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Home for Spring Festival by Tracy

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Tracy_amily hanging up red stuff
Tracy_cozy red decorated room
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Last year, I was living in Shanghai as a freshly married woman to a Tianjin man. I joined the largest human migration on earth and traveled north for Spring Festival and chose to bring my new family gifts of rice wine, smoked pork shoulder, sticky rice infused with osmanthus, and a shameless re-gift of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. While traveling, I felt unified with the Chinese locals. I jostled with fellow riders and endlessly shuffled my bags. Once seated on the high-speed train, my aching shoulders were grateful for the relief. Glancing around at my fellow travelers, I imagined what it would be like for them once they arrived at their stop. I envisioned doors swinging open to raucous greetings and wrinkled smiles, and realized this cumbersome journey was completely worth the hassle. 



Now that I live in Tianjin with my husband, there’s no need to travel. However, I use that memory in preparation for the onslaught of visitors. In my family, the men traditionally do shopping, cooking, and cleaning. My role is to…well…wait dutifully for someone to tell me what to do. So far, I’m pretty good at setting the table, snapping group selfies and offering unsolicited advice. 



With so many visitors planned, our family insists on three staples for a festive atmosphere:  food, decorations and sophisticated porcelain bottles of baijiu in elegant packages, innocently filled with the highest alcoholic content possible. As my husband puts it; This is how northerners save money on their heating bill





For decoration, we purchased diaoqian er 吊钱儿, literally meaning hanging money, which are red papers with auspicious elements hung from the tops of doors and windows. The tradition is that to keep the bad luck god away from your home, hang up torn red notes at your entrances. Torn money will make the home appear poor and the god of misfortune will not enter.


We hung the diaoqianr in every room of the house, and for added flair, hung two spinning, glowing, red lanterns in our living room window for the neighbors to enjoy the atmosphere. It reminded me of the cheery glow of Christmas lights from my childhood.



Chinese New Year represents the coming of spring, the first of the twenty-four solar seasons. My husband’s family has always celebrated this change of seasons by filling their home with flowers. We ventured out to a flower exhibition center the size of upper Manhattan and navigated the aisles for three hours. My husband insisted on comparing the prices of nearly every vendor to make sure we didn’t spend 25 RMB for a plant that should only cost 15 RMB. I was just grateful for the warm and cozy greenhouse effect.


We came away with two traditional and symbolic plants. One was the narcissus(水仙shui3xian1), which represents prosperity. Supposedly if they bloom on the first day of the new year, they bring good fortune. The other was a kumquat tree(金桔树 jin1ju2shu4)-the fruit’s color resembles gold nuggets or coins from dynastic times. 



kumquat tree 

(金桔树 jin1ju2shu4)

narcissus

(水仙shui3xian1)



You may have heard that dumplings, fish, and spring rolls are eaten during CNY, but do you know the line from a spring festival ballad: 二十六炖大肉 ? It means on the 26th day of the final month of the old year, stew pork! In our family, this equates to hongshaorou and meatballs. The name of the meatballs sounds like an idiom that means everything is steady and stable. As meat factors heavily into our holiday meals, it’s been a losing battle trying to follow a vegetarian diet.  In fact, I’ve had to revise my practice to ‘flexitarian’, as sometimes hunger just wins over integrity.



One vegetarian dish that we enjoy is called 拌豆腐丝 (shredded tofu salad) –it’s light, refreshing, and quick. Preparation appeared to be quite easy, so I asked my husband to tell me the recipe. How can a country renowned for mathematical skills have such a vague and cryptic recipe culture? “Mix until you can smell the vinegar.” “Stir until the broth looks like red tea.”  And the classic, “cha bu duo.”





Regardless, I encourage you to give this a try and share in the comments how it turns out!


Ingredients:

五香豆腐丝five spice bean tofu skin, one bundle

香菜Cilantro (small bunch)

大葱one leek

香甜醋fragrant and sweet vinegar

生抽 light soy sauce

芝麻油 sesame oil





Remove the base of the tofu skin and cut the long strands into thirds. Place in large bowl. Cut leek into same sized slices, to taste, and combine with tofu skin. Add chopped cilantro to taste. In a separate small bowl, combine the three seasonings in the following ratios, and adjust according to your taste.

One part vinegar

½ part sesame oil

 ½ part light soy sauce

Once the flavor is to your liking, 

toss with the dry ingredients.



I wish my fellow expats and their families:

新春快乐,万事如意!

Also, be wary of exquisite porcelain bottles on the dining table!


About the Author:

Tracy Lesh is an American who moved to China ten years ago.  Along the way, she met and married a Chinese national who spoke zero English. She enjoys sharing her colorful cross-cultural experiences with the expat community.

 

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