Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy (Chinese) New Year!

Hello everyone! Today is 春节 (chūn jié), also known as Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, THE biggest holiday in China.

Hooray! Happy New Year!!! 新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè)!

Image source.

So, you may ask, what do we do for Chinese New Year? Well I’m glad you asked. First of all, everyone travels to visit their family, on trains, planes, buses, etc. (In China it’s seen as totally normal to take a 24-hour train ride if one’s hometown is that far away. I think most Americans wouldn’t even consider that an option- if it’s that far, you fly, obviously.) Anyway, the trains and everything are super-crowded.

People go see their family and have a big meal together. It’s traditional to make dumplings (饺子 (jiǎo zi) in northern China and 团子 (tuán zi) in southern China).

饺子 (jiǎo zi). Image source.

团子 (tuán zi). Image source.

The date of Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so it’s different from year to year- it falls somewhere in January or February. This year it’s January 31, so January 30 is the big night when everyone stays up late for the new year. There’s a tv show called 春晚 (chūn wǎn) (the full name is 春节联欢晚会) which is the equivalent of “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve”- it has singing, skits, magic tricks, and all kinds of entertaining things.

Some people also play 麻将 (má jiàng), which we usually write as “mah jong” in English for some reason.

Playing 麻将 (má jiàng). Image source.

And the fireworks (鞭炮 biānpào) (or maybe this should be translated "firecrackers"? I'm not sure). You hear them from time to time during the days close to the new year (like, during the day. Or night. Whenever.) but the biggest bunch of fireworks happens at midnight. People just buy fireworks and blow them up on the sidewalk outside their apartment- which is probably highly illegal in America. And most of them only make a loud sound, no cool colors or lights or anything.

Wal-mart was all decked out for the new year.

And let’s talk about the decorations. First of all, it’s China, so everything is red. You see red lanterns hanging everywhere. They’re not real lanterns though, just decorative.

And the Chinese character 福 (fú). It means happiness and good fortune, and dude, you see this character on the Spring Festival decorations everywhere.

Decorations with the character 福 (fú) for sale. Also fish decorations.
And it’s often hung upside-down.

福 (fú) upside-down.

Why upside down? Well because in Chinese, 福倒了 (fú dào le), “fu is upside-down,” is pronounced the same as 福到了 (fú dào le), “happiness has come.” It’s a giant pun with a holiday based around it, you guys.

There are also a lot of fish decorations. Apparently “fish” (鱼 yú) is pronounced the same as “surplus” (余 yú). So people say “年年有余 (nián nián yǒu yú),” which means “every year have more than you need” (or “every year have fish” if you’re into puns).

Image source.

Parents give their children 红包 (hóng bāo), a red envelope with money in it. (Apparently this continues until the kid is considered an adult- maybe when they turn 18, or get a job, or get married- it could be different for each family.) Adults also give 红包 (hóng bāo) to their friends’ and relatives’ kids. The amount of money in the 红包 (hóng bāo) ranges from maybe 200 Chinese RMB (about $30 in US dollars) to 2000 RMB ($300). You would give a lot of money to your own kids and just a little to kids of acquaintances you don’t know well.

So yes, kids get 红包 (hóng bāo). But other than that, people don’t give each other gifts- which really surprised me, because everybody in China always says Spring Festival is comparable to Christmas in America. Because it’s the biggest holiday and people travel to see their family. But no gifts. What.

I mean obviously if you go to someone’s house to eat, you bring a gift, but that’s just regular Chinese culture, not a new year tradition.

Horse decorations.

2014 is the year of the horse. Every year has one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, which is as follows:

马 (mǎ) – horse – 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, ...

羊 (yáng) – goat – 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, 1931, ...

猴 (hóu) – monkey - 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956, 1944, 1932, ...

鸡 (jī) – chicken – 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, 1933, ...

狗 (gǒu) – dog – 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, ...

猪 (zhū) – pig – 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935, ...

鼠 (shǔ) – rat – 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948, 1936, ...

牛 (niú) – ox – 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, ...

虎 (hǔ) – tiger – 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938, ...

兔 (tù) – rabbit – 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, ...

龙 (lóng) – dragon – 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952, 1940, ...

蛇 (shé) – snake – 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, ...

Find the year you were born to find out what your animal is. (Although if you were born in January or February, better double-check because we’re using the lunar calendar here and it doesn’t exactly line up.)

If you mention your age, Chinese people will be like, “oh so your animal is the rabbit” or whatever. People just know this stuff offhand.

So in December I started seeing horse decorations everywhere, and I’m like, “we’re about to celebrate the year of the horse, aren’t we?” Seriously. Everywhere, everything is a horse.

Well, all the advertising has horses, anyway.

And here’s another Chinese pun: 马上 (mǎ shàng) means “right away,” but if you translate it literally it means “on a horse.” So people are making a lot of jokes about putting money on a toy horse and announcing “马上有钱! (mǎshàng yǒu qián)” which means either “there’s money on the horse” or “I’m about to get money!”

(Look at the above image. On the horse it says "马上‘得福’(mǎ shàng dé fú)"  which means "Dove on a horse" or "we're about to have Dove chocolates!" or "we're about to have happiness and good fortune" (depending on how literally you translate the characters in the Chinese name for Dove chocolate).)

Happy year of the horse, everyone! 马年快乐 (mǎ nián kuàilè)! May you be healthy and happy all year, and may everything go well with you. Wishing you and your family a fantastic new year!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This time, I'll just go with it

So I read Psalm 86, and, as always, I have some issues with it. (Verse 7 says "because you answer me"- does God really answer? What does that mean? When "all the nations you have made will come and worship," so... what does that mean about hell and God accepting everyone, and are they converting to "the right religion" or just worshiping because God forced them to? Also the bit about "among the gods there is none like you"- I really think people back then believed all the gods were real, it was just a question of which one was stronger/ better to follow...)

But I'm not going to get into that now. I always get hung up on that stuff, and it's so tiring.

So right now, I'll just go with it, pick out a part of this psalm that I like, and pray that.

"Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name."

Yeah. That. That sounds good- I want that. Even though I don't know if it makes sense or not.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 86. To read other people's posts, click here: Bringing our Whole Selves to Prayer.

Monday, January 27, 2014


1. An American Theology (posted January 3) "I’m not interested in a personal salvation that is about me and Jesus. I’m not interested in a Jesus who was only born to die and to keep me from swearing."

2. Why I am a Radical Activist for All Things Evil (posted January 21) "Because my pursuit of compassion, love, and respect led me to cross the picket lines of the culture wars."

3. Cat playing a theremin. Well, you need to watch this video.

4. 15 U.S. Olympians Posing With A Siberian Husky Puppy Is The Cutest Thing You’ll See Today. ADORABLE!!!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chinese Food (Photo Dump)

Fast food. Tofu, peaches, and eggs with tomatoes. (And rice, but in China that's not even worth mentioning.)

I think this was lamb or beef.


Western-style breakfast at a super-expensive hotel.

Oreos and vanilla ice cream. Probably too sweet for most Chinese people.

Here is a carton of milk. But what's this? The straw seems way too short! What's going on???

The straw is actually telescoping. Have you ever heard of that before? It's a disposable straw- seems way over-engineered to me.

Straw expands this far and locks.

Yay then you can drink your milk. (This type of milk doesn't have to be refrigerated, by the way. Yeah it's cow's milk. But different from US milk.)

Pizza at a western bar.

Burger and fries at a western bar.

I told them not to make the chicken too spicy, so they made it really really salty and added rice krispy treats instead. (No those are not actually rice krispy treats.)

南瓜饼(nánguā bǐng). Pumpkin biscuits.

I bought frozen 南瓜饼(nánguā bǐng) and fried them up myself. Nailed it.

Kiwi juice. Can we all just take a moment and marvel at the existence of kiwi juice?

Beef curry.

Fancy hot chocolate.

Fast food. The food's not that great, but man, that bottle of iced tea. I love that stuff.

I bought imported pasta and sauce. And yes I ate it with chopsticks.

Not pictured: cheesecake.
(It's actually a cheese muffin. China has an epidemic of things that are not cakes being translated as "cake.")

So there's this really sweet ice cream place where they mix up the ice cream right there for you.

Liquid nitrogen and all that. (液氮 (yè dàn) in Chinese)

Oreo ice cream. And look at the tiny spoons! If you buy some kind of dessert thing in China I guarantee you will never ever get a "regular-sized" spoon.

Mango smoothie.

Noodles and stuff.

Potato wedges and sausages. Not very Chinese...

Delicious beef with rice and lettuce. And a side of strange tofu-y soup.

香锅(xiāng guō). This is my favorite ever! You get to pick out all the ingredients, and then they fry it up for you.

Chicken curry.

Oh my goodness, have I told you about the wonderfulness that is hot pot? So you have this pot of boiling soup stuff in the middle of your table (the table has a heating element) and then you order various foods and boil them in the hot pot. Amazing.

Foods for the hot pot: potato slices, quail eggs (hardboiled), rice sticks (??? how do we say 年糕 in English???), pork meatballs.

Foods for the hot pot: lamb, potato slices, tofu skin.

My dad brought pancake mix from America. It's almost gone- I need to find somewhere to buy more! I should go to Shanghai- they have everything in Shanghai, right?

Dad also brought syrup from America. So I guess this doesn't count as Chinese food.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

And that's why I don't pray anymore

I read Libby Anne's post, Prayer That Can’t Go Wrong, and wow, that is exactly how I used to pray. In the post, Libby Anne talked about what her mother prayed as the whole family searched for missing glasses: "Lord Jesus, please show us where David’s glasses are. You know where they are, Lord, and he needs them. But if it is not your will for us to find them, we understand."

Image source.

Yep. Back in college, I used to pray so much and I TOTALLY had a relationship with God. Prayed about EVERYTHING. And I TOTALLY trusted God. God would protect me and bring good things. And even if he didn't, even if something bad happened, even if I died, it was all in his control and somehow it would be okay. He knew what was best for everyone and he would do it.

And as Libby Anne points out, this way of thinking means prayer can't fail. Yep. I always trusted God and was so happy. I was so confident that God would protect me, and everything would be okay. (Obviously you can't use it as proof that God exists, since anything that happens can be explained as "God's plan"- and I didn't try to use it as proof of that. Instead, it was the logical result of my beliefs about what God is like.)

Unfortunately, thinking like this can get kind of victim-blame-y. Because, you know, if I hear about something bad that happened to someone, I would think maybe it's because they didn't pray. If you pray, God will protect you. He wouldn't let things that are SO NOT OKAY happen.

I remember one time at a prayer meeting, we prayed for victims of a recent earthquake. My friend, who brought up the prayer request, mentioned that a lot of students were taking exams when the earthquake happened, and they were buried by it.

And I was shocked at the thought that some people just like me, college students taking exams, would die like that. That is SO NOT OKAY. How could this happen?

But they lived in a third-world country. Of course that kind of thing happens in third-world countries. They're not just like me. It's okay.

See? Blaming the victim. It's their fault for living in the third-world country. It happens. Because I couldn't bear the thought that someone like me or my friends could be killed like that.

America. Bad things don't happen here. (Full disclosure: I now live in China.) Image source.

And then, I got sick. Turned out it was my gall bladder. Every day I felt like I had to throw up. All I could do was lay on the couch and wonder how I would ever finish my masters thesis.

How could God let that happen? I had planned to graduate and move to China. Somehow that got delayed by a whole year. Turns out I can't trust God to not let my own organs bring my whole life and all my plans to a stop for an indefinite period of time. I had no idea that could happen to me.

It's not okay.

And it turns out, a lot of NOT OKAY things happen every day.

So what's the point of prayer? There is no "God will protect us and even if bad things happen, everything will be okay."

God never promised to keep this from ruining your life. Image source.

I should clarify that I do still pray, but not very much, and not about the same things I used to.

And I wish I could "have a relationship with God" like I used to, but all that certainty is gone now. I don't even know if it's possible anymore.

All the certainty is gone now.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wrath and Justice?

Image source.

God's wrath came and went, and the writer of Psalm 85 is asking God to "restore us again" in the aftermath.

So... what's the point of "wrath"? And how does it relate to justice?

One view says that God was punishing his people for worshiping other gods. Which is bad because that's the wrong religion. It's a sin against God, and his wrath builds up, but he graciously waits and gives them chances to repent. But finally enough is enough and he punishes his people by sending an invading army or something. And then the survivors repent and get back to being the right religion and it's all good, kinda.

And all of that fits well with this psalm.

Except I don't believe that anymore. I don't think it's just to punish and kill people for believing the "wrong" religion. They're not hurting anyone, they just have some misconceptions about spiritual things. (We all do, so what does it matter?)

And now I think that God was angry about the "worshiping other gods" thing because those religions involved bad stuff like human sacrifice and forced prostitution. And also the rich weren't so nice to the poor. God's not angry about what they believe, but what they do to other people. So yes, absolutely, put that stuff to a stop!

But, umm... the whole "God, in his mercy, waits and keeps giving his people chances to repent"? In other words, God lets the human rights violations continue, he lets the powerful take advantage of the weak, in the hope that the bad people will change their ways and he won't have to punish them?

Well, that's not very feminist.

And in Psalm 85, okay, God's wrath has punished his people. (All the people? Weren't there some innocent victims in this?) The psalmist prays for restoration, but I can't help wondering if anything had changed. Would the powerful still take advantage of the weak? Would there still be human sacrifices and other horrible stuff?

What was the point of God's wrath? Was it just "God has 500 units of anger, so he's going to throw down 500 units of punishment on his people, and then all will be right with the world"? Does he care who exactly sinned against whom? Does he care about protecting those who are powerless, or is it just "this whole society has gone bad- BURN IT!!!!!!!!"

Where is the justice? Is God's wrath about justice or not?


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 85. To read other people's posts, click here: Sometimes The Bible is Enough.