Posts Tagged ‘Chinese culture’

Praising the moon in 2012

September 25, 2012

As I walked into town on the weekend to grab some lunch, the growing number of balloon wielding families moving in the same direction had me thinking that there was some kind of festival in town. Sure enough, the middle of Box Hill was choc-a-block with people, with the usual tent city setup. One of the things that I really like about Box Hill is that in the middle part, there’s always something going on on weekends.

I had initially planned to head into one of the centres and grab one of the amazing Vietnamese bbq pork rolls that I am addicted to, but I couldn’t pass up checking out the various food tents. While they’re often a bit of a rip-off in the price department, the food is often good. After knocking back an absolutely delicious chicken, cucumber and satay roll, followed up by a South Korean potato swirl thing and a can of coke – I was a happy man.

I have mentioned many times on this site that one of the things I like most about Chinese culture, is that there are so many stories and tales associated with practically every part of it. From the obvious things such as mooncake, lantern and dragonboat festivals, to even individual dishes having some pretty amazing stories attached to them.

Recently, and co-incidentally, I was reading a few old stories, and one of them happened to be about the mooncake festival itself. I have re-written it below as it was a bit…confusing…but one thing I have noticed with many Chinese stories is they don’t overly make a lot of sense. I mean, even in a fantastical way, there’s always some snake in the river with magic, or some poor monk whose suddenly become magical by eating blessed rice or what not. Sure, even most English myths and fairy tales have elements of this – and perhaps it’s just lost in translation, but I find many Chinese tales difficult to comprehend in their simplicity. That being said, they also have a terrific otherworldly quality to them. Many invoke fond memories of Monkey.

And without further ado – the possible story behind mooncakes. I say possible as the source isn’t what I’d exactly call textbook:

Many years ago, ten suns suddenly appeared in the sky. They scorched the earth and made the sea evaporate and the farmers could no longer survive. The disaster shocked the hero Houyi the Archer into action. He climbed Mount Kunlun and shot down nine of the suns (leaving what I assume to be our sun left). Houyi was praised as a hero for his actions and gained the respect of the common folk. Many patriots came to him wanting to learn archery, including the tricky Feng Meng (there’s always one tricky guy…eh).

Sometime later, Houyi fell in love with the beautiful and kind-hearted Chang’e. They loved each other immensely and often went hunting together.

One day as Houyi was returning to Mount Kunlun to visit a friend, he passed by the palace of the Queen Mother of the West. The Queen gave him a pill and told him that it could make him immortal. Houyi – being the honourable chap that he is, didn’t want to be immortal by himself (without Chang’e of course) so ask his wife to keep the pill for him.

Naturally somehow Feng Meng learned of this and wanted the pill for himself. He broke into their house, threatening Chang’e in the process. Knowing she was in danger, Chang’e gulped the pill and floated away into the sky.

Chang’e was afraid that her husband would not be able to find her, (and now was supposedly in space), so floated towards the nearest landing point, which happened to be the moon. Chang’e was now also immortal – hence the getting away with living in space thing. When Houyi returned home, he couldn’t find his love and was heart-broken. He looked to the sky, crying loudly and calling his wifes name. To his surprise, he noticed that the moon was lighter than before, and he could see the exact figure of Chang’e swaying within the moon.

Now every year during the lunar Min-Autumn festival when the moon is at its brightest, generations of Chinese eat moonquake’s in memory of Chang’e, and pray to her for good luck and safety.

Happy mooncake festival y’all!

Sweet, sweet satay…

South Korean potato swirl..things

Speak English or die!

July 21, 2010

Beijing is set to become a ‘world city’. What is a ‘world city’ you ask? Well naturally, it’s a city where the majority of the population living within it…can speak English. Why? Because English is the most spoken language in the world – oh wait, no it isn’t – Mandarin is.

So why are authorities looking to get at least 60 percent of shop assistants, receptionists and…hairdressers under the age of 40 to pass an English exam by 2015. Or 80 percent of police officers to follow suit.

The programme is touted to provide “greater convenience to foreigners working or studying within the capital and enhance international relations and co-operation.” Sounds great! I wonder now if Melbourne will likewise be forcing 60 percent of its citizens to undertake Chinese lessons. I would like to see that happen…

China is going to great lengths to bring itself into the modern world. Much of its transformation appears to be simply submitting to the western ‘norms’. I often wonder whether their own culture is going to become so watered down that it barely exists.

I for one enjoy learning Chinese, and enjoy reading about Chinese culture. I feel like that in my country at least, I’m in somewhat of a minority – though I may be wrong. I am fascinated by foreign language, even if most days that it feels like I am climbing an impossibly large mountain, and will never actually get to the summit.

Culture fear.

June 10, 2010

Recently I was surfing around in Google trying to work out why there is such a large Chinese population in my town of Box Hill. Melbourne is well-known for being a multi-cultural city, where as you walk around you will encounter people from hundreds of different nationalities. Many suburbs are likewise known for their heavy cultural influences, with towns being known for their Greek, Italian, Vietnamese centres.

Box Hill is one of several areas which are becoming dominated by Chinese – in fact; I would go so far as to say that the Chinese are already the majority there. As you walk around the main shopping areas, you can and will feel like the minority.

It has made me curious how so many people of the same heritage end up in the same location. Is the information spread through China via family networks? Are there webpage’s setup somewhere in Chinese with help for would be immigrants, pointing them to this particular town? Or is it something more traditional, such as what Courtney was saying the other day, that Box Hill’s distance from Melbourne’s CBD is a culturally significant number. Anyone who is remotely familiar with Chinese culture will know that many numbers have very large, spiritual meaning to them. So while this last option might sound silly to you or I, to a culture like the Chinese, it’s a valid reason.

While I did not find an answer to this question, I found a link to this page. The following article is from the City of Whitehorse’s (contains Box Hill) local paper, reporting on a Facebook page which has been setup under the name, “Playing Spot the Aussie in Box Hill.” Basically this refers to there being so many Asians in Box Hill that it rarely to actually spot ‘normal’, ‘white people.’

The page had attracted 12,000 members, the creators of the page denying that it is racist, and in reality just a ‘simple game.’ Of course there were also the typical keyboard warriors, slagging off at anything and everything Asian as when people are cloaked by anonymity they suddenly become idiots as perfectly illustrated in the Penny Arcade Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory below.


Regardless, it seems that whenever people are faced with excessive numbers of another culture that they don’t understand, their natural instinct is to fear it. I can understand this to a degree as previous to living in China, while not particularly familiar with Box Hill, I did see it with different eyes. To me it was simply a run-down suburb, full to the brim of Asians. I had no affiliation with the culture, nor any particular desire to change that. However, once I lived in China, all of that changed.

On my return to Australia, both Courtney and I moved specifically to Box Hill to maintain that link with the Chinese culture. We had unwittingly formed a bond with the country which continues to thrive within us. To us, Box Hill is a bustling, interesting suburb, where the Chinese influence only enhances what was formerly a very drab town. The Chinese are friendly and polite as a people, yet often very reserved and shy when dealing with ‘foreigners’. It cracked me up to hear myself referred to as a ‘laowai’ or ‘foreigner’ in my own town, but at the same time, I don’t remotely feel offended.

I couldn’t feel safer when walking the streets of Box Hill, as when there are large numbers of Chinese, they are completely normal people, going about their daily tasks – not the scary ‘other culture’ that people make them out to be. At night, the town is always jumping, full of large groups of Chinese families and friends going out to dinner. In fact if you substituted all of those Chinese with Australians – you’d have a very different story. From a harmless, fun, almost festive atmosphere, you would have drunk, Bogan louts.

Box Hill is full to the brim of some of the most delicious, cheap eating anywhere. If anything, myself and all us other non-Chinese who visit our favourite haunts several times a week, it’s actually a bonus that more people don’t realise what it has to offer – not unlike Victoria street in Richmond and it’s famous Vietnamese strip.

Ultimately, Box Hill is a fantastic city, only made all the better by the Chinese culture which now inhabits it. All those who cry about ‘invasion’ from another culture, or the opening of the immigration floodgates, are living in the dark ages.

A link to China

November 10, 2009

It’s been just over one year now since I returned home from China. While some things have changed, it has not taken long before I have found myself feeling myself in a similar situation to what I was in previously – unchallenged, unsatisfied and to a smaller degree, unhappy.

Moving to China was about attempting to enforce change. Not only did I want to immerse myself in a culture completely foreign to the one I grew up in, I wanted to bump my life out of the rut it had fallen into, shifting the wheels into a different track, leading elsewhere.

Every day since my return I have felt like part of me is lacking. To coin a cliché, I feel like I truly did leave part of me back in China. When I think really hard on it, the negatives of the adventure begin to resurface, but they are easily outweighed by the positives, and I hold on to many fond memories.

I feel like I have a close affiliation with Chinese culture. Of course I don’t really; I mean in my day to life I am not remotely Chinese in behaviour, though I feel a link. I am constantly interested by anything Chinese, where headlines containing the word China continue to grab my attention. I enjoy the company of Chinese – not that I have any Chinese friends, but I would prefer to be surrounded by them than my own countrymen.

As I eat in Box Hill; a suburb of Victoria with a large Chinese population, I am always listening in to the Chinese as they happily talk away while enjoying their meals. I can’t understand what they’re saying, but I want to. Every time I hear a familiar word, I smile. It’s like winning tiny battles, where the more of the language I learn, the more satisfying it is to understand the context of what is an alien language to me. This is not made any easier by the tonal nature of the language which puts it on a shelf so beyond my reach that I wonder if I will ever truly cross over into the realm of fluency.

“Shit, spitting and staring” Paul Merton does China.

March 15, 2009

Last year in the build up to the Olympics, we probably saw a record number of shows based around China. Journalists and presenters of every kind headed there trying to enlighten the rest of the world on what truly is a quite unknown place. Many people have been to China, and many more think they know what it is like. I can tell you that living there shows you a side of China you can’t possibly experience by just coasting through on a holiday or tour.
Before we left for China, we were absorbing every concievable piece of material based on the country. From learning Mandarin to reading travel fiction to watching documentaries on TV. One particular documentary series – well I wouldn’t call it a documentary, more like a travel commentary, has British comedian Paul Merton exploring the country over a period of 6 weeks. The show is broken down into 4 episodes, covering a good chunk of the popular touristy areas of China, starting in Beijing and eventually finishing up in Shanghai.

We really enjoyed the show before heading to China as it showed the country through quite an accurate lens. At some parts we thought he was being a little too ‘culturally critical’, such as when he’s in Chengdu and has come down with a cold, he proclaims, “I’m sick of the shit, the spitting and the staring.” Now that we have since lived in China, we are re-watching the series and thoroughly enjoying it. To someone who has lived there for a period, there are so many things that you pick up that you arent aware of without having been there. Upon our second viewing, the ‘Shit, spitting and staring,’ comment absolutely cracked us up. It is so ridiculously accurate. There are days in China where you are just over everything. Days where you are so ridiculously frustrated, that the previously bearable ‘shit, spitting and staring’ becomes the unbearable.

For anyone interested in China, we highly reccomend you go and find a copy of “Paul Merton in China.” It shows a very accurate description of what can be a completely crazy, yet highly satisfying country to explore. It reminded us of the ridiculousness of every day life. How every day coughs up completely random events that have you belly laughing. It’s a difficult country, but if you go there with a sense of humour you’re in for a real treat.

Culturally, the Chinese are very different to us, but at the same time, amazingly interesting.

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