Saturday, January 31, 2009

Panda hashi-oki

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

When I went to Japan in the mid 1990s I was taken by friends to a ceramics workshop where you could paint your own bowls, plates etc. There I was introduced to the concept of the hashi-oki, the chopstick rest. At that time I hadn't seen anyone use these in China but they have become quite common now in fancier restaurants. As we live in the Panda capital of China it's only fitting that I post a panda hashi-oki. (Found them at the newly opened panda souvenir store at Jinli the other day.) I would not usually use things this "cute" (much prefer my blue and white fish-shaped ones from Vietnam) but they're also good for resting sticky butter and jam knifes that would otherwise be left stuck to the table by my daughter. 090124

There's so much "serious, pointing a big finger" news reporting about China that often I think the rest of the world has a very skewed understanding of this country. It's enlightening to read about the "other" China, the China that's like any other place in the world, peopled by real, everyday people. I'll be posting things from the China Daily in the coming months. I'm the first to admit that most of them will be on the humorous/absurd/frivolous side:

Emergency workers had to use heavy equipment to lift a man and his girlfriend out from a deep pit in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, on Sunday.

Zhang and his girlfriend, who were on a date on Haiyan road in the city's Haizhu district, fell into the pit when the soil suddenly collapsed.

Local police called in the firefighters who used a crane to rescue them 90 minutes later.

Shades of grey continued

11.00 am 090201 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

For those of you out their in different parts of the world, the world that has blue skies, here is evidence of the greyness of a Chengdu winter. Chengdu is located inside a huge basin and is surrounded by mountains. To the west and north we have the enormous Tibetan mountains, to the south an extension of the Yunnan Plateau and to the east a smaller mountain range sliced through by the mighty Yangtse River, all of which contribute to making this an area of mist and humidity. Also abundance because of the richness of the soil and plentiful moisture. I joke that Chengdu weather is perfect for taking lovely, soft portraits as you seldom have to worry about "panda eyes" - dark shadows under the eyes when taking a portrait outside in sunshine. The ancient saying that Sichuan dogs bark hysterically when the sun makes an appearance is a much heard cliché but truly no exaggeration. 

The greyness begins to set in in early autumn and lasts until the beginning of March when the sun again makes an effort to penetrate through the gloom. Thankfully both the temperature and the weather improve and the spring and summer are wonderful opportunities to spend your time lounging about in a tea house or outdoor restaurant. 

On rare days the basin is swept free of moisture and pollution particles and visibility extends all the way to the edge of the Tibetan mountains. It's as if a huge curtain has lifted and you realize that we live right on the edge of one of the most spectacular mountainous areas in the world. 

Visual range today is very low, an entire city of over 10 million people hidden underneath a slate-grey, cottony softness; its water molecules heavy with the unctuous smell of cooking oil, chilis and Sichuan pepper. The only sounds are the wet adhesiveness of car tires barely sticking to the pavement as they drive by to their destination. Car horns and police sirens are heard every now and then, but looking down from high above they are nowhere to be seen.

Sampson's Murder Roundup

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Things are relatively quiet for the moment in our part of town, even though I made a posting a while back about some Tibetans stabbing each other here on our street. As for Chinese society as a whole, the country suffers from the same problems as others. Fiction crime writer and journalist Catherine Sampson (based in Beijing and author of newly released The Slaughter Pavilion) posted a China 2008 "murder roundup" on 15 January 2009. Taken from her web blog:

People often ask me how I do research. We subscribe to the excellent Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post . Over the festive season we've let them pile up. In an effort to clear a path to the sofa, I've just had a quick clipping session, paying particular attention to the section that picks up stories from local news around China. Here are some of the grimmer stories I've put away in my files for future reference.

In Yunnan, police have arrested a teacher on suspicion of killing and dismembering a thirteen year old student. Eight other female students are thought to be missing.

In Fujian, a 55-year old teacher has been sentenced to death for raping and killing a seventeen year old student.

A man has been arrested for killing two colleagues and stealing money donated for Sichuan earthquake relief. He said he needed the money to help his girlfriend who'd been forced into prostitution.

In Heilongjiang a seventeen year old girl and her boyfriend have been arrested for robbing and killing the girl's cousin. The girl claimed she was penniless after paying for an abortion.

A 31-year old woman has been sentenced to jail for 11 years for killing her husband's mistress. The court imposed a light sentence because 128 people had signed a petition pleading for leniency.

A man found wandering the streets of Huadian was found to be carrying his wife's head after an argument.

A student slit the throat of his professor in front of a class at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. He has said it was an act of revenge after discovering his girlfriend was having an affair with the professor.

...which only goes to show that Chinese society suffers from the same problems as other countries. With a population of over 1.3 billion this is still quite a modest round of serious crime. Violent crimes against foreigners are still extremely rare. It'll be interesting to see how the economic downturn affects crime on the whole. 

Different shades of grey

Lately I've been putting up postings that have everything to do with everything else - but China. Truth be told, there's not much happening at the moment. Here in Chengdu it's grey, foggy, grey, cold, grey, misty, grey, cold and several more shades of grey. The other day the sun showed it's face for a day and my son woke up and immediately asked "What's all that light?!" After Chinese New Year's Eve when our world exploded in fireworks more fireworks are let off every night, but daytime is spent inside near something warm. Two days ago we actually ventured beyond our compound and discovered that most of the neighborhood had decided to do the same thing. Nearby Jinli Street was buzzing with activity, chock-a-block full of people that had had enough of being cooped up with the relatives, watching Tv and eating eight kinds of auspicious nuts and candies. We forged our way through the bodies and ate a few snacks and gladly headed home again, overwhelmed by so much humanity in the same tight space. 

Most of the shops on our street are closed, the shopkeepers and salespeople having gone home to their villages or hometowns - or some just taking a well-deserved break from the daily humdrum. The hairdressers, on the other hand, are still open, but all their clients seem to be Tibetans. This year the Tibetan New Year starts later than the Chinese celebration so they are still in preparation. Non-tibetans already got their new "doo-s" before the new year began. 

People home with time on their hands are out walking their dogs a lot these days. Some dogs are stroppy little things, all dolled up in special little doggy winter clothes, with appliqued bones on their backs. Other dogs are huge creatures, English sheep dogs or Bernese mountains dogs, clearly unsuitable for Chengdu's hot, humid summer climate but happier than the rest of us during the cold winter. Coming back from Jinli we came across a monkey on the street. He seemed to be as interested in his first glimpse of foreigners as we were of him. He stuck his tongue out at us and uncontrollaby we did the same back at him. And speaking of animals, all the roosters we heard crowing for several weeks on our neighbors balconies have all been mysteriously quiet since the New Year began. I fear that they will not be heard from again...

Längtar bort...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Quiche to die for

Recipe/photos ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Burton decided he wanted to learn how to cook today so together we made a quiche. I concocted the recipe and stood guard, but Burton did everything himself. It turned out to be:



2 1/2 dl flour
100 gram cold butter in small cubes
2 tblsp cold water

3 eggs
2 1/2 dl cream
Feta cheese with herbs (hexagonal glass jar with cheese in oil and herbs)
Package of bacon (cut into small pieces)
1 medium sized red onion (finely chopped)
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper

Handful of grated strongish-tasting cheese (we used Chengdu Ikea's Wästgöta Kloster Svart) sliced tomato and a few olives for garnish

Start with pie shell. This is a standard recipe, the important thing is for the butter to be cold. (Butter, not margarine. If you don't want to get fat, then don't make this quiche. It only gets worse when you see what's in the filling.) Cut up butter into small cubes, mix with flour and then slowly add water. Quickly mix and form into a ball. Don't overwork. Put into refrigerator and let stabilize for 30 minutes.

Begin making filling by cutting a standard sized package of bacon into small pieces, fry in non-stick frying pan. Then add finely chopped red onions. Fry together on low heat until nice and soft and brown. Place aside.

Gently stir eggs and cream together in bowl.  Pour out most of oil from jar of feta cheese but try and retain most of the herbs. If you use plain feta in water, drain water and add a generous amount of Herbes de Provence to mixture. Through in the pinch of salt and pepper.

By this time your pie dough has been in the fridge for 30 minutes. Take out ball and place in non-stick pan (or whatever pan you want, a round quiche pleases the eye). Either roll out dough to edges or - as Burton did - press out dough with fingers until it fills the floor of the pan and goes about 1 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan (the dough will shrink later). Prick the bottom a couple of times. Pre-bake shell for 10 minutes in 200° C until nicely brown. 

Take out pie shell and fill bottom evenly with the bacon - onion mixture. Pour the egg-cream-feta mixture over this and cover evenly. Sprinkle grated cheese over top and decorate with tomato slices/wedges and olives. Place in middle of oven, bake for 30 minutes at 200°C.

Serve with large green or tomato salad with vinaigrette dressing.
Adults: You've got to drink a hearty glass of red wine with this because the amount of calories in this recipe will kick you in the gut like a mule.

Boys: If you learn to make something like this your future girlfriends will adore you.

Girls: Get your future boyfriends to make you a quiche like this.

# 4 Today's picture 090131

Coal worker along Yangtse River, Fengjie, Sichuan ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn 

By popular demand....

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

One of my Swedish readers requested this specific image of a monk from Labrang Monastery, Xiahe, Gansu Province, China. 

# 3 Today's picture 090130

Reting Monastery, Tibet ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Thursday, January 29, 2009


© Emy Booz

My daughter has pagoda-itis. She can't stop making Lego pagodas. All you sinophiles out there should recognize these two: one is the oldest pagoda in China and the other is very much like the most famous pagoda in the country. Come on, give it a go and post your guess of their names!

Self-publishing and Chinese bookstores

Our local  bookstore, Chengdu ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.

This is the opening line of a recent article in the New York Times (by Motoko Rich, Jan 27, 2009). Rich goes on to talk about print-on-demand companies and the self-publishing market, which is expanding at a rapid pace at the same time as the traditional publishing industry is experiencing difficulties and is responding by down-sizing. An interesting statistic in the article states that 480,000 books were published in the Unites States in 2008. No wonder it's difficult getting a book sold, let alone making a royalty penny. But of course profit alone is not the sole purpose of the self-publishing business.

British author Patrick Gale lamented at last year's Literary Festival at the Chengdu Bookworm that editors no longer exist and that you've really "made it" if your book gets edited at all. (I have the privilege of having a very good editor, tack Gunilla! Doesn’t mean ”I’ve made it” though). Already in 2005 Blake Morrison wrote about this in The Guardian (link here). 

The publishing world is, as ever, in turbulence and it is all very interesting to follow. I sit on both sides of the fence, both as supplier and recipient (writer, photographer and picture researcher) so can appreciate many angles to the story. It's also extremely interesting to witness the explosion of the publishing market in China. Newspaper kiosks are bursting with glossy mags and newspaper publications. Bookstores are gigantic here, several stories high, with coffee shops and all, just like the American bookstores. People sit in the aisles, reading a book from cover to cover, treating the bookstore like a library. I've even seen people photographing pages of books so they won't have to pay. The staff of these mostly state-run bookstores don't seem to mind. They read the books too. Somehow this all doesn't bother me, as long as people are interested in reading!

A camera in the pocket is worth...

Rollei 35, silver model. Maker: Werke Franke & Heidecke

...a dozen cameras still left in their camera bag. "Susanna" graciously commented on one of my postings yesterday. She's a Leica lover too. I started to answer her comment, but thought it might be more fun to share with other camera lovers...

When I got serious about photography in the early 1980s I carried a small Rollei 35SE in my pocket with me everywhere I went, even to work. It was a funny little camera with a lens that you could pull out and rotate-lock into position. You also had to "judge" the focusing distance. When I got it right - and with practice this was no problem - the Carl Zeiss Tessar lens was very sharp. I loved this little camera that was no bigger that a pack of cigarettes (which were in my other pocket at the time). The photographs from this camera led to my first book. Afterwards I travelled for some years with two Leica CLs with only two lenses, a 40mm and 90 mm; one body for color film and one for black and white. Since then I have owned many cameras, many lenses and switched back and forth between Nikon and Canon for the larger bodies. Unfortunately I no longer own either the Rollei or the Leica CLs, I could never afford to keep them when I had to buy new cameras. Today I'm lucky enough to own a range of cameras but it's still the "little camera" that I love most and have with me every day; easy to slip into a pocket or purse, very reliable and a compact camera that doesn't "dumb down" the photographer, allowing you to make the decisions when to use flash etc. 

Books are special

Thou art alive still, while thy booke doth live, and we have wits to read, and praise to give.
Shakespeare and Company, Paris ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Books are special, I can't live without them. Yesterday I mentioned how I never leave home without my camera, well that goes for a book too, I always carry something to read. You could say that books rule my life. I'm surrounded by books at home and in my workspace, piles and piles of them clutter the floor, bookshelves and book shelves take up wall space in every room (even the kitchen and bathroom). I read all the time and can't fall asleep at night if I haven't read at least one or two lines. I also like to possess books, they make me feel secure, they're my friends, my family. I have a hard time getting rid of books, you don't get rid of family do you? When we moved once friends helping us transport our several thousand strong library commented acidly "can't you borrow these at the library?"

A wall of books is a vision of beauty and comfort to me. The first piece of furniture I ever bought was a bookcase (I slept on a mattress on the floor). We own about 30 IKEA Billy bookcases and bookshelves, as you know, are a science. They have to be able to support a huge weight without sagging. (I can't stand shelves that look like the back of a Vietnamese Sway-back pig.) Billy fits the bill (!), they're both affordable and sturdy if bought in the narrow width. One of my early boyfriends felt very threatened by my bookshelves. Books to him were a bourgeois showcase of intellectual snobbery and he went on to threaten unconditionally that "if we ever live together we're not going to have any bookcases in the living room". Another boyfriend wouldn't let me read in bed. I'm married to neither of them.
When I was a child my biggest dream was to work with books, books in any way. I saw myself working in a library or a bookstore and if asked where I'd like to go on an outing it was usually either the library or the bookstore. A visit would make me so excited that a trip to the store loo was the first thing on the agenda before I could calm myself down to actually touch a book.

Books smell good, even musty old paperbacks found at the Salvation Army or in a vacation house. I often buy books by the armful, and love the scent of printer's ink, the gentle breeze of pages fanned in my face, the secure knowledge that that hard lump in my bag on a lonely trip is a sure friend, a new book to read. When I hear that precious libraries of rare books have been destroyed in war times it grieves me almost as much as the human losses. 

That I eventually got to work in publishing was a dream come true. My first job made me happy beyond words, surrounded by friends and colleagues that loved it every bit as much as I did. We didn't just love the word or the image, we could discuss all facets of publishing, going on about typefaces and fonts for hours, the pros and cons of different kinds and weights of paper, even what our book spines would look like on the shelf. 

Finally I became a published author myself. Coming upon my very own book in a bookshop window was a childish "sweetness" that I'll never forget. 

... on the other hand there seem to be far too many lame duck books in this world. Who was it who said "If you want to write a book, don't "?

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge....

Stureplan, Stockholm, Sweden ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Many people ask me about ways to improve their photography. I usually answer with the same two recommendations: 

1) Get closer, closER, CLOSER!

2) Take your camera with you EVERYWHERE. Even inside the house! Don't put it away in a camera bag. Have it out and ready to shoot - always. Don't treat it like a precious object, USE it!

I never leave home without my little Leica D-Lux, ever. 

Digital Photography School had the same comment today, read it here

...know what I mean?

#2 Today's picture 090129

Sign outside university study hall, Oxford, England ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Birthdays and plane tickets

My son Burton turned 12 today, congratulations! 

Burton: You have delighted us for eleven wonderful years (me an extra nine months) and having you in my life is the best thing that ever happened to me.... but it's full-fare plane tickets from now on.....when can you start working? ;-) xxoo mamma

Malous bokklubb TV4

Har precis fått reda på av vänner i Sverige att min bok "På kinesiskt vis" togs upp idag (28/1) på Malous bokklubb på TV4s program Efter tio. Boken recenserades av Lottie Knutson (Fritidsresors informationschef). Vill ni se avsnittet om just reseböcker (inte bara min utan andra aktuella böcker togs upp, tex förlagskollegans Britt-Marie Bergman Saengkhamchus Resa i Thailand m fl) kan ni se den här. Roligt det här, Lottie K tyckte mycket om boken ("en fantastisk fin bok"). Man är som ett barn när man får lite beröm av fröken!

#1 Today's picture 090128

Natural History Museum, Pitt Rivers, Oxford, England ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

One of my ambitions with this blog was to get my pictures out there for everyone to look at and comment on. I love comments - makes me feel like someone is actually looking at this blog besides myself - and I thoroughly enjoy photography and images. So I promise to post one photograph a day, every day of the year and hope that each one is of a class that will capture someone's attention just like this crocodile did. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Video Chinese New Year in Chengdu

This is what it was like in Chengdu on Chinese New Year's a couple of days ago. Incredibly fun and crazy and I'm already looking forward to next year. (Video posted on Youtube by another Chengdoodlian, thanks)

Monday, January 26, 2009

What a way to begin the new year

Chengdu © Paddy Booz

Two days into the new year and wham! car crash on our street right in front of Potato Lady's street stall. Not an uncommon occurrence here in Chengdu or China for that matter. Every taxi ride is an event and one that you are happy to get through unscathed. We ride taxis every day and so far have luckily escaped injury. Each taxi journey involves an important decision: Front seat? Means you get a safety belt but also a lot of damage in a head-on collision. Back seat? You can scrunch behind the front seat but no safety belts and a journey through the windshield if you're going fast enough. You also don't have to deal with a driver like the one I had the other day who was concentrating more on putting his hand as close to my thigh as possible than on the road. After that it's back seat for me. Most drivers aren't like this though, here in Chengdu they are usually quite pleasant, some even wishing Yi lu ping an! It's actually not the taxi drivers that I'm most worried about but rather the nouveau riche new car owner that hasn't a clue what he/she is doing and thinks that because they can pay their way out of a fine can drive anywhere they like. They make the most incredible mistakes and blatantly drive just about anywhere or any way they like: against the traffic, on the wrong side of the road, on the side walk...those are the scary ones....

The car crash above? Second hand news, I was in the shower when it happened. Potato Lady? More about her later...

Miche Booz

All images kind permission ©Miche Booz

Here is another artist that I greatly admire and someone who also happens to be my brother-in-law: Miche Booz. His colors are wonderful and I find myself often going to his website to soak up some sunshine and life. He works in watercolor and mixed media and is an architect by profession. Please enjoy. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Speaking of fireworks

Detail of painting viewed at the Louvre, Paris ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Speaking of fireworks.....didn't see any of these buzzing by last night.

Fireworks and the chores of the New Year

New Year's Eve, Chengdu 2009 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Chengdu is still sleeping like a baby as I write this. Not so a few hours ago, when the year culminated in a sea of exploding lights and deafening sounds. I love fireworks and this was probably my seventh or eighth Chinese New Year's celebration. Each one has been different and uniquely fun. Some were celebrated in mega-cities, some in the countryside, one even in a former air-raid shelter converted into a cheap hotel (The Black Coffee, for all you old Chengdoodlians, couldn't hear a thing down there!). Last night was on the 17th floor of our apartment building on a friend's rooftop terrace. Good view, good company and a cooperative city government that this year allowed fireworks to be let off anywhere in the city. 

Many foreigners might suppose that the celebrations are over. Not so! Now follow fifteen days of fun, food and games, culminating in the Lantern Festival. I'm already stuffed...

De många nyårskraven

Under denna årets absolut viktigaste helg finns många måsten – sådant man måste göra och sådant man inte ska göra. Dessa krav varierar från familj till familj och från landsdel till landsdel. Och glöm inte att säga Xinnian kuaile - Gott nytt år! - eller Gongxi facai - Lyckönskning och välgång! - till alla du möter. Är du på kantonesiska breddgrader heter det Kung hei fat choy!

Nyårsdagen: Vissa låter bli att äta kött denna dag och man får inte heller tvätta håret– då riskerar man att spola bort all god tur under året. Bruket av vassa föremål såsom saxar och knivar uppmuntras heller inte, med dessa kan man också klippa av det kommande årets tur. (Alla har redan klippt sig dagarna före nyåret för att vara extra fina och all mat har redan föreberetts). Man måste absolut avhålla sig från städning – annars kan man av misstag sopa ut det nya årets lycka och tur. (Det finns många tabun kring städning under nyårsdagarna. Städningen får återupptas den andra dagen men allt skräp och all smuts får bara lämna hemmet via bakdörren, om man nu har en sådan).
Man äter mängder av ”symbolmat”: lotusfrö – många barn, helst söner; ginkgo nötter – eftersom de ser ut som silverklimpar; hårmossa (en sorts alger som används i matlagning som tjockningsmedel) heter fa cai och rimmar på ” rikedom överskrids”; torkad doufu (tofu - sojabönsost) som rimmar på ”rikedom och lyckan uppfylls”; bambuskott på kinesiska låter som ”önskar att allt är bra”. Man äter inte gärna färsk doufu eftersom dess vita färg förknippas med död och olycka.

Dag 2: Tempelbesök och bön till förfäderna. Man är extra snäll mot hundar eftersom den andra dagen anses vara hundarnas födelsedag då alla hundar automatiskt blir ett år äldre! Det är faktiskt så att det nya årets första 10 dagar ägnas åt bondekulturens födelsedagar: första dagen är det kycklingens dag, andra dagen hundens, tredje dagen grisens, fjärde dagen ankans, boskapens den femte dagen och hästens den sjätte dagen och människans den sjunde dagen (se nedan). Ris och sädesslag kom på den åttonde dagen, frukt och grönsaker på den nionde dagen och till sist majs och korn på den tionde dagen!

Dag 3-4 : Svärsönerna besöker sina svärföräldrar.

Dag 5: Alla stannar hemma och välkomnar Rikedomens gud. Ingen går ut eftersom det anses föra med sig otur för alla parter.

Dag 6-10 : Man åker kors och tvärs mellan vänner och släktingar och umgås. Man avlägger tempelbesök för att be om god tur och hälsa.

Dag 7: Denna dag anses vara människans födelsedag – alla blir genast ett år äldre! Man äter Långa livet -nudlar och fisk för framgång, tur och långt liv.

Dag 9: Man ber till Jadekejsaren för att försäkra sig om att bara goda saker kommer under det nya året.

Dag 10-12 : Man bjuder vänner och släktingar på Nyårsbanketter.

Dag 13 : Man bör trappa ner på ätandet och konsumera enkla rätter såsom tunn risgröt och gröna grönsaker.

Dag 14 : Man förbereder sig inför Lyktfestivalen.

Dag 15 : Lyktfestivalen.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chinese New Year 2009 Rat to Ox

Burning offerings for the dead on New Year's Eve  ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Today is Chinese New Year's Eve, the last year of "my year", the Year of the Rat. I have worn something red for an entire year. Tomorrow, on the first day of the Year of the Ox,  I will be able to lay it aside as I'll no longer need it's extra protection. They say that when the rat year comes around the naughty rat drags in lots of bothersome things into the year. The ox will have a hard time cleaning up the mess but will hopefully succeed in the end, hardworking animal that it is. To be honest it has been a VERY tumultuous year in China: winter ice storms, riots, train crashes, earthquakes and milk scandals but also wonderful things like the  enormous outpouring of help for the earthquake victims, the camaraderie and warmth the crisis created and the magic, pomp and FUN of the Olympics.  

The passing of a year is a good time to reflect back on both good times and bad and send close friends and loved ones a special thought. In this way I would like to remember a few of my dearest friends who have been very sick this year and also one that so very untimely passed away. I think of you often and wish you a very Happy New Year! 

Kinesiska nyåret: Nyårsmonstret och smällare

Nyårssmällare ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

För länge sedan i Kina trodde man att det fanns ett fruktat odjur som anlände varje år vid årets första dag för att äta upp människor. Så småningom kom man på att nyårsmonstret (Nianshou, nian betyder ”år”) och andra onda andar skydde höga ljud, starkt ljus och färgen rött. Än i dag är fyrverkerier och röda smällare uppskattade måsten under nyårsfirandet. Överhuvudtaget är rött – som symboliserar lycka och tur samt gult – som står för guld och rikedom – konstanta inslag under hela vårfesten.

Under nyårskvällen äter familjen den gemensamma stora måltiden ackompanjerad av ett oljud som börjar tidigt på kvällen för att sedan trappas upp till ett veritabelt mardrömscrescendo med osannolika mängder smällare och fyrverkerier vid midnatt. Oväsendet börjar redan dagarna innan med småpojkar som springer i gränderna och kastar smällare under fötterna på gångtrafikanter. Från pålar eller hustak tänder man långa smatterband (bianpao) med upp till tiotusen smällare och enorma fyrverkeripjäser skjuts upp från alla gårdsplaner. Dumdristiga unga män går runt med långa smatterband i handen och svingar dem kring huvudet tills de inte längre vågar hålla dem, varvid de slängs iväg rätt ut i luften. Den som inte ser sig för ordentligt kan plötsligt befinna sig mitt i en korseld.

Har man aldrig upplevt ett kinesiskt nyår är det svårt att beskriva hur fullständigt obeskrivligt högljutt det är. Dagen efter är marken täckt med rött papper - som efter ett enormt blodbad. På senare år har kinesiska staten från och till förbjudit smällare och fyrverkerier i de större städerna men i småorterna är det fortfarande fullkomlig hysteri som råder. Landsvägarna kantas av stånd som säljer fyrverkeripjäser man trodde enbart var reserverade för proffsen. Butikerna förvandlas till rena vapenarsenalerna som man knappt vågar vistas i på grund av alla vårdslöst hållna cigaretter.

För dem som skyr höga ljud är det bara till att hålla sig inomhus framför TV:ns Nyårskavalkad alltmedan den av staden godkända nyårskommiténs fyrverkerishow pågår utanför. Alla stannar uppe så länge man orkar denna natt och lamporna hålls tända. Nästa morgon hälsar man alla Xinnian kuaile! (Gott nytt år!) och fortsätter firandet i två veckor till!

©På kinesiskt vis, Ingrid Booz Morejohn/ica bokförlag, Forma Publishing

Friday, January 23, 2009

Happy Niu Year!

Magazine cover 2009

Chinese humorists are feeling bullish this year, combining two cultures into one tongue-in-cheek message: 

The English translation of Xinnian Kuaile (Happy New Year) with the 2009 Chinese Year of the Ox (Ox = niu/牛). The clever result is: Happy Niu Year!

Although probably not the only ones to think of this play on words, it seems to be the brainchild of Mengniu, one of China's leading dairy firms. The message/slogan has spread over China like wildfire and is widely used in text messages, email greetings and in signs. Mengniu is based in Inner Mongolia and is privately owned. The name Mengniu combines the Chinese words for Mongolia, meng (Inner Mongolia , Nei Menggu) and cow, niu. Milk in Chinese is niu nai

(Swedish footnote: In 2006 Mengniu joined together with Swedish Arla Foods to start producing and distributing solid milk products in China. This has subsequently proven embarrasing for Arla as Mengniu is one of the many Chinese milk producers to be involved in the melamine tragedy.)

Kinesiska nyåret: Matens betydelse

Trängsel i kassakön på Carrefour två dagar före  det kinesiska nyåret ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

”It’s a madhouse”, brukar min mamma säga om någonting är alldeles tokigt och igår var det fullkomlig dårhus på matvaruhuset jag besökte. Precis som i väst när det ska handlas inför julen: trängsel, trängsel, trängsel, vagnar överallt, stressad personal och handlare som kör sina vagnar över andras tår, snor sista varan rätt framför näsan på en och blockerar alla passage. Hysterin skruvas upp lite till med megafonutrustad personal som basunerar ut erbjudande, musik på högsta volym, matberg som hotar ramlar över en och försäljare som försöker kränga allmöjliga ting. Lägg också till att kineserna är fler än 1,3 miljarder till antal och alla tycks vilja in i affären samtidigt så förstår ni att det är FULLKOMLIGT DJÄVULUSISKT att handla en bit mat så här års. Men kineser är född stoiker så inga hårda ord märktes i kön utan till och med lite skratt utlöstes här och var över tillvarons dårskap. 

Och vad ska min familj äta nyårsafton? Hemlagade köttbullar och svensk julmat inhandlat på IKEA ;-D

Ur På kinesiskt vis:

Det kanske är vid denna högtid, mer än någon annan, som maten har så stor betydelse. Till nyårsaftonens middag bör man servera minst tio rätter och vissa maträtter äts inte bara för att de är goda (och för en del kineser är det kanske enda gången under året som man har råd att servera dem), utan för att de rimmar på olika lyckobringande ord: kyckling (ji), fisk (yu) och sojabönsost (doufu) är likljudande på kinesiska som ”lyckobringande”, ”överflöd” och ”rikedom”. Kycklingen ska vara hel, det vill säga inklusive huvudet, gumpen och fötterna (detta representerar fullständighet). Nudlar får inte brytas under tillagningen och serveringen då de symboliserar långt liv. Mängder av apelsiner och småcitrus serveras då den gula färgen liknas vid guld och den runda formen symboliserar enighet inom familjen.

I stora delar av Kina äter man små degknyten, kallade jiaozi, på nyårsafton. Jiaozi med en liten förvanskning kan även låta som uttrycket ”att göra sig av med det gamla och välkomna det nya” så dessa serveras lämpligen vid midnatt då det nya året precis ska börja. Jiaozi ser också ut som forna tiders guld- eller silverklimpar och symboliserar rikedom och välstånd under det nya året. Det tar tid att göra jiaozi och här är det naturligt att hela familjen samlas runt bordet under tillagningen.

I vissa delar av Kina är det nyårskakor (niangao) som gäller – kakor gjorda på klibbris och fyllda med godsaker. Här är ordleken ”högre och högre” [välstånd], gao, ”år efter år”, nian.

I ett land som lägger så stor vikt vid familjen och relationerna tas även speciell hänsyn till de familjemedlemmar som avlidit. De anses ha lagt grunden till familjens fortlevnad och välstånd och ”bjuds in” att delta i festen vid ett speciellt dukat bord. Riktig mat är framdukad och man kanske lägger guldfärgat papper på alls säten där dessa släktingar ska ”sitta”.

Minst tio rätter ska det vara nyårsafton ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

På kinesiskt vis ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn/Ica förlag, Forma Publishing

Kinesiska nyåret: förberedelser

Nyårspynt säljs på varuhus i Chengdu ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Imorgon är det Nyårsafton och ute på stan är det hetsigt värre med det sista bestyr inför årets högtid. Det går knappt att få tag i en taxi, ricksha eller ens en svart taxi. Igår tog det 45 minuter att hitta transport. Vi var åtta personer strategiskt placerade runt en korsning som kämpade om samma bilar. Till sist fick det fick bli en motoriserad san lun che (”tre-hjulad-fordon”) körd av en pensionär. Tyvärr tog elektriciteten fort slut i batteriet så vi fick hoppa av halva vägen och leta ny bil i detta kalla vinterväder - det blev en san lun che till. Jag bekymrar mig alltid över att förarna klär sig alldeles för kallt, många bär inga mössor eller så. Men dagens hade enorma motorcykelhandskar och säkert tre lager vinterställ under ytterkläderna. Polisen i Chengdu är annars väldigt restriktiv med san lun che och ricksha nu förtiden men tillåter många att tjäna en extra hacka innan nyår samtidigt som de hjälper till med transport då så många taxichaufförer har återvänt till sina hemorter för att åter vara i familjens famn.

Ur På kinesiskt vis:

Dagarna före nyårsdagen fixas och fejas det. Man städar in i minsta vrå och köper hem mängder av festmat. Man pyntar hemmet med snittblommor och alla sorters levande blommor som symboliserar återfödelse och ny tillväxt. Blommar dina växter under nyåret för det med sig extra framgång och belöning under det nya året. Man dukar fram skålar med apelsiner och fat med åtta olika sorters torkade frukter och frön. Barnen får nya kläder och skor – helst i lyckofärgen rött – och presenter inhandlas till vänner, familjens åldringar och övriga släktingar.

Det är nu man pyntar ytterdörren och huset med inköpta avbildningar av dörrgudar, nyårsbilar och lyckotecken; hänger upp röda lyktor och nyskrivna verspar på remsor. Man går till banken och hämtar ut mängder av nya, fräscha, oanvända sedlar som sedan stoppas i röda kuvert (hongbao på rikskinesiska eller laisee på kantonesiska). Kuverten delas ut till ogifta familjemedlemmar, ungdomar och barn under nyårsafton.

Nyårsafton är också en bra dag att besöka tempel där man bränner rökelse, tänder ljus och ber om saker inför det nya året. Under de femton dagar som nyåret pågår hålls tempelfester och uppträdande i parkerna. Man kan se lejon- och drakdanser och beskåda folkopera, äta godsaker och träffa vänner. Det är en uppslupen tid med påtagligt härlig stämning. Nu ska hela familjen samlas igen, man ska få lite välbehövd ledighet under årets tråkigaste årstid och alla försöker unna sig någonting gott.

Dagarna före det kinesiska nyåret är också i princip alla kommunikationsmedel i Kina fullt upptagna med att transportera familjemedlemmar kors och tvärs över det väldiga landet. Stationerna är knökfulla med förväntansfulla människor i finkläder belamrade med packning och presenter. Sedan, under vårfestens första vecka, avstannar Kina. Bra att veta om man turistar i landet eller ämnar bestämma affärsbesök under denna tid.

På kinesiskt vis ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn/Ica förlag, Forma Publishing

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Human inch worms and the arduous task of long-distance prostration

Potala Palace khora, Tibet ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

You'll see these people anywhere in the Tibetan buddhist world. When you understand what they are doing you will most likely be both immensely impressed and deeply chocked. They are long-distance prostrators and they will probably have been doing this for hundreds if not thousands of kilometers. They are on pilgrimage and show their devotion in this physically demanding way. Like human inch worms they measure their body length meter by meter slowing advancing towards their destination. They are often accompanied by a friend or other devotee that drags their provisions in a cart. Every millimeter of the road is experienced either with hands up in the air in a prayer or with their nose and forehead pressed to the ground. Every day is a superhuman effort. The Holy City of Lhasa is a common goal and it can take years to get there. Extreme devotees prostrate sideways instead, measuring the width of their body and not the length. When you see pilgrims in Lhasa after finally making it to the destination of their dreams and faith many are illuminated with joy and radiate perfection in their smiles. The inch wormers are often another case entirely. Still fanatically intent on their purpose, their foreheads and arms are dirty and calloused with uncountable prostrations. They wear special aprons and knee guards to project their clothes and on their hands handmade clogs or more recently plastic bathroom slippers to protect their hands. Many seem not to have found inner peace at all but rather have lost their wits completely.

As A. Tom Grunfeld says in The Making of Modern Tibet: "Another curious manifestation of the evolution of Tibetan Buddhism was the belief in the merit of quantity over quality in religious practices. "

dancing shoes

Potala Palace, Tibet ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Kicks, limou, skates, clodhoppers, earth pads, sneakers, reefcreepers, PF Fliers, clogs, cockroach killers, espadrilles, brogue, mule, platform, oxford, plimsoll, trainer, wingtip, Church Pews...even a monk has to wear shoes. 

Child safety and bicycle seats

Gyantse, Tibet ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Here's another "child safety in the Third World" posting. This Tibetan mom is on her way to the fields to harvest barley. A bicycle seat is probably not high on her list of priorities but getting there in one piece seems to be on her mind. Her two year old is sitting on the bike frame, sucking on a sugary drink and the basket on her back contains a thermos of butter tea and food for the day. Makes me think of overprotective Swedish parents (mostly moms) with all their car seat paraphernalia, bicycle leg guards, children's bike helmets etc. We did have a bicycle seat in Sweden but we've got two kids. My husband used to put our daughter in the front basket and our son in the seat in the back. He was yelled at several times by passersby, chastising him harshly for being a terrible parent.  As I've said before, I'm amazed that these kids sit still!

Tigers and Tibetan wall paintings

Tashilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse, Tibet ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

It's not all Buddhas and bodhisattvas in Tibet. Couldn't resist the color.

Tibetan tea, tea cups and blenders

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

While working on some Tibet articles today I came across this colorful image of lidded teacups, which I took in a village home between Gyantse and Shigatse. Tibetans love their tea as much as the English do and a good cuppa is always offered to any guest. Butter tea is called po cha or cha süma in Tibetan ("churned tea") and su you cha in standard Chinese. It's customary to flick into the air a little tea gathered on your fingertip before drinking. In this way you honor both the gods and your host. 

Two fallacies that many people think are true about Tibetans:

1) "That they prefer their tea with rancid yak butter." Not at all. They prefer fresh butter of the best quality if they can afford it. On the other hand, yak butter has a naturally "gamey" taste to it so bland Lurpak it definitely is not.

2) "That they drink up to 60 or 80 cups of tea per day." Tibetans do drink a lot of tea, but they CANNOT possibly drink 60 - 80 cups of tea a day as some travel writers like to say. Each cup is 2 dl of very filling, thick buttery liquid. Do the math and see that this is just physically impossible. It would mean drinking 12 to 16 liters of liquid a day and a cup of tea every 16 minutes in a 16 hour waking day.  80 healthy sips is more like it, as most Tibetans take a sip then set the cup down, whereupon it is immediately topped up by the ever vigilant host. 

Interesting fact: Most modern Tibetans who have access to electricity churn their butter tea in electric blenders and not in the traditional churns that the nomads use. For large gatherings even a washing machine might be used solely for the purpose of making large quantities of tea! (I've heard that many rural Chinese use their washing machines to wash vegetables.)

And to all you business school smarty-pants out there, the above mentioned blender is the in-thing among Tibetans, a much coveted household object that both rich and poor alike own or want to own. On my street here in the Tibetan section of Chengdu, several shops sell a very basic model and I have seen blenders in every Tibetan home I have visited in recent years. (For some reason all of them seem to be yellow in color.) Some genius saw and interpreted this basic need and marketed it: very smart. This, along with the cheap, common, large thermos - which I will stick my neck out and say is one of the greatest contributions the Chinese have made to Tibetan society as a whole - are consumer goods that obviously made it straight to the heart and needs of the Tibetan people. I also love it when someone figures out a simple, affordable solution that alleviates the daily chores that usually fall on the women of the world. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

A whiff of Sweden

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

A whiff of Sweden came into my life today and will most definitely stay there for the next twelve months. I'm not speaking of the scent of Swedish meatballs served at the local IKEA here in Chengdu but the smell of spring lupins, summery, salty sea breezes, golden autumn leaves and glittering, "rimfrosty" winters. Can you guess? My friend Annika B sent us this year's Sweden calendar with the most fantastically wonderful pictures. Infinitely more beautiful than these meatballs. Thanks Annika! The best one yet. I have to admit I do miss Sweden a bit....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kinarapport 2009: TIBET

Nr 1 - 2009

Håller på med en artikel och fotografier om Beijing-Lhasa tåget till nästa nummer av Kinarapport. Kinarapport är en tidning som ges ut av Svensk-kinesiska föreningen. Den kommer ut fyra gånger om året, den fjärde i form av en fin, inbunden bok. Ettan 2009 kommer att handla helt och hållet om Tibet, första gången (tror jag) föreningen har ett nummer enbart med detta tema. 

Jag rekommenderar alla som är intresserade av Kina att läsa tidningen vars innehåll är skriven av kinakännare. Innehållet är mycket rik, uppdaterat och varierat. Besök föreningens webbsida här

Fler fu-tecken!

All photos ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

I dagens stressade Kina är de flesta "fu-tecken" massproducerade, den ena glittrigare än den andra men det finns otaliga exemplar av vackra handmålade. Jag ”samlar” på bilder på välgjorda, speciellt tilltalande, färglada eller eleganta fu-tecken. Den första är en av de mera vackra massproducerade exemplar. Den andra den mest fantasifulla jag har sett, på en privat gård i Lijiang, Yunnan och den sista återfinns på en tempelgård på Mengdingberget, Sichuan. 

Sagan bakom Fu-tecknets användning

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Seden att ha en lyckoamulett med fu-tecknet har funnits sedan ett par tusen år tillbaka, i syfte att hålla fattigdomen borta från hemmet. Från Mingdynastin (1368-1644) blev det populärt att klä ytterdörren med fu-tecknet. Sagan bakom seden är underhållande: Den första Mingkejsaren Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398) befann sig ute på landsinspektion klädd som en vanlig bonde för att kunna röra sig fritt. Han råkade på en folkmassa som gjorde sig lustig över en målning av en storfotad kvinna. Den lättstötte kejsaren tog detta som ett tecken på att folket skrattade åt hans hustru kejsarinnan eftersom hon – född fattig bondflicka – till skillnad från övriga adelskvinnor inte snörde sina fötter. Så fort han återvände till palatset beordrade han att åskådarna och konstnären skulle registreras och bestraffas med döden. Stadens oskyldiga skulle skiljas åt genom ett ditmålad fu-tecken på ytterdörren. Den godmodige kejsarinnan Ma fick nys om planerna och kvickt lät hon hela stadens befolkning måla fu på sina dörrar. Därmed blev tecknet ett lyckotecken som används än i dag.

Läs mer: Kinesiska symboler ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn, Forma Publishing

Kinesiska nyåret: Turen kommer till dig

Happiness has arrived! ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Vi fortsätter att prata om lycka, fu! Att sätta ett stort fu-tecken på ytterdörren är kanske den allra populäraste dörrutsmyckningen i Kina och snart kommer landets fu-tecken att få sin årliga ansiktslyftning på det kinesiska nyårets afton. Här på vår gata i Chengdu finns fler nyöppnade småbutiker som bara säljer nyårspynt. Lite lik vår svensk julgrans-torgförsäljning kommer dessa företag att stänga igen direkt efter (eller strax innan) nyåret. Men just nu är det bråda dagar och affärerna gör big business.
Planscher med detta turtecken är oftast målade med svart färg eller guldfärg på röd bakgrund. Tecknet inramas av en romb som ibland innesluts i en kvadrat. Planscherna hängs på hemmets eller gårdens ytterdörrar och i skyltfönster, på bilrutor, traktorer och kassaapparater. Det är ett färgglatt inslag i en ibland påver, grå vardag. Detta populära lyckotecken säkrar en obruten ström av välsignelser genom din dörr.
Som tillfällig besökare i Kina kanske man inte märker att tecknet ofta är faktiskt uppochner på porten eller dörren. Tecknet dao, ”att vända uppochner”, uttalas likadant som tecknet dao, anlända. Således bildar ett uppochner vänt fu ordleken fu dao le, ”turen har anlänt” eller ”turen följer med dig genom dörren”.  Välkommen in!

Läs mer: Kinesiska symboler ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn, Forma Publishing

Andeskärmar och FU: tecknet för lycka

Baoguang Temple, Xindu, Sichuan ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Vem behöver inte tur och lycka? I traditionellt kinesiskt tänkande tar man alla chanser man kan för att öka lyckan i sitt liv. Fu betyder inte bara lycka utan lika mycket tur, välsignelse och välstånd. För det anses givet att god tur oftast resulterar i större lycka. (Tur, fu, är också likljudande med ordet för rikedomar, fu, som skrivs med ett annat tecken). Fu-tecknet är ett vackert tecken, välformat och fylligt. Från början var det ett bildtecken som föreställde två händer som lyfter en kanna vin. Vinet var en gåva till gudarna som skulle skänka välsignelser. Med kinesiskans sätt att skriva med tecken kan man variera eller förstärka ett ords betydelse genom att ändra sättet att "kalligrafera" det. När således tecknet fu skrivs eller ritas med en rund, bullig form eller inuti en cirkel förmedlas budskapet av total eller fulländad lycka. Fu-tecknet är vanligt som utsmyckning vid ingången till tempel. Där ser man ofta folk som köar för att se om de kan närma sig muren och träffa tecknet med handen medan de blundar. Den som lyckas får lycka och välsignelse!

Läs mer Kinesiska symboler ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn, Forma Publishing

Teaching is exhausting!

Shanghai ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

I spent the entire day teaching at QSI Chengdu, the school that my children go to. I'm giving short courses in "Photography" and "How to write a non-fiction book" and after three lessons and countless numbers of eager students and many questions I'm completely exhausted. How do teachers keep this up day after day? 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Overdue update of website

Yangshuo ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

For those of you who have been pestering me about updating my website - after a two and a half year hiatus -  I have finally done it. So say good-bye to the doggy...

The Red Penis Your Friend

©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Tomorrow I'm giving a lesson on "How to write a non-fiction book" to QSI students. Poking about the Internet today I found this hilarious piece about "The impotence of proofreading". Adults only QSI parents! 

Link for those who can't seem to open: