GLOWING KITES The Qingming Festival is a wonderful time to discover what is, in my humble opinion, one of the pillars of Chinese culture. The rituals that take place as part of this festival, whereby everyone welcomes in the spring , are inextricably linked to one theme : transformation. [ + ]
The Qingming Festival is a wonderful time to discover what is, in my humble opinion, one of the pillars of Chinese culture. The rituals that take place as part of this festival, whereby everyone welcomes in the spring , are inextricably linked to one theme : transformation. The transformation of paper matter into real objects in the afterlife, for example. On this day, however, a more subtle transformation is also supposed to take place: the transformation of wishes and fears into real, tangible outcomes in this world and in this life. It was necessary to find a way of transmitting greetings to those loved ones who are now enjoying another life, in another space. For this reason, it is believed that the Chinese invented kites – especially for this day, in order to commemorate and honour their ancestors, thus fulfilling their duty of filial piety. Today, kites fly in the daytime and at night. In the evening, so that messages don’t get lost, colourful lanterns are attached to the kite strings, and the kites are then transformed into a “sacred lantern”. Nowadays, the Shanghainese attach LEDs to the strings and cloth of their kites, so that shapes can be discerned in the sky, reminiscent of formations of clouds that look like real objects, recalling memories of past events. However, most of these lights simply enrich the dark evening sky and bring back the lost stars of Shanghai, just for one night, just for this night.
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喜 (xĭ) means « happiness ». 喜 + 喜 = 囍 (shuāng xĭ) – DOUBLE HAPPINESS Double happiness has a beautiful connotation in Chinese. [ + ]
Double happiness has a beautiful connotation in Chinese. It is the addition of single entities and its conversion into a double entity. Being double happy became a common expression symbolizing love, since love multiplies when it is shared. It can be found on nearly every kind of item: rugs, clothes, fabrics, matchboxes, ceramics, doorbells, invitations, teaware, jewellery, cigarettes… These items are placed everywhere, and are essential items for any weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and New Year celebrations. However, the moment when I really came into contact with this notion was when I solved my first dilemma on arrival in Shanghai, namely the question of what to smoke. At first, I tried the Western cigarettes, which didn’t taste the same as back home – too strong. Later on, I chose the packaging that appealed to me most: a golden packet with the Shanghai TV tower on it… it later proved to be a nice souvenir for friends, but not something to be smoked. Afterwards, I start asking others and observing what the Chinese would smoke. There were so many different brands, but one caught my eye: a white packet with two red stripes at the top and bottom, with this 囍 symbol in red – a symbol that I had seen somewhere before… the double happiness symbol. It was not as bad as others I had tried before, but after a long night I would lose my voice for a while; this double happiness seemed to be double strength, too. Indeed, it turns out it has 15 mg of tar per cigarette, compared to 10 mg for a Marlboro Red. After doing some research, I discovered that this cigarette used to be called “Happy Days”, and its literal translation “Red Double Happiness” is a truly Shanghainese cigarette brand created in 1906 by what is not only the oldest but also the biggest tobacco company in the People’s Republic of China.
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CHILDREN RIDING PARENT-CONTROLLED PURPLE ELEPHANTS A whole range of things have been adapted into Chinese culture; it is well known that the Chinese embrace change and development rapidly. Lactose is better assimilated by the younger generations, and so there are now some very tall men and women in China. [ + ]
CHILDREN RIDING PARENT-CONTROLLED PURPLE ELEPHANTS
A whole range of things have been adapted into Chinese culture; it is well known that the Chinese embrace change and development rapidly. Lactose is better assimilated by the younger generations, and so there are now some very tall men and women in China. But the Chinese are not only getting taller: it seems they are becoming wider, too. McDonald’s and KFC have been widely accepted and welcomed in China. Nowadays, China is reaching record-breaking levels of obesity: there are fat camps and fat-reduction hospitals where parents can send their only child to lose all those extra pounds. In ten years, China’s childhood obesity rate has doubled, with the greatest gains made in urban areas, owing to more Westernized dietary habits combined with more sedentary lifestyles, with more and more kids spending time in front of their computers and playing video games instead of going outside and getting some exercise. According to recent official figures in China (2012), more than 12% of the nation’s children are overweight, representing some 120 million individuals under the age of 18. This trend is partially due to a loss of neighbourliness and community spirit . Children have no brothers and sisters, and instead of living in an open environment such as the lilong where there are other children to play with, their typical living environment is an apartment on the 30th floor, with only Mum, Dad and/or Grandma and Grandad for company. As a result, parents take their children down to ground level – home of the shopping centre and the market place. Then, using a remote control, they set in motion the newly bought purple elephant, or giraffe, upon which the child is sitting comfortably, so that parents and children alike can happily eat their ice cream in peace.
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WALLS AND PATHS Many books have been written about the typologies of the built space in Shanghai, in terms of form, in terms of function and even in terms of the absence of both. Many have dissected its built forms and subdivided them into many categories. [ + ]
WALLS AND PATHS
Many books have been written about the typologies of the built space in Shanghai, in terms of form, in terms of function and even in terms of the absence of both. Many have dissected its built forms and subdivided them into many categories. But we can all agree that Shanghainese walls are both impermeable and porous, solid and fragmented, opening and closing gaps in the city. In the Chinese tradition, it is written that ghosts cannot walk along paths that turn around corners. Furthermore, they have to take on the form of the bridges in Chinese gardens in order to cross the ponds they straddle. In Chinese philosophy, a walk through a garden should command all of a person’s attention, as there is only one time and one space: the here and now. The lack or presence in a given dimension of railings, which are more decorative than functional, is to exalt this dimension of being. Being lost in one’s thoughts can result in one falling into a pond… in the here and now.
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SHARING FOOD A dear friend came to Shanghai to visit me. Over the previous couple of months, I had been seeing such fast development, not just in terms of buildings going up and coming down, but also in the choice of restaurants available. [ + ]
A dear friend came to Shanghai to visit me. Over the previous couple of months, I had been seeing such fast development, not just in terms of buildings going up and coming down, but also in the choice of restaurants available. Not only were international restaurants starting to appear but, more importantly, Chinese cuisine was becoming more prominent in restaurants. This made my life in Shanghai even richer. Although food unifies this country, the variety of options available in China is endless. Different food customs are passed down through the generations, whether regional cuisine or food associated with certain rituals. For every ritual and custom, there is something to be eaten at a specific time and in a specific place. In particular, there are daily rituals – the familiar rituals of day-to-day life. Sharing food, sharing the same food from the same plates at the same table, for instance. The moment when Chinese people eat together is a moment of joy. The Chinese will hold meetings with business partners around a dining table. The difference in the West is that we would often rather go somewhere for a drink. The Chinese, on the other hand, go somewhere to eat. Of course, you can drink while eating. But the importance of the restaurant must not be ignored.
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