each category has a set price that is tallied up at the end.

Just like in China, not everyone at Jing Fong speak Chinese. It was really difficult for us to communicate with them to find out if things were vegan or not. Even though Isaac speaks basic Chinese! It also took 20 people to explain that we wanted two separate tickets for our group – even the two men sitting with us got involved in explaining what we want. This was a typical problem for us in China – simple things became a huge ordeal to explain and solve.

We left the restaurant after about an hour – when we first got there, it was only half full. On our way out, there were hordes of people standing in a line out the door. When we got out onto the street to find a spot to watch the parade, it was no different. There were already thousands of people standing and waiting for a parade that wouldn’t start for two more hours!

It was lucky we came early, although we did had another friend who came out at noon and he managed to find an ok spot to watch from as well. But if you want a guaranteed great spot to watch from, definitely come early. The earlier the better!

As for the parade itself, I wasn’t too impressed but I may be a little jaded. There were many impressive dragons that got better the later it got. Those and the lion dancers were amazing. But like all parades in New York, in between the cool performers were people campaigning and I hate that every parade is so political.

The police department performed too and that part was great, but I could have done without all the boring stuff in between! If you haven’t been to Chinatown or New York before, you may not know this, but most police officers in Chinatown are Chinese or of Chinese descent, which is really cool!

So this was our third parade in New York. The other two we had experienced were the Caribbean and Halloween parades and they both had similar boring political fillers in between the cool stuff. I guess they don’t get the necessary funds without agreeing to include these? I’m not really sure to be honest.

All in all, the Chinese New Year Parade was interesting to see. I definitely recommend seeing it at least once, especially if you haven’t been to China and want to experience the culture a little. The crowds to get in an out are also very authentic, and if you think being smushed by crowds of people is unique to New York, don’t be fooled and read about my description of my daily rush hour commutes in Shanghai!

The highlight of the day for me was two dogs, a husky and a golden retriever dressed in traditional golden Chinese lion uniforms. Just like the ones that are worn for the lion dance! Did you get to see the parade? Tell me about your favorite part in the comments below.

52188188_10161431346290503_7774328754985238528_o52253272_10219414577294276_7629837250464841728_o52111528_10219414578134297_8825113875708903424_o52599129_10219414577894291_3055998350705819648_n52673082_10157015341218134_998922827983749120_o

Advertisements

Why are there Daily Fireworks in China?

At least once a day I jump out of my skin, sometimes spilling coffee or tea, because of sudden machine-gun-sounding fireworks. These fireworks have nothing to do with holidays and don’t happen at night, so you can barely even see the pretty colors. So why would Chinese people waste their money on day-time fireworks? Many reasons, apparently.

Traditionally, the fireworks were made by lighting bamboo and the loud noise would scare away evil spirits. Even today, the purpose is the noise not the visual which is why they are set off during the day. Some reasons to set of loud fireworks include weddings, funerals, the opening of a shop or the start and completion of a large project.

Since Chinese cities have such dense populations, you can imagine why these fireworks happen at least once a day! I think the record for me has been four scares-by firework in one day. You get used to it, but sometimes it still catches you by surprise. Like when you’re running for the bus and they start going off 3 meters behind you. Does me being scared of them make me an evil spirit?

For store openings, the fireworks are obviously set off in front of the store. When it comes to weddings or funerals however, it can be done wherever. Unfortunately people’s top choice is usually the courtyard of large residential complexes. I happen to live on the 4th floor of a 17-floor building and my badly-insulated bedroom window faces the courtyard. A firework wake-up is very unpleasant, believe me.

Due to the large amounts of people traveling with fireworks, certain safety regulations are in place. Any time you go on the metro, for example, you have to go through a metal detector and your bags are scanned. All fireworks that are found, are confiscated. In case this isn’t enough, many public areas are plastered with “no fireworks” signs.

I am not quite sure about the regulations for fireworks in large cities like Shanghai or Beijing, but in our little town no one will stop you from setting them off whenever or wherever you want. That’s why you should always expect fireworks. After all, jumping every time you hear a loud noise makes you uncool!

Do you have any funny stories about getting scared by unexpected fireworks? Please share in the comment section below!

Chinese New Year in Hong Kong: All-You-Can-Drink Cruise

Hong Kong is said to be the best place to celebrate Chinese New Year. This was my experience…

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China and there are so many ways to celebrate. Hong Kong is said to be one of the best places to enjoy fireworks and parades without becoming a human sardine. The firework display is supposed to be one of the most impressive in the world. My husband, his family and I got to watch it while drinking champagne on a boat.

We booked the Chinese New Year Fireworks Cruise with Buffet Dinner and Drinks in advance through Viator. We paid around $200 per person for the sightseeing boat with a 55 person capacity, free flowing beer, wine, champagne and soft drinks as well as a buffet dinner. The whole thing was organized by Hong Kong Yachting and it was almost worth the money.

After several sunny days the weather finally refused to cooperate and it started drizzling right before the boat took off at 6PM. We got to the pier early and the six of us were lucky to get seats at a table. Many others had to sit in plastic chairs or on the top deck with no cover. It wasn’t exactly what we expected for the price, but the drinks started flowing immediately which cheered us up.

The buffet was served quickly but the food offered was different than what was promised in the cruise description. There was a warning that the food may change but it was still quite disappointing to get meatballs instead of roasted duck and tofu. The highlight of the buffet was a chocolate cake that made up for the lower-quality food: it was rich, moist and melted on our tongues. Also, no matter how much everyone drank, they did not run out of alcohol!

At 8PM the fireworks began and we had a decent spot to watch among many other boats. The fireworks were beautiful, even though they were obstructed by clouds, and the display lasted for 23 minutes. I may be spoiled by dozens of New Years celebrated in Prague, because I wasn’t as impressed by the fireworks as I expected to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed every minute of the cruise, drinks and fireworks. But if I could have a do-over, I would do things a little differently. The fireworks were tiny from the boat, so I recommend getting to the pier early, camping out with a bottle of champagne and watching the fireworks from there. Some people recommend watching from the Kowloon side of the river, but I would pick a spot at Victoria Harbour.

A better way to spend the $200 that the cruise cost would have been in the highest bar in the world. The rooftop sky bar, OZONE, belonging to the Ritz-Carlon, offers beautiful views of the Hong Kong skyline. However, as Anon-man-from-uk so adequately wrote in his Trip Advisor review of the bar, the prices are “eye-watering even for Hong Kong”.

Before you get discouraged from spending Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, please keep in mind that the weather was horrible and I’ve seen too many grand firework displays in the past to get impressed by them anymore. Please keep an open mind and learn more about the celebrations here. You can read about other people’s experiences here. Stay tuned for more Asia adventures!

Strangers Gave us Money at a Chinese Christmas Party!

Chinese Christmas parties are full of great performances, food and even money!

Last night, Wednesday December 21st, the Huaqiao government hosted a Christmas party. They invited local business owners and foreigners in hopes that we would get to know each other. We were invited by Isaac’s school and we had no idea what to expect! We were more than pleasantly surprised.

We were picked up from the school by a fancy bus hired to transport us to the hotel. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with an open bar and delicious buffet! The guests were mainly Chinese businessmen, a few Indian businessmen and a bunch of teachers, their spouses and several children.

First we ate sushi, tuna sandwiches, goose live pate, shrimp, fruit, dumplings and way too many delicious desserts. Once we were full, a beautiful Chinese hostess explained the evening’s program which started with an introductory speech by a man who is the equivalent of Huaqiao’s mayor. He spoke about how much Huaqiao has developed in recent years and it was really inspirational.

Then came the performances! It was an interesting mix of a Chinese women’s choir singing English Christmas songs, ancient Chinese dancers, a magician and a fascinating face-changing performer! After the official performances anyone could come on stage – the reward for speaking/preforming was an adorable stuffed toy!

The principal of Kang Chiao, Isaac’s school, gave a moving speech about how much Huaqiao changed since she arrived to start the school four years ago. An enthusiastic older Chinese man sang a beautiful song and a Tai Chi master performed a routine that shook the ground. Even Isaac went up, dragging me with him and sang Silent Night! We got a bear that has a nose instead of one eye, so cute! ❤

It was a truly wonderful event that changed the way I feel about China. I have had a hard time not speaking the language, having people stare at me for looking different and I’ve felt very isolated. This party made me see things differently and finally feel at home in Huaqiao. It came at the perfect time – I will no longer be working from home and will have a chance to explore the area more and maybe even meet some locals!

Many teachers chose not to go to this party and I can understand why they were apprehensive. It’s been one of the busiest weeks of the school year, the weather was bad and no one really knew much about the party. A government-organized event doesn’t have the same ring to it as an expat party in Shanghai. But it truly was the best party we’ve been to in a long time!

I almost forgot to mention that you are likely to get richer at a Chinese party. In the past, red envelopes were given to people with money in it. This Christmas party was a bit more modern… everyone joined a group on WeChat (Chinese WhatApp) and the host would send clickable red envelopes for guests to click on! Isaac and I got a total of $15 from 5/6 red envelopes. You have no idea how many dumplings we can buy with that much money!

We wish all of you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

15644626_10154809406508134_64750970_n

15681762_10154809406763134_33149443_o

15658746_10154809406738134_988635914_o

15658221_10154809405863134_1597054104_o

15631545_10154809406053134_2009857433_o

15284181_10154806518088134_1380983979634508642_n

15673198_10154809406708134_979811223_n

15644969_10154809406263134_321979977_n

15631250_10154809405813134_1110552732_o

15683429_10154809406513134_1595106285_n

Chinese Paparazzi & Language Barriers

Caucasians stand out in China. The locals will take photos of you and try to communicate!

Living in China is an exciting experience for both foreigners and locals alike. In smaller towns like Huaqiao, where foreigners are scarce, the locals like to stare and even take photos of anyone who doesn’t look Asian. In three weeks of living in China I have been photographed on the street, in the grocery store and in a taxi.

The taxi driver took several selfies with me in the background and I was almost tempted to pose for him. It takes a while to get used to all the attention and it’s important not to get offended.

The locals are just curious and they don’t do in an offensive way. They also have no problem with you take photos of them Or walking around armed with a video-recording GoPro.

Locals here tend to be inquisitive and will often try to communicate with foreigners. They like to say hello but few can hold even a simple conversation in English – those bold enough will use a translator app to learn more about you.

Taxi drivers may even add you on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, that has a built-in translator in its messenger.

Not knowing the language has been a lot more difficult than expected. The Chinese have their own unique hand gestures for numbers up to ten, consider pointing to be rude and get confused by typical Western gestures. It was a huge wake up call to discover that what I always considered to be “universal” body language is far from it.

Luckily, the locals don’t make the same assumptions as we do – they understand that foreigners are not accustomed to their ways and they don’t get offended when you don’t accept money with both hands or if you point at the menu you want to order. Some assume that you don’t speak Chinese as soon as they see you. McDonald’s has a special picture menu that they will pull out to ease communication.

There are also cases when vendors won’t stop explaining things in Chinese while you look at them wide-eyed and shake your head. Even then, they usually just laugh. Learning basic Chinese words is a great idea, but keep in mind that they may not understand you if you have even the slightest accent.

So before you visit China, it’s a good idea to prepare a cheat sheet including any addresses (in Chinese) that you may need, photos of food that you want to try and get an icon T-shirt to communicate with anyone anywhere! The photo below is from Bored Panda.