Christmas Eve, known as “Peaceful Night” 平安夜 (from the Chinese translation of “Silent Night”), is a big, loud, young people’s shopping/date night. There are stage shows in the pedestrian shopping streets, with a New Year’s Eve style countdown to midnight. It’s anything but peaceful, and very rènao 热闹. Churches are packed to overflowing as they try to capitalize on the attention with programs and performances for multiple nights in a row.
It doesn’t bother me that China does its own thing with Christmas. Once you know that what they call Christmas and what you call Christmas are totally different things, then you can stop trying to get the Christmas you grew up with from China. Still, being unable to make the holiday like you would in your home country, and being so far from family or anyone at all who does Christmas similar to the way you did growing up can be a little sad. But you can learn to make new traditions — some borrowed from China, some creative adaptations — to make the holiday meaningful for you and your family. At least that’s what we’re doing.
One of the very Chinese things that China’s done to Christmas is associate Christmas Eve with apples. “Peaceful Night” is píngān yè 平安夜 in Chinese; “píng” is a homonym for the first syllable in apple (píngguǒ 苹果), and so people give fancy apples, either wrapped in fancy paper or with Christmas or romantic candy-heart style messages sunned into the skins.
So happy Christmas Eve from China! Now go eat a pretty apple…
“Look, Daddy, I can see the esophagus…” This is basically like raising kids on a farm, right?
After so many years here, we rarely see anything “new.” But this recently made me do a double-take:
I’ve passed this woman twice now, and each time I asked about her on Weixin (what we use in China instead of Facebook). It’s a handy way to get interesting answers to cultural questions (like that time my superstitious neighbours made me uproot trees I’d planted in our shared grass area). Also, “What turtle?” 什么龟 and “What the heck?!” 什么鬼 are near homophones (shénme guī/guǐ), so it’s fun. You usually get a variety of answers because even if various regions share similar traditions, sometimes the stories and reasons behind them are different. But I couldn’t get much of a consensus on this one, except for: “It’s a scam!”
Weixin friends gave me various explanations. Here’s a sampling:
- She’s advertising a traditional turtle soup (very nutritious!) 炖汤很滋补。见过有人停车买。
- She’s selling turtles 路边卖老鳖
- She’s extorting Buddhists, who will pay her to let the turtle go free (but then she’ll go catch it again!) 悲催的乌龟先生被人贩子以积德行善名义高价卖给有缘人(一般会是信佛教的人)去放生，然后他会偷偷的跟着买家等放生后用一种技巧召回乌龟，继续卖。周而复始……我弟弟亲眼见过，而且这样的人喜欢在河附近的大马路上卖乌龟。有人会做大补的食物买去，也有人会被卖家说服了去放生。“Miserable Mr. Turtle, kidnapped in order to be sold at a high price to those fated to accumulate merit through good works (usually its people who believe in Buddhism) who buy them to set them free, and then he’ll secretly follow the buyer and wait until after its been released, and use a special trick to call the turtle back and continue selling it. Over and over again… My younger brother saw it with his own eyes, also this kind of person likes to sell turtles near rivers. Some people make a really nutritious food to sell, other people will be convinced by the seller to release it for merit.”
- Chinese medicine 中药
- She’s scamming people by passing off raised turtles as wild turtles. 骗人的 / 忽悠人的 / 这个人是骗子 / 这些人是骗钱的，很便宜的价格买进鳄龟，然后把它们身上搞上点泥土，再打扮成农民工的某样，说这龟是在河里干活捉到的野生龟，可以卖高价格，千万别上当。 “These people are scammers, they purchase cheaply priced turtles and put mud on them, then dress up like migrant peasant workers and say they caught this wild turtle while working at the river, they can be sold for a really high price, by all means do not be taken in!”
This was the last comfortably warm day of the year.
This not-yet-opened overpass arcs between brand new apartment complexes on its way to eventually run past three big shopping malls and a subway transfer station. But one last patch of protested, illegally bulldozed píngfáng 平房 currently stands in the way.
This is one of at least four regular exercise dance groups in our neighbourhood.
This kind of mass public exercise dancing is called guǎngchǎng wǔ 广场舞, sometimes literally but confusingly translated “square dancing” (think Tiananmen ‘Square’ as in plaza, not line dancing and square dancing). In larger public spaces a block or two away, hundreds of people do this together.
Cold and darkness doesn’t stop them from snaking slow circles around the public spaces in our neighbourhood, but this night at least one of the lights was working.
On a misty hike up Qingdao’s Fushan 浮山.