Archive for the 'Culture' Category

Tradition vs. Superstition

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

tradition-1Fight Over a Check?

It’s a common scene in a Chinese restaurant here or more so in China that people fight vehemently over a check to pay.  I’m sure many Westerners would be baffled by this.  Why on earth fight to pay when you can relax and let the other party take care of it?

Deep down, it’s a cultural difference between East and West.  In Chinese culture, people want to be perceived as “giving” and “generous” when it comes to pay for a diner. “Go-dutch” is more of a contemporary notion and it may be practiced among some younger people in China.  I know for sure that it is a common practice in the West regardless of the ethnicity and age group.

Responsibility of A Good Host/Hostess

The other similar tradition is that the host/hostess should be picking up the tab for dinner.  For example, if I go to Seattle to see my friend, my friend should pay for  dinner or better yet, invite me over to her house for dinner.  In return, when my friend comes over to my place, I should repay her hospitality.

With thousands of years tradition, I can’t begin to attempt to outline the different social etiquette.  Of course, with vast geography in China, each province and region would overlay additional aspects of their traditions and sometime superstitions.

Superstitions? Enough Already!

Admittedly, some of the traditions and customs are just gestures of hospitality and kindness that may be observed and practiced anywhere in the world.  Other customs, in my own assessment, are just absurd.

For example, in 1991, when I was getting ready to come to the U.S. for graduate school, my aunt asked me to pack a red thread of yarn in my suitcase.  I didn’t understand why then, but I was guessing that she meant to leave a thread of my hometown so that I would return promptly.  The reality is that I never returned after school.

Watching over Chinese’s practice of so many superstitions, I sometimes wonder why bother with all this.  Can we simplify life to eliminate all the burdens by everyone?

I don’t have a simple answer. Do you?

Image credit to Shiyahi “Tradition Chinese Temple”

The Year of the Golden Ox – Happy New Year!

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Year of the Ox

The Chinese New Year Tradition

Chinese New Year, similar to that in many cultures, is a time for family reunion, a time for celebration and a time to indulge in excessive food and drinks.  As many of you may know, Chinese New Year falls in the lunar year instead of the calendar year.  This year on January 26 is the beginning of the Year of Ox.

Chinese New Year, for many of us living outside of China, has been reduced to a distant memory simply because it tends to fall during a week day and there is no legitimate reason for us to take time off from work to observe the holiday.

I know for a fact that right now, millions of Chinese are traveling to their hometown, shopping like there is no tomorrow for food and beverages and cooking up a major storm.

What Was My Recollection of the Holiday?

My fondest memory from childhood includes the anticipation of the New Year’s Day as we would get our red packets from our parents after bowing to them to show our respect and thanks.  The red packet consists of  hard cash. It was also the only time that my siblings and I would get our new clothes for the year.  I recall vividly that my mom would be spending half of the night touching up the garments for us to wear the next day.

The New Year Day always started off with endless fire crackers to ward off the evil spirits.  It is said that whoever has the longest fire crackers would have the best year.  This will be followed by a breakfast.  In where I grew up in the central part of China, the breakfast is typically dumplings (“pot stickers” known to most of Westerners).

The entire holiday week is filled with greetings by family members and friends.  Food is always the focal point for many as there was such a scarcity when I grew up and that’s why I have such an obsession over food throughout my life.

I wish we spent more time with our friends and family in this part of the world.  After all, life should be anchored with these two elements instead of chasing a phantom and materialistic dream.

By the way, for those of you who were born in the Year of Ox, you should wear red under garment throughout the entire year to ward off the evil spirit.  Believe it or not, I have certainly conformed to this tradition.

Did I hear that President Obama was born in the Year of Ox?