January 24, 2012

How to tame [this year's] dragon

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Yesterday was the start of a 15-day Spring Festival, marking the end of an old year and ushering the new one with an array of traditions and superstitions that are as distinct as the customs surrounding Christmas -- most of the western world celebrates one thing or another during the month of December, but each religion, community and family adds their own nuance to it.

The superstitions surrounding food are the ones that most easily stick out in my mind. This time of year plates ought to be filled with the following:

  • Noodles for a long life
  • jiaozi (dumplings) look like little gold pouches, so they'll bring you wealth
  • Fish for an abundant life; the Chinese word for "fish" sounds very similar to "abundance," which makes it an auspiciously delightful dish
  • Sticky rice, radish or taro cake (I've had all of them this week!) -- all of the foods contain the word "gao" which means "tall" or "high" in Chinese, which may mean a year of high achievements for you
  • Oranges and pomelos to keep your prosperity levels high
If you coordinate a meal with these foods, you'll surely be guaranteed a year full of good luck, abundant prosperity, wealth, and a healthy life.

Of course to go along with food traditions, there are several superstitions that you should take note of in the next two weeks; check out this CNN story that showcases what some Chinese will be be doing to ensure bad luck stays at bay in the coming year.

Even though I was in Asia for last year's Spring Festival, I wasn't in China for the actual Lunar New Year festivities. But I did make it back for the Lantern Festival, which wraps up the 15-day holiday. It was absolute madness. Hangzhou was transformed into a warzone of pops and explosions from fireworks. I remember fireworks bursting just outside my 15th floor window and my taxi driver that night broke his windshield from shrapnel from a partially-exploded shell. I've never seen such a spectacle -- it was incredible! See what I mean by checking out these photos from yesterday's celebrations across Asia, courtesy of The Atlantic.

Finally, I have to give a shoutout to my Chinese Zodiac Sign: the dragon. (You can learn your zodiac sign here). 

Here's to hoping the dragon brings a lot of luck, prosperity, and good health to your family and friends. I'm hoping I won't need to breathe much of my dragon fire this year ;-)
Gong xi fa cai! (Happy, healthy new year!)
see. eat. explore.

January 22, 2012

Winter salt spray

explore. laugh. After a week's worth of being stuck inside the house with snow, ice, and rain enveloping Seattle, a weekend escape to nearby Whidbey Island was much needed.

The house was full of midwesterners, all graduates of NDSU (with the exception of only one). It's quite magical when you put a bunch of landlocked Midwesterners on a beach. Most often we're transformed into little kids enamored with the shapes and colors of the stones and driftwood. We get awestruck by the deafening sound of the water and the power of the salty wind racing to land. The smell is something unfamiliar to what we knew growing up, and it's intoxicating.

I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

January 19, 2012

Snowbound in a city

So it's been a while. 
To be honest, I didn't quite know how to follow up my last post about my aunt. Anything and everything I wanted to write about seemed so frivolous and silly compared to the magnitude of emotion I was feeling as I was writing on here last time.

A little more than a month has passed, and with it came Christmas and the start of 2012. Most of us find ourselves in the bane of winter -- impossibly cold temps, snow, ice, ultra cold bathroom floors and frosty car windows. 

Right now I find myself in Seattle in one of the worst snowstorms they've had in a while. I had heard rumors about how this city reacts to snow, how it freaks out and shuts down after an inch or so. But I wanted to give hearty Northwesterners the benefit of the doubt; after all, they're known for their insatiable outdoorsy spirit and I feel like anyone who can trudge through mud on damp, chilly hiking trails can surely handle a bit of snow.

I was wrong.

Six or so inches of snow later (at least in my neighborhood) along with a glorious glaze of a quarter-inch of ice, I finally understand why this place can't handle proper snow. I nearly skied down the hill with my boots and arms full of groceries tonight. Hillsides were transformed into sledding routes, and since virtually none of the streets are plowed it's perfectly appropriate to invade an entire slope with eager sledders and cross-country skiers.

The fact is, this weather wouldn't have made anywhere in the Midwest or New England even flinch.
I love it though. January looks like it's supposed to, and it's fantastic.

Snow in a city appears magical, and it seems as though everyone around town wants to believe in it. Since no one can really drive, everyone is out walking and wanting to commiserate together. It's almost like the Christmas spirit that everyone pines for late in December has come to life with the fresh fallen snow. Of course, this is all highly romanticized and the reality of it is, people have found one blatantly obvious thing in common: we're all impacted by the snow. Really, it just gives us an excuse to talk to more people. It's a shame this attitude doesn't transcend into more average, pleasant weather.

I miss the snow. I mean, I don't miss the 6-7 months of it that we have at home, but I miss the four distinct seasons. There's something about the seasons that makes one more aware of the passage of time. Without truly distint seasons, it's easy for things in life to be stagnant. The snow cleans things up, makes everything appear fresh. Unfortunately I know in 24 hours, all the beautiful, fluffy snow will turn into grey and brown slush and be gone altogether by Monday. 

I know I say this every few months about how I need to write more and keep more regular track of my blog. Don't think I've forgotten, I think about it almost every day, I just feel like I don't have that many interesting things to write about anymore. I mean, a year ago right now I had just crossed the border into Vietnam and was navigating through markets in Hanoi to try find warmer clothing. 

Now I'm stable and stationary. I have a job that I'll go to tomorrow at 9 and leave at 5. There's nothing too extraordinary about any of that. But I still feel like I have things to share. I've tried other types of social media, and with the exception of Twitter, blogging is the only thing that has stuck. So I'm gonna stick with it. And I hope you'll stay with me along the way.

I'll be back soon. Hopefully tomorrow. 
I promise.