Tag Archives: “This is China”

Golden week – Mid Autumn Festival and National Holiday

Last week was “Golden Week”: the Mid Autumn Festival and National Holiday, which basically means a week off work for most people and a huge travel opportunity!

The People’s Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949 with a ceremony at Tiananmen Square.  The Central People’s Government passed a Resolution and declared that October 1 is the National Day.  The National Day marks the start of one of the two Golden Weeks in the PRC (the other is for Chinese New Year).  The National Day is celebrated throughout China and Hong Kong and Macau, with a variety of government-organised festivities, including fireworks and concerts.  Public places, such as Tiananmen Square in Beijing, are decorated in a festive theme.  Portraits of revered leaders, such as Mao Zedong, are publicly displayed.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival or Zhongqiu Festival, is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar, close to the autumnal equinox.  The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, the others being Spring Festival and Winter Solstice.  Accompanying the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs, such as:

  • Eating mooncakes, traditionally consisting primarily of lotus bean paste.  We bought ours from Starbucks – coffee, green tea and caramel flavoured.
  • Drinking tea.
  • In some parts of China, dances are held for young men and women to find partners. “One by one, young women are encouraged to throw their handkerchiefs to the crowd.  The young man who catches and returns the handkerchief has a chance of romance.”
  • Carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, floating sky lanterns.
  • Burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang’e
  • Fire Dragon Dances.
  • Solving riddles, or miyu in Mandarin Chinese, usually written on slips of paper and pasted on the lanterns.
  • The Moon rabbit is a traditional icon.

The story of Chang E is the most widely accepted tale regarding the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival.  It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed and the extreme heat made people’s lives very difficult.  It was the hero Hou Yi who, owing to his great strength, shot down the nine of the ten suns.  On hearing of this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him.  Peng Meng was among these people.  Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind woman named Chang E and lived a happy life.

One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the queen of heaven) on the way to meet his old friend.  Wangmu presented him an elixir which, if drunk, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become an immortal.  Instead of drinking the potion himself, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E to keep. Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi give the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard and demanded that Chang E hand over the elixir.  Knowing that she could not win, she took out the elixir and swallowed it immediately.  The moment she drank it, she flew out of the window and up into the sky.  Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest heavenly body to the earth.

On realising what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so grief stricken that he shouted Chang E’ s name to the sky.  He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife appeared in the Moon, which now takes the form of a rabbit.  He took the food liked by Chang E to an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her. Hou Yi’s neighbours also burned incense and prepared food to express their good wishes to the kind Chang E.  This became a custom later every year.

If you look at the moon from China, you can clearly see a rabbit shape!  For us, it was a fabulous opportunity to travel to Singapore and Malaysia.

Travel Woes – update

We finally took off and arrived in Beijing at 3.00am.  However, none of the passengers on our flight had their luggage, including me.  I had travelled in jeans, t-shirt and flip flops – not the attire for business meetings!  I thought that my bag would make it the next day, but no such luck.  I was in Beijing for a large customer conference and many of our very Senior Executives had travelled to China to attend this.  I had met some colleagues in the convention hotel bar and to my dismay, most of these Execs were in the same bar.  I am now at the end of Day 2 wearing the same outfit (and flip flops) and not exactly dressed for Executive interaction.  However, after explaining my predicament, no-one held it against me!

Still no sign of my bag and Cathay Pacific were so unhelpful with no opinion on where my bag was, never mind when it would be delivered.  So, off to the mall for some shopping for me.  Everything was so expensive and I needed so much for just a few days – make up, toiletries, underwear, shoes and a couple of outfits.  The worst thing was not being able to find any shoes that fit me and I do not have big feet!!  I ended up spending 3 times more than I have ever spent on a pair of shoes.  Even worse…… they are so uncomfortable and I am not sure I will wear them very much!!!!

Finally, on Day 4 (at 2.00am, so just about Day 4) there is a knock on my hotel door to let me know that my bag has been delivered.  Thank goodness, my feet would have some relief with my favourite comfy shoes.

Perhaps this is a lesson to not check a bag when travelling. 🙂

Travel woes

This has certainly been an interesting 24 hours.  I flew from Shanghai to Hong Kong yesterday afternoon.  The flight was delayed because of a Typhoon in the Hong Kong area.  When we finally arrived, we were parked out on the tarmac and the flight crew had to give everyone plastic macs to de-plane, which we did into a T8 gale and fierce rain!  It took over an hour for my luggage to come through on the carousel and then I got told that the wait for taxi’s would be over 2 hours.  I decided to brave the train system and 1 hour after that, finally made it to the hotel – 1.30am!

This morning I got a message from the customer that I was suppposed to be meeting, that we were now cancelled because of the Typhoon (everything shuts down in Hong Kong when it gets to a T8+ status, and it reached a T10 last night).  I am only in Hong Kong for that meeting!!!!  The rain was so heavy last night that it sounded like hail against my 28th floor hotel room windows.  The wind was howling and shaking the building…….

I decide to work from the hotel room this morning and then I get a text from the airline informing me that my flight to Beijing this afternoon has been cancelled.  I immediately call our Travel Help desk and they re-book me on a later flight but I decide that I will probably have more luck at the airport (with prior USA experience of being a seasoned air traveller).  Little did I know that the experience of being a frequent flier in the USA does NOT compare to Asia.  At least in America, they are quick to give updates and do that frequently to calm the angry, travel weary person. 

As soon as I arrived at the airport I was booked onto a 3.15pm flight (along with a travelling colleague).  However, as soon as we had moved through security and customs clearance we saw that our flight was cancelled.  (We both have checked bags on that flight).  I have been sitting in Hong Kong airport all afternoon and been transferred to 2 different flights (I have no idea where my bag is at this point).  The desk is so unhelpful because the Airport Authority here do not update their systems!!!!!  So, none of the helpful American style updates here!  Michele and I have been to the desk twice each so far and get different stories each time!  I have witnessed the worst in human behavior with extreme yelling, screaming, crying and threatening physical abuse.  I have to admire the staff across the board for keeping their cool in the midst of all that anger and emotion – these are the times when it must really suck to be in customer service. 

We decided to camp out in DragonAir’s club lounge thinking we would not see so much of the yelling and screaming, but it doesn’t matter where you go, there will always be obnoxious people.

I don’t think I will make it out of here tonight.  I am contemplating booking myself into a hotel and trying again tomorrow.  What a wasted trip all round……

More interesting shopping

Owen took this photo on a recent shopping trip.  The children’s paddling pool is in the middle of the fish section, filled with fresh fish, turtles and frogs.  The woman sitting next to the pool was catching fish with her bare hands.  Fresh fish for dinner has a different meaning here!

Fish, frog or turtle for dinner?

Fish, frog or turtle for dinner?

Furniture moving – the Chinese way

When we first moved into our home here, we had organized for the landlord to rent us some furniture until our container arrived.  The day before our shipment was due to be delivered, we needed all the furniture taken away so we would have room for our own stuff.  Owen assumed that they would show up with a truck, but this is actually how they moved everything:

Sofa - on a bicycle!

Sofa – on a bicycle!

Table, 4 chairs, 2 bedside tables - on a bicycle

Table, 4 chairs, 2 bedside tables – on a bicycle

All the bicycles are lined up ready to remove the rest of the rented furniture – lamps, beds, armchairs, chest of drawers……  Absolutely amazing!

Dragon Boat Festival

The ancient cultural holiday of the Dragon Boat Festival occurs on the 5th day of the 5th Chinese lunar month.  For the western calendar, this fell on June 23rd this year and Friday was a holiday – a lovely long weekend.  As legend has it, the festival began when a famous exiled poet named Qu Yuan, drowned himself in a river in 277 B.C.   Local people did not want to see Qu’s body eaten by the fish so they started throwing food, such as Zongzi, into the river, and some fisherman began racing their boats out to save him.    Chinese citizens now throw bamboo leaves filled with cooked rice into the water.  Therefore the fish could eat the rice rather than their hero poet.  Over the years this has turned into the custom of eating tzungtzu and rice dumplings.  The tradition has continued year after year to honor Qu Yuan, and the constant beat of the drums, and paddles splashing into the water, are sounds that have marked this time of year in China for centuries.  The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated by boat races in the shape of dragons.  Competing teams row their boats forward to a drumbeat racing to reach the finish end first. 

 The celebration is a time for protection from evil and disease for the rest of the year.  It is done so by different practices such as hanging healthy herbs on the front door, drinking nutritious concoctions, and displaying portraits of evil’s nemesis, Chung Kuei.  If one manages to stand an egg on it’s end at exactly 12:00 noon, the following year will be a lucky one.

Dragon Boat Festival in Shanghai

Dragon Boat Festival in Shanghai

Juggling Act

I am not very good at Juggling.  This week, Owen is back in the UK and I am trying to juggle being a mum full time and work full time.  It just doesn’t work and I am failing at both.

In the continuing on-going saga of the medical coverage here, Owen has had to return to the UK at very short notice to meet with his UK Doctors.  We have International Medical insurance for our time in China and are also registered with an International Medical facility here.  At first glance, this is state of the art, with modern equipment, English speaking Doctors and staff, clean facilities and very professional looking surroundings.  However, it is almost impossible to get a straight answer and the answer can change from week to week.  Consequently, information we were given on our look/see visit in December has proven to be false and has left Owen unable to get some of the medication that he takes to alleviate the back pain he continually suffers with.  So, it is back to the UK for Owen this week.  I hope he comes back……..

Meanwhile, I am juggling school bus stop drop off, pick up, dinner, laundry, homework, remembering and planning for all the different school activities, commuting, meetings, deadlines, projects and conference calls.  For only 4 days. 

Luckily, the Ex-pat community really do support one another.  My meeting ran late yesterday and I was cutting it fine to get back in time for the school bus drop off.  1 quick text and my mind was put at rest with an immediate offer to collect them and keep them until I got there (I was 5 minutes late!)

This week I feel like a total failure at everything.  I really don’t know how single mothers cope – to my mind it is impossible to do it all.  I am so grateful for such a supportive husband who takes care of so much that I often take for granted.  Never again!!!!!!!


Lost in translation

I passed this sign and the spelling made me laugh:


A Medical Procedure in China

This week, Owen was in a Chinese hospital to have a back procedure operation which meant an overnight stay for him.  He came back with quite the story and I am quite sure that he will not be having any more procedures in China (instead, he will travel to Hong Kong, which is where most of the Westerners go to have scheduled operations and procedures).

Going through International private medical insurance meant that he had a private room which included dinner and breakfast.  Dinner was a pizza!  Served in the box from where it was ordered.

After a very sleepless night on a mattress that was 2″ thick, Owen was asked what he wanted for breakfast.  This was the first time that anyone had checked on him in 13 hours, after a general anaesthetic.  He requested coffee, orange juice and toast.  This is what was served:

Breakfast in Chinese hospital

Breakfast in Chinese hospital

Owen was also a little frightened in the operating room as everyone was speaking Chinese around him and he was actually awake for most of the procedure.  He believes that the whole procedure could have been done in his Doctor’s office and was an exercise in maximizing insurance payout.

He told me that his hospital room did not look or feel clean, the windows were wide open with no bug screens on them and a building site right next door with all the construction dust and fumes coming in.  All in all, not at all comparable to the British or American health coverage and care that we all take for granted.

Legal Stuff – the “Paperwork”

Getting into China to work is a time and paper intensive process.  I am fortunate that the company I work for has people who specialise in this, but even so, it has required many forms to get to this point.  I actually started the process in the UK, 14 weeks ago:

1. Apply for the work permit – most important and can take up to 10 weeks for the labor bureau to process.  This requires invitation letters from the company in China, copy of your CV/Resume, copy of education degree, copy of passport ID page.  The employer will need to provide a copy of their business license, copy of organization code and copy of Approval certificate.

2. Apply for Z visa which gets converted to residence permit once you are actually in the country.  This is another 12 page application document with copies of all accompanying family member passport id pages.  This also needs a company application form and letter with the company stamp.

3. Get a medical (please see previous post on this step!)  Need passport photos for this step – 4 per person.

4.  Arrive in China.

5.  Register – at once – with the police to get a temporary residence permit.  All original passports need to be surrended.  This also needs a copy of the residence lease, landlord property certificate and id.

6.  Once these have been returned, you need to then submit them to the Public Security Bureau with 2-4 passport photos for all family members.  You will also need copies of birth certificates for your children and a copy of your marriage certificate.  Plus, the application form and letter from the company.  You need to appear in person for an “interview” that consists of you standing in front of a camera to get photo taken and to make sure that you look like your passport photo.  5 days later passports were returned with residence permits and an additional work permit document.

That’s it!!  We are all legal.

 At least until we move………then we will have to register our residence for our new address.   I think I have completed over 20 forms for each member of our family and supplied 12 photos of me, 8 of Owen and 6 each of the kids!

Be prepared to be without your passport for 3-4 weeks once you arrive in China.  Temporary travel permits can be issued, but these are just valid for travel within China.

WARNING – do not attempt all this on your own.  You will definitely need help as all documentation is in Chinese.  It helps to have legal representation to validate all the forms and steps in the process.  For anyone who wants to visit us (please do!!) you just need a tourist visa which you can get from your local embassy and will take about 3-5 days.