Christmas Craze in China

christmas in china

I once embarrassed myself by asking one of my American friends to join me to the Christmas carol service in a local church when I was in China. “Sorry,” she said, “I’d love to, but I don’t celebrate Christmas. I am a Jew.”

Although I knew this was a traditional Christianity Festival, but still I found myself shocked after she turned down my seemingly inappropriate invitation. You see, Christmas is so widely celebrated in China and many other Asian countries that are of no Christianity or Catholic origins, which makes it occurs to me more like a Western cultural phenomenon rather than something related to religion.

And if you are lucky enough to go to Beijing or Shanghai, or Tokyo, or Seoul in this time of the year, you will discover that there’s no less Christmas than any European or American cities.  Although according to a well-known newspaper, less than 20% of people who celebrating Christmas in China know the story of Jesus Christ.

It doesn’t matter. Plastic trees are decorated with blinking lights standing in front of restaurants and shopping malls; Santa smiles from the display windows of almost stores; Christmas banners are hanging around everywhere; shops offer special sales and people are so busy doing some last-minute gift shopping.

Christmas in China

Christmas, as well as other western festivals like Thanks-giving Day and Valentine’s Day, enjoyed great popularity among younger generation Chinese. Grown up under the influence of western culture, young Chinese think it is fashionable and they love the concept of gift-giving.

And soon enough, businessmen saw the profitable potential of it, but the fact that religious is still a rather sensitive topic here, they weaken the religious aspect of Christmas and try to make it more commercialized.

But like many other things happened in China, we pick it up fast, it turns out however, slightly different from what it used to be. In China, Christmas is more like a social event than a family reunion.  Young people will go out with friends from school or work to parties or karaoke bars; couples usually go to romantic restaurants paying twice the price but with food half the quality; small-scale fire-works and entertainment shows occur in every university.

Yes, we call these Christmas in China and we are no doubt enjoying it!

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Kim Kalan – Tube Staff Drawing on Whiteboard to Cheer Passengers Up

DSC_1585

Couples weeks ago, one of my friend posted some pictures about the drawings by a tube staff near her apartment in Caledonian Road Station on her Weibo. These paintings, usually colorful, intricate and come with a little poetry or a cheerful message on the information white board,  left me really deep impression.

The painter of these lovely drawings is a lady whose name is Kim Kalan. Ms. Kalan, who worked as a customer services assistant at Caledonian Road Station, Piccadilly line, started drawing on the information white board about 2 years ago

Kim-and-her-whiteboard-at-Caledonian-Road

When I asked why she did that at the very beginning, this self-taught artist said, “It all began in a small way. When we used to display notices to the public about delays or other problems, I started to put little drawings on them to brighten them up.”

Most of Kalan’s drawings have specific themes and they are usually related to festivals or special occasions, like Remembrance Day or Christmas. And she does all her painting in her spare time! She usually put up her new work in the morning at her shift in order to cheer up the morning commuters, to whom she addresses as “Lovelies” in her drawings.

kim's drawing1kim's drawing2kim's drawing3

What Kim Kalan does, of course, touches many people. My friend said once it is the time for some festivals, she couldn’t wait to see Kalan’s new work. “It is a great start to the commute!” she added, “It definitely brought cheer to my day.”

And it seems that other passengers share the same feeling with my friend.  Her fans regularly updated her drawings to Flicker and Eoin Quiery, a local musician even wrote a song about her. Here’s the song I found on YouTube.

Other staffs worked with Kim Kalan said “she’s our pride and treasure. We are more than delighted to worked with creative person.”

I also learnt that this incredible lady is also a fiction writer in her spare time! Amazing!

Chinese Humor vs. English Humour

chinese humour

First, don’t act so surprised when I put humor and Chinese together. Although more than a few of you hold the stereotypes – to think that Chinese tend to be quite, shy and rigid, believe it or not we use humor as often as other people around the world.

Yet the strict and gloomy Brits with a plummy accent for some reasons are famous for their unique sense of humor and even manage to make it as “an import channel for the export and representation of British culture to the international audience.” (sorry about the stereotypes here, but now that you could understand how’s that feel!)

British humour

And the fact that I am a Chinese on the one hand may give me some authority in terms of Chinese Humor  while on the other hand it may expose me under some threats – I may tend to generalize the characteristics of British Humor  For this very reason, I declare that all the things I mention on British humor only based on my three-month experience in London and numerous British TV shows I saw before. If there’s anything that is inaccurate, please forgive me.

I think it is fair to say that people from both nations use irony and sarcasm as the major means to achieve humorous effects. But Chinese and Britons use them for different purpose, I am afraid. When a Chinese saying something funny, he/she most of the time do it on purse. To which I mean, both the speaker and the listener in the conversation realize the speaker is making fun of something and the speaker is trying to make the listener happy. In this way, humor is usually used as a positive communication means. It’s of course part of the reason why Brits tell jokes, but sometimes those cynical ones could be pretty mean when they sense anything absurd leaving the listener unnoticed. (Think about Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet form Pride and Prejudice. Poor Mrs. Bennet!)

bennet

Another major differences seems to be the frequency of using irony. Although people from certain part of China (Tianjin Province and North East part of China) are famous for being humor  but I think as a whole it is not the foundation of our daily life. The Brits, however, are so crazy for their sense of humor that they use it all the time. Famous British comedian Ricky Gervais, once said, “We use it (it refers to irony) as liberally as prepositions in every day speech. We tease our friends. We use sarcasm as a shield and a weapon. We avoid sincerity until it’s absolutely necessary.”

ricky-gervais

The topics which Chinese and Brits preferred are quite different as well. Chinese people’s sense of humor tends to be topical and most of the time political. Corrupt government officers, for example, are the targets of our sarcasm. Chinese netizens have even coined a slang term, “egao (恶搞)”, to describe the act of using real film or photos to create mocking send-ups.

The targets of Brits irony and sarcasm, however, are themselves. Their fronds of self-deprecation, usually with deadpan, often being misunderstood as kind of insensitive to people from other countries. But I now agreed with Ricky Gervais that, it may be their shields to protect them from being insincerity

After all, humor has a lot to do with culture. It can be difficult to get it if you don’t have the knowledge related with the historical development of the county, and language itself too is a great barrier. So sometimes if you think people from one country are not humorous  in many cases it’s because of you don’t get it. At least we welcome British humour wholeheartedly, hopefully the Brits try much more harder.


A Personal 2012 Christmas Guide of London (Part 2) — Shopping

There are still 3 weeks left before Christmas! What? You still have no idea about what to buy for your friends and love ones? Why not check out these places I went before and see if you could find anything interesting.

  • Southbank Centre Christmas Market

Southbank Centre Christmas Market

The Christmas Market alone sides the Southbank of the river Thames is one of the largest one of various Christmas Fair in London.  The location of the market itself is quite romantic—visitors could start from London Eye, walk through all the bank of Thames decorating with as many as 60 traditional wooden huts selling various of special hand-made gifts, dedicate crafts as well as food and drink.

In the middle of the market where close to the Southbank Art Centre, there is a fancy merry-go-round attracts both kids and adults. It is also an ideal place for taking pictures!

southbank centre

Apart from this lovely merry-go-round, kids could also make their own Christmas cards and a pocket money stall in one of the wooden huts.

If you would like some relaxation after gift-shopping in these interesting huts, a cup of Gluhwein (a German Wine) and some Gratwursts (German sausage) with your friends would be a nice choice. To make it even more Christmassy, choirs will sing carols and Christmas songs twice a day.

Some personal advice: the best time for me to visit Southbank Centre is around 4pm to 5pm. Not only because Thames looks more beautiful in the light of dusk and you could see the lights of London Eye turn on, also because it is really cold at night near the bank!

*More Information:

Open time: From 16 Nov – 24 Dec; Mon – Thu, 11am-8pm; Fri-Sun, 10am – 10pm.

Address: Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX

  • Covent Garden Piazza

Convent Garden

But if you do want to go to visit Christmas Market in the evening, Covent Garden would be a perfect choice.

The prosperous Covent Garden gets even more crowded in Christmas season after its Christmas makeover and move to the North-Piazza. The Covent Garden Christmas Market is divided into three sections – Apple Market, Jubilee Market and East Colonnade Market.

Although I have been to Covent Garden more than once before, still I was surprised by these lovely restaurants and café, stalls next stalls selling toys as well as other playful gifts, and street performers who all looked so cool.

Lots of other activities includes the opening of a Lego advent calendar window every day, reindeer petting every Saturday from November 10 to December 15, a food market opens every Thursday as well as a topiary reindeer.

Apart from all these, what Covent Garden Christmas impressed me most was the eight-metre tall Christmas tree in front of the Apple Market, which is said was made of 140 whiskey buckets!

*More Information:

Open Time: From 22 Nov – 20 Dec; every Thursday, 11am – 7pm.

Address: North Pizza, Covent Garden, WC2E 8RF

Next time I will talk about the fantastic Christmas window display of some famous department stores in London. See u.

A Personal 2012 Christmas Guide of London (Part 1)

It is that time of the year again!

To use the word ’again’ seems a little weird since this is the first time I stay in a western country for Christmas. However, I was told that I am lucky enough to spend my first ‘real’ Christmas in London. And indeed, I am overwhelmed by the festival atmosphere all over the city!

Although there are still 3 weeks to go before the big day, numerous Christmas-featured events are already on. Here are some of those events I went to and  hopefully they would be helpful to you.

  •   Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

As one of London’s biggest and probably most popular Christmas attractions, Winter Wonderland has a giant observation wheel, under it is a beautiful ice rink which is said the largest outdoor ice rink of the UK, and of course a lively German-styled market where lovely wooden house shops selling German beer, food and many other hand-made stuff. And my favorite  the huge amusement park where you could except a lot of shouting because they have a roller coaster and a mega machine! Well, it also have some places for children and family the ‘Christmas Circus‘ and ‘Cirque Berserk’– which used to be called Zippos Circus.

Of course, most of the activities are charged, but it is free to entered the Wonderland. And New for 2012 is the Magical Ice Kingdom. Visitors would wander through the glittering pathways and come across a variety of crystal-like characters, animals and objects.

More Information:

*Address:

Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH

*Open Hour:

From 23 November 2012 to6 January 2013

Daily 10:00 – 22:00. Closed Christmas Day

  •  Somerset House Ice Rink

Another must-do in my Christmas list is ice skating. London really does have some fantastic places where you can skate, with places like Somerset House, The Natural History Museum, Hyde Park and The Tower of London all hosting rinks this year.

I thought Somerset House a good start if you are new in town. Located in the grand eighteen-century courtyard, the ice rink of Somerset House may not be the biggest but defiantly one of the most impressive.

More Information:

*Address:

The Strand, London WC2R 1LA

*Open Hour & Ticket Price:

Daily 10am-10.15pm. Closed Dec 25; last sessions start one hour before closing time

Nov 16-Dec 7 £7.50-£14, children £7.50; Dec 8-Jan 6 £12.50-£15, children £8.50

Next time I will talk about where to do Christmas shopping.

 
 

Klein + Moriyama: New York Tokyo Film Photography-Tate Modern

It is said that a visit to London isn’t complete without a trip to Tate Modern. Sitting grandly on the banks of the Thames, this gallery impresses itself on visitors’’ minds with its unique shape (notice: the building used to be a Power Station), even though they know nothing about modern and contemporary art.

The exhibition I went this week–“Klein + Moriyama: New York Tokyo Film Photography” is the latest of thoughtfully curated photography coming out of the Tate Modern.  Spanning more than 50 years, this exhibition explores modern urban life in New York and Tokyo through William Klein, one of the 20th century’s most important photographers and filmmakers, and Daido Moriyama, the most celebrated photographer to emerge from the post-war Japanese Provoke movement, is opened to public until January 2013.

The exhibition begins with Klein’s gaudy experimental film Broadway by Light 1958, and ends with Moriyama. Its 300 photographs, dozens of photo-books and magazines featuring work by both artists, installations and films, show the changes and developments through different stages. And it is not hard to discover the influence of Klein on Moriyama’s early works. The story goes that Moriyama was inspired by Klein’s seminal photo book, Life is Good and Good For You in New York, published in 1956, a daringly stark portrait of New York, and thereafter changed the way he photographed.

Despite the fact that Klein’s influence on Moriyama remains and later he forms his own identity, this is the first exhibition that examines the relationship between both photographers by back-to-back presentation. You could see why Tate Modern’s curator tried to put them together. Both of them are of powerful artistic personalities; both are crazy about by furious street life in big cities like New York and Tokyo; both photo mainly in black and white; both works are of strong sense of realist aesthetic. However, for all their similarities, this exhibition also manages to highlight their differences.

This exhibition has been a dream-like experience to me.

*How to Get There?

Address: Bankside, London SE1 9TG

Call +44 (0)20 7887 8888

http://www.tate.org.uk/

Why Asians Love Taking Pics of Food?

Look familiar?

Once the dishes are served, no one would tuck in until they have taken that perfect picture of that fish and chips. (Even though almost every fish and chips look exactly the same.)

Apparently what happens as I mention above confuses some people from other countries, so that they created a blog called “Pictures of Asians Taking Pictures of Food.” (http://picsofaznstakingpicsoffood.tumblr.com/) People have been caught in the act of taking pictures happily with their mobile phones and DSLRs.

Well, for those of you who would like to ask why do we do that all the time, the official answer is—we have an app on our phones that could tell whether the dish is poison or not.

That’s not true of course. The fact is such magical app has not invented yet and the question as to why my Asian peers are so insisted on taking pictures of food they have is one I’ve often wondered about.

Maybe we could view such behavior as a way to express Asian’s affection towards food. Food, as an important aspect of our culture, is embodied in almost every aspect of our traditions, our social life and even our aesthetics (think about those dedicate Dim Sums and Sushi).

That whether Chinese cuisine or Japanese cuisine is the greatest in the world is highly debatable, there’s no way you could deny the fact that few other cultures are as food oriented as the Asians.

On the other hand, the food could also serve as a kind of status symbol. You are what you wear and you are also what you eat. And thanks to social networking websites like Facebook and Weibo, now we are able to officially brag about the Foie gras we had last night!

At last, what I would like to say to my Asian friends is, the next time you take a picture of your food, make sure no one is taking one of you.

Maison Bertaux—London’s oldest patisserie

For those who complain about the food of London are as depressing as its weather, the cakes and pastries from Maison Bertaux would reduce them to silence.

Located on the Greek Street, right behind Palace Theatre, Maison Bertaux is London’s oldest and probably the best patisserie. 

My friend, Estella, she described this place with a string of superlatives. Well, I am kind of a skeptical person and it is usually very hard to surprise someone whom with such high expectation. I, however, fell in love with it in the first ‘taste’.

In the window there are millefeuilles, sweet almond croissants, delicate fruit tarts, pastries with chocolate, and many other delicacies I know not the names of. These cakes and patisseries, known for their unapologetically full-fat, are all freshly baked on the premises. And since they don’t seem to care much for cool or whether or not these cakes could sale out before they went bad, they just put them in those lovely buckets.

New comers, like me, partly overwhelmed by the scene and partly out of the confusion caused by the fact that this café has no menu at all, may have trouble ordering. But don’t worry, the owner of Maison Bertaux, Michelle Wade would very be delighted to offer you some help.

I think what makes it so attractive is also because of its timeless Soho style (if there IS a thing called “’Soho style”). Founded in 1871 by a French refugee, Maison Bertaux, seems frozen the careless Bohemian atmosphere of 1960s. Downstairs the tables and chairs are shabby and tightly-packed, upstairs things are even more crowded. The tables are really close together so you always end up talking to the person next to you.

A few years ago, the café faced closure when a big conglomerate started to sniff around its precious space. However, with the help of community and many famous celebrities like Helena Bonham Carter, such take over did not succeeded. Thanks for their efforts; we could still enjoy such wonderful pastries.

TIMEOUT LONDON once listed Maison Bertaux within the 100-must-go list of London. Indeed, to sit outside with a pot of tea, a piece of freshly made Dijon, and watch fashionable people walking by is no doubt one of the best you could expect in London.

Oh, FYI, the table on the first floor by the window, last on the left, is used for Alexander McQueen.

*How To Get There:

Address: 28 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 5DQ

Telephone: 020 7437 6007

Open Hours: Mon-Sat 9am-10.30pm; Sun 9am-8pm.

Gay’s The Word

 – the independent lesbian and gay bookshop in London

Located in central London, Bloomsbury is known for its literary connections with Bloomsbury Group and its more famous members Virginia Woolf and E.M Forste during the first part of 20th century. “They were a group of artists and writers who were politically vocal, sexually uninhibited and Bohemian way before it was cool.”

The Bloomsbury of today is still as much a cultural centre as it was a hundred years ago. Although surrounded by numerous cultural, educational and fashionable institutions, it is hard not to notice Gay’s The Word, the first and the only surviving gay & lesbian bookshop in the UK.

I like bookshops, they are the most comfortable places for me. The experience of visiting Gay’s The Word, however, is quite exhilarating and full of surprises. You see, even in western countries like Britain, where are with more open attitude towards LGBT, it is rare to find lesbian and gay books in mainstream shops. So seeing shelves after shelves unembarrassed displayed queer books and magazines is a new and exciting experiment to me. And it took little effort for me to imagine what a sensation it used to be back in 1979, the time when this bookshop was established.

But what surprises me most is the warm, welcome and community-liked atmosphere in the bookshop. The day I went there was also the book-signing of American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. This little bookshop was crowded with her fans (mostly ladies). People talked lively to one another in queue as if they were friends for years, some ladies told me with pride that “it is the most special place in London”.

One couldn’t help but notice that there is a large seating area at the back, where friends could have tea or coffee or check out the free noticeboard detailing various gay organizations and forthcoming events was very popular. “It was, and has always been used as a community and information resource for lesbians and gay men.” Bookshop Manager Uli Lenart told me.

Peace and harmony as it may seem nowadays, Gay’s the Word went through a lot in the past 33 years. In 1984, Customs and Excise, assuming the shop to be a porn store rather than a serious bookstore, mounted a large-scale raid and seized thousands of pounds worth of stock, including works by Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood and Jean Genet.

In 2007, the bookshop was almost closed due to rising rents in its Bloomsbury locale and the effect of internet book-buying. It launched a campaign to stay open which got huge press coverage in newspapers like the GuardianTimes and Independent as well as the gay press like OX  and Boyz

Last year, the book shop was attacked by vandals causing the front window smashed and the shop front had been pelted with eggs.

During its life, great changes have happened to British society: lesbian and gay literature has edged into the mainstream; homosexual people live more bravely and gay than ever. But still it is exciting to visit place like Gay’s The Word, with welcoming, knowledgeable staff and an unparalleled range of lesbian and gay books, from the esoteric to the pulp, as well as regular literary events and discussion groups.

*How to Get There:

Address: 66 Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AB
Phone: 020 7278 7654
Hours: Mon- Sat 10am-6:30pm  Sun 2-6pm
Transit: Russell Square

Why Chinese netizens nickname Britain“the gay country”?

As famous as its unique Constitutional monarchy system, now Britain is also renowned for its Bromance culture.

Not too long ago, BBC launched a news about how have the 2012 London Olympic Games been judged around the world.

I may know nothing about how the other parts of the world saw the London Olympic Games, but in China, not a few people, most of them are girls, think it was the gayest Olympic Game ever. It was also during the time of olympic games, Britain’s reputation as Fuguo aka “the gay country” was officially established among Chinese netizens.

The 2012 London Olympics is also known as the first social media Olympics. With the help of social media like weibo- Chinese biggest microblog websites, the juggle culture of Internet era reached its peak. A series of screen shots cut from Olympics live were widely shared on Weibo because of their ambiguous implication of homosexuality.

But the nick name of Britain being ‘the gay country’ is called way before London Olympics. Although it is almost impossible to trace its origin, it is believed that it came from the romantic impression between male characters in British TV series.

The new series of Sherlock Holmes by BBC, are the best example. It seems that it is not really so hard to believe that two chaps can share a hearth, a hob and an interest in homicide without wanting to grapple like the cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. Is it?

Rowan Pelling, in her article fro The Telegraph points out that “Only in Britain could be resolutely non-smouldering Merlin, Doctor Who, and Sherlock Holmes become national sex symblos.” 

Pelling also thinks that the British bromance could find its origins in the camaraderie of boarding school, Oxbridge, military service, the Houses of Parliament and gentlemen’s clubs. It is all about loyalty, companionship and risking your life for one another.

And the story goes that famous British actor Jude Law, who gave highly creditable performance in movie “Oscar Wilde”, once decleared “I’m not gay, I am British.” After all, it is the country of Oscar Wilde, of Elton John, of Stephen Fry and David Bowie, they should know the best about the subtle difference between being a gay and a British man.

Well, the Great British brand of bromance may be a kind joke, but it should also be viewed as a more open attitude towards LGBT culture in both Britain and China, which is a great thing to see.

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