Saturday, 5 January 2008

Chinese New Year 2008 - Year of the Earth Rat

OK I'm a bit early (a month early) with this post but thought I'd put it up anyway.

It is coming up to Chinese New Year (January 1 in the Chinese Farmer's calendar or February 6 in our Gregorian calendar) soon and i have noticed that although Christmas decorations are still up there have been an increasing number of CNY stuff going up on display. Carrefour for example. Everything is red, gold/yellow and rat.

It is still currently the year of the Golden Pig (which comes only once every 60 years). My father is a Golden Pig :)

Coming up is the year of the Earth Rat.


The Earth adds solidity to the Rat's personality. An Earth Rat is conventional and a good achiever who likes to establish roots early in order to make a secure future for himself and his family. These Rats have the typical Rat ingenuity and mental capacity, but a strong sense of reality often alludes them preventing them from going after anything that could be impromptu. Earth Rats are honorable and love to be stabilized. Slowly and steadily acquiring wealth gives them a sense of inner peace. Although they are capable of being stingy with their finances, they do possess warm feelings for their family and friends.

When I was about 11 or so I tried to learn and memorize all 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac in order. I still remember it to this day. There is also an interesting story about how those particular animals were chosen, and why they are in that order. There are different variations of the story but here is one of them (from

There are several legends about how the animals were chosen for the Chinese zodiac. This is one of them. The Jade Emperor is the name of the Emperor of Heaven.

Long ago, in China, the Jade Emperor decided there should be a way of measuring time. On his birthday he told the animals that there was to be a swimming race. The first twelve animals across the fast flowing river would be the winners and they would each have a year of the zodiac named after them.

All the animals lined up along the river bank. The rat and the cat, who were good friends, were worried because they were poor swimmers. Being clever they asked the strong ox if he would carry them across the river.

'Of course' said the kind ox. 'Just climb on my back and I will take you across.'

The rat and the cat quickly jumped up and were very excited when the ox soon took the lead in the race. They had almost reached the other bank when the rat pushed the cat into the river leaving him to struggle in the water. Then just before the ox was about to win the race the rat leapt on his head and on to the bank to finish first.

'Well done,' said the Jade Emperor to the proud rat. 'The first year of the zodiac will be named after you.'

The poor ox had been tricked into second place and the second year of the zodiac was named after him.

Shortly after the exhausted tiger clawed his way to the river bank to claim third place. Swimming across the river had been an enormous struggle for him against the strong currents. The Emperor was so delighted with his efforts that he named the third year after him.

Next to arrive was the rabbit, who hadn't swum across at all. He hopped across on some stepping stones and then found a floating log which carried him to the shore.

'I shall be very happy to call the fourth year after you,' the surprised Jade Emperor explained.

Just then a kind dragon swooped down to take fifth place.

'Why didn’t you win the race, as you can fly as well as swim?' the Jade Emperor asked.

'I was held up because some people and animals needed water to drink. I needed to make some rain,' the dragon explained. 'Then when I was nearly here I saw a poor little rabbit on a log in the water and I blew a puff of wind so that the log would float to the river bank.'

'Well that was very kind of you and now you are here you will have the fifth year of the zodiac named after you.'

The next thing the Jade Emperor heard was the sound of the horse’s hooves. Just as he was thinking the horse would be the next animal to arrive, a sneaky snake wriggled out from around one of the horse’s hooves. The horse was so surprised that he jumped backwards giving the snake a chance to take the sixth place in the race. The poor horse had to be satisfied with seventh place.

Not long afterwards a raft arrived carrying the goat, the monkey and the rooster. They explained to the Emperor how they had shared the raft that the rooster had found. The goat and monkey had cleared weeds and pushed the raft to the shore. The Emperor was very pleased that the animals had worked together. He said the goat would be the eighth zodiac animal, the monkey the ninth and the rooster the tenth.

The next animal to finish was the dog.

'Why are you so late when you are one of the best swimmers?' asked the Jade Emperor.

'The water in the river was so clean that I had to have a bath on the way,' explained the dog.

His reward was to have the eleventh year named after him.

Now there was one place left in the zodiac and the Emperor wondered when the last winner would come. He had nearly given up when he heard a grunt from the boar.

'You took a long time to cross the river,' said the Emperor to the boar.

'I was hungry and stopped to eat,' explained the boar. 'After the meal I felt so tired that I fell asleep.'

'You have still done well,' said the Jade Emperor. 'The last year of the zodiac will be named after you.'

As for the cat who had been pushed into the water by the rat, he finally crawled out of the water but was too late to have a year named after him. He felt very cross with the rat and since then cats have never been friends with rats.

From that day to this the Chinese Zodiac has followed this cycle of years named after these twelve animals.

So... to this day it is said that people born in the year of the rat can be conniving. There are a billion things I could post about rat characteristics. Unfortunately noone close to me is a rat. Rats are supposed to get along really well with me.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Strange experiences

Strange experiences

Yesterday I met up with another Australian expat girl... Afterwards, I went to Chaterhouse Books in Times Square. I must be a glutton for punishment (after my last experience). Anyway I decided to try my luck. I had a list of about 50 books and on that list, 10 I really wanted. I also wanted to see if they had Lonely Planet Taiwan.

Well I was very disappointed. If you like fiction you're in luck. If you don't, the selection is dismal to say the least. Or maybe it's my electic taste. Who knows? But NONE of the non-fiction topics that I am interested in were there. I couldn't believe it. None at all. To give you an example: The 'health' section consisted of one narrow self that had books on: dieting and weight loss, caring for babies and children. That's it! Nothing of substance at all for those who are not looking to lose weight and don't have kids (ie me). The business and computer section was highly disappointing too. Humph.

Apparently they are not legally allowed to import any book relating to Taiwan. I said so I can't find it in another bookstore in Shanghai? And the lady said she didn't know but they didn't want to do it for fear of getting into trouble with the authorities.

Anyway, while I was there there was a girl (about 10 years of age) with her mother. I could not believe my ears when she swapped effortlessly between Shanghainese - Mandarin - English, back and forth. She spoke Mandarin with a perfect Beijing accent and English with a perfect American accent. Unbelievable! It's unbelievable how easy it is for kids to learn languages. When my sister and I were growing up one of my mother's friends had some young kids we used to play with. The mother was Vietnamese Chinese and the father was a white South African. From the moment they could talk the father forced them to only talk Chinese (Mandarin) with their mother and English with him. As a result they swapped back and forth so easily, so effortlessly. I was probably around 10 at the time and remember this so clearly. If only it were that easy for adults - d'oh!

Today, I was doing some last minute shopping for relatives in Taiwan. Both my parents had rung me with a 'shopping list' of things to buy and gifts for people. While I was doing this I accidently found a really great DVD store that had heaps of English/foreign DVDs. I finally got Ang Lee's Lust Caution (after my father reminded me I was supposed to get this for him!). I made them play it (two copies - one for me and one for dad) in the store to make sure 1) it was working fine and not dodgy, 2) the deleted scenes were intact. It was copied from the "Taiwan version" so yeah it was all there. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry! Here I was watching some R-rated sexually explicit scenes (in fast forward motion) with a guy in a little DVD store. So so strange! I almost felt guilty. I felt like a pimply 16-year-old boy sniggering. Haha. The thing is, the cut scenes don't really affect the movie that much but still, it does play a role in the script so who wouldn't want a complete movie if they can get one? Unfortunately for hubby there are no English sub-titles so he'd better learn Mandarin quick smart if he wants to watch it (not that I can talk, ha!)

Also, I saw they had the Simpsons Movie too so I nabbed that one. In English this time!

Stalkers go away

People who have nothing better to do should get a life!

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Who the heck are Wade and Giles?

As if the Traditional vs Simplified script thing wasn't confusing enough... it got me thinking about the pinyin that they use in Taiwan... well, they don't! They use the Wade-Giles method but even then not always. They could use different methods of writing in the same sentence or sign. I remember reading a hilarious article about it in Culture Shock Taiwan about it all.

Actually, when I was growing up I never learnt pinyin OR Wade-Giles, I learnt 'zhuyin' which is by far more accurate than pinyin in terms of getting the right pronunciation of a character. (I also believe it made it easier for me to learn Japanese hiragana and katakana as it's the same kind of thing).

My surname starts with Ch in Wade-Giles but in pinyin starts with Zh. When stupid strangers ring me up on the phone (both back home in Sydney and here in Shanghai) they try to say my name in Chinese but they always get it wrong because it doesn't actually have a 'Ch' sound at all!

Wade-Giles was developed by Thomas Francis Wade, a British ambassador in China and Chinese scholar who was the first professor of Chinese at Cambridge University. Wade published the first Chinese textbook in English in 1867. The system was refined in 1912 by Herbert Allen Giles, a British diplomat in China.[2]
The Wade-Giles system was designed to transcribe Chinese terms, for Chinese specialists. This origin has led to a general sense that the system is non-intuitive for non-specialists and not useful for teaching Chinese pronunciation.
The Republic of China (Taiwan) has used Wade-Giles for decades as the de facto standard, co-existing with several official but obscure Romanizations in succession, namely, Gwoyeu Romatzyh (1928), MPS II (1986), and Tongyong Pinyin (2000). Taiwanese place names are still being virtually written in Wade-Giles, and many Chinese Americans and Canadians also write their Chinese names in Wade-Giles.

Read more here if you are interested

I think due to pressure from China and from the rest of the world, though, that Taiwan will gradually convert all their English signage and documents to pinyin. It just makes more sense to have a standardized way of 'writing' Chinese in English. Those poor foreigners who have been to both Taiwan and China must be confused out of their wits!! I know I was.

So... Taiwan will remain Taiwan (no change)
Taipei will become Taibei (small change)
Kaohsiung will become Gaoxiong (big change)

On a different topic but same line of thinking. When the bloody heck is the USA going to change from imperial to metric system, huh?

Taiwan revisited

Well after all the hooha with travel agents being slack in getting back to me the price mysteriously jumped from 3500 to 5500 (RMB inc. tax)! I was horrified. In the end I decide not to go to Jeju (way too cold) and Okinawa became booked out and some dates were either fully booked or mega expensive so I gave them a 10 day range of leaving and returning and said I wanted the "cheapest" flight within those days. They came back to me and I got the ticket for 3900, so not too far off the original quote. Also I had no choice but to go through Hong Kong. I purposely planned an 8 hour transfer on the way back so I have plenty of time to kill in Hongkers :)

So yes, I am leaving for Taiwan in just 6 days! Woohoo! I have a LOT of planning to do. Despite the numerous times I've been before this will be the first time where I will be planning my own trip AND the first time I'll be going there by myself. Before, my parents or either parent took us around. The previous time I went with my sister and hubby.

Taiwan is rapidly changing and there are so many things I'm looking forward to doing, seeing, and experiencing.

First of all, I want to take the bullet train from Taipei to Kaohsiung. It cuts travelling time from 4.5 hours to 1.5 hours!

Second of all, I want to go to the new mega mall (Dream Mall) in Kaohsiung, the sixth largest in Asia

Thirdly, I want to go to Ximending (which I have been to before but it has changed a lot!)


Fourthly, I want to go to Danshui and have a hot spring in Beitou (also done before but want to do again)

Fifthly, I want to go to some natural landscape place. Hard to pick, so many good ones and I've actually already been to them all before!

I think that's about it. I will be chillin' and relaxing and visiting as many relatives and friends as possible :D


Adding my comment here because I can't comment due to TGF.

I'm not doing the whole travelling around the country thing because I have already seen the whole country when I did the Taiwan tour :) Plus, I don't think it's that nice during winter and also I don't have a travelling companion so I don't think it'll be that fun at all, unfortunately.

New Years Eve fireworks and Donkey King

As previously mentioned, we watched the fireworks in Xintiandi. I'm not sure what the fireworks were like at The Bund but I am sure they would've been bigger there? I can't seem to find any decent footage only (only crappy home videos on Youtube).

Of course I am biased but I still think the Sydney NYE fireworks are always the best. The reasons are simple. 1) Good weather. It is always very moderate weather, never too hot or too cold. 2) Beautiful big harbour and the Bridge. Lots of vantage points to watch and lots of places to put fireworks. 3) Great artistic talent to 'design' the fireworks and make a story of some kind. From about 1997-2005 I watched them every single year. Yes. Every. Single. Year. I would go to some vantage point on the north shore with friends and sit and wait for them to start. It would be a LONG wait if you wanted a good seat, or a short wait if you wanted to squeeze in with all the last minute people. And of course it would be crowded. Very very crowded. And there would be those damn annoying teenagers blowing those big plastic horns that they sell and inevitably some drunken idiot causing a scene, or people stepping on my hair as I laid down on our picnic rug, but if I can wipe those bits out of my memory then it was a good time to be had by all.

You don't realise how BIG and bright and colourful they really are till you see them in the flesh. Then at the end of it all there would be a big symbol lit up on the bridge. It all started a few years ago when they did a smiley face, and ever since then there has been some kind of symbol. Last year it was a diamond, this year it was a sand egg-timer. It's funny because it's suposed to be a big secret what it is but if you drive across the Harbour Bridge you can see the wiring and you can see what sort of picture it is! Haha.

This year, Bart Simpson and Donkey Kong made an appearance in the fireworks. I had to chuckle when I read on some news sites they called Donkey Kong Donkey King.

And for the first time cartoon characters will make an appearance on the famed Harbour Bridge during the display in the form of Bart Simpson from "The Simpsons" animated television show and computer game character Donkey King.

"This is the first time that we've had a bridge effect that is actually funny," said City of Sydney creative director Wayne Harrison, although he refused to divulge full details of the special effects.

"For the kids who are watching... you might be able to depict our version of Bart Simpson when you hear the Simpson's music and you see something darting around... think of Bart on his skateboard," he said.

And for your viewing pleasure... 2007/8 NYE Fireworks around the world


I'm not going to let anyone tell me I'm exaggerating anymore. It is damn cold. This morning when I got up and looked at it said it was -2 and felt like -2. Then, half an hour later it said it was 0 but felt like -4. What the-?

It is mentioned in the news too

Below-zero temperatures failed to deter Shanghai residents from welcoming in the New Year. Hundreds of thousands filled temples for traditional bell-ringing, or attended parties, and fireworks displays, mirroring activities in cities and towns across China.

Shanghai welcomes 2008 with fireworks, parties, temple-bell striking and a sudden blast of cold weather as temperatures dropped below zero, Shanghai Daily reported.

One of the coldest New Year's Eves in recent years and a freezing blustery wind were not enough to stop thousands of revelers celebrating, from Xintiandi's count-down party to the Longhua Temple's bell striking.

I don't know what they are talking about but I certainly didn't feel a 'freezing blustery wind' no matter how cold I was!

Warmer days ahead
By Steffie Lu

TEMPERATURES will begin to rise gradually beginning tomorrow, but not before Shanghai faces the coldest day this winter today, weathermen said yesterday.

The low temperature will drop to minus two degrees Celsius downtown today. It will be even colder in the suburbs at minus three to minus five degrees.

According to the Shanghai Meteorological Bureau it will be sunny and warm up to six degrees during the day.

From tomorrow, the mercury will slowly rise to 10 degrees by Friday, but the lows will still dip close to zero at night. Sunny skies are expected for the rest of the week, said the bureau.

Yesterday, most parts of the city felt temperatures below zero, with Fengxian District recording the lowest at minus 2.3 degrees.

The average humidity in the city was about 30 percent yesterday, the bureau said.

The dry weather is expected to continue for several days, and the bureau reminded people to drink more water and eat more fruit.

Weather reports are available on the bureau's information Website:

Tuesday, 1 January 2008


What I've done lately...

23 Dec - Went to Xujiahui to take photos of the lovely Christmas lights and trees at night.

24 Dec - Went to a wedding. There were about 250 guests. It was nice and romantic but for us guests nothing really to do. Plus the room was just filled with smoke and making me quite sick. The food was very good though and the band (which was right behind us on a big stage) were awesome.

25 Dec - After a late night didn't feel like doing much. We swapped presents and that's about it.

26 Dec - Went to Novel Place, Xujiahui. First we went to Green Massage at Suite 102, 88 Xingen Lu just off Tianyaoqiao Lu (near Novel Place). We had a 70min all over body massage for 132 RMB each. The place was really nice. It looked like a spa you'd get in a 4-5 star hotel. The lighting was low, and everything seemed tranquil and nicely designed. They gave us silk satin robes to wear (mine was a purpley brown colour, and hubby's was a khaki green colour) and we put our own clothes away into a locker. The way the locker locked is the same at our gym, with a magnetic device.

Then, we were ushered into the massage room with 2 tables inside. They gave us a beautiful wooden Chinese oval shaped box to put our key inside and then this box was put underneath the beds. It was definitely the most thorough massage I think I've ever had and the best butt and leg massage. Afterwards we put back on many layers of clothes, paid, before venturing out into the cold air.

We had dinner at Blue Frog and we think we ordered exactly the same thing as the first time we went to Blue Frog. I ordered nachos (70 RMB). It is fantastic!

Afterwards we did some grocery shopping at City Shop just opposite it.

27 Dec - Stayed at home and bummed around not doing much.

28 Dec - Caught up with a friend I hadn't seen in a long time. We tackled the mega huge "Qipu Lu" wholesale stores. I'd read and heard about this place but never been because 1) it's a bit further out of town and 2) I heard how huge it was so I knew I'd need a lot of time, energy and MONEY. I had time but didn't have that much energy or money but still.. I went there with her and it was great fun. We saw some fake label clothes but I had a sneaking suspicion they were the real deal. I know skeptics would say "Sure, how can you tell? Are you sure?" but I really think I can tell. First of all the styling is Western, the sizing is Western, the quality of the fabric and the sewing, but also the tags both sewn on and the cardboard tags. The printing on fake clothing is usually pretty crap and riddled with spelling mistakes etc whereas on real branded items it's not. Sometimes there are even barcodes and prices listed on the tag (in American dollars).

Afterwards we went back to her place for tea and for dinner. We chatted about everything under the sun, watched a bit of tv, it was great fun and I didn't get home till almost 10pm.

29 Dec - Another bumming around at home not doing much day.

30 Dec - Met up with the same friend again and our hubbies met for the first time. We had dinner in a Japanese restaurant and then hubby and I had a massage (foot, since we'd just eaten). It was FREEZING as anything when we came out.

31 Dec - Wasn't quite sure what to do for NYE. Didn't want to go to the Bund as I knew it'd be mega crowded. Ended up having dinner in Itoya on Huaihai Lu. Yep that's 2 Japanese restaurants in a row! (Btw the food at the first place is good but not as good as Itoya. The service at the first place is really good and the service at Itoya was crap). Then we walked down to Xintiandi. It was pretty crowded with people and the roads were blocked off and there were police everywhere. Since Chinese people don't drink alcohol much it was very tame compared to what I'm used to in Sydney with stupid drunken idiots everywhere thinking they are 'funny'.

I recalled the first time we went to Xintiandi in September and how hot and humid it was and now it was freezing and very dry. So dry that hubby and keep on 'charging' each other every time we touch. Same with strangers too. My hair (now waist length) keeps flying everywhere too and sticking to things. Static electricity is kinda erm.... annoying?

Anyway we got there just before 10 and it was still OK. We realised we had 2 hours to kill. We didn't have a plan and just wandered into that small shopping centre at the end of the XTD block. We went up to the top and I saw a manicure place. I suddenly had this idea it would be good to do as I could kill a lot of time with it. So that's what I did and hubby just rested in a chair there.

After about an hour (including 20mins waiting for an available staff member and 10 minutes drying time) it was done. I got a hot pink colour (don't know the name) by OPI. It was pricey but heck we were in XTD! I also got little diamante thingies - one on each hand, but one of them has already fallen off :( It cost 150 RMB in total.

After that we went back out and went to the famed French bakery, Paul. (photo from shanghaiist). It's only a very small bakery (as most bakeries are!) and really really crowded. Nevertheless we were served quickly and we ended up getting a raspberry custard tart, a slice of apple pie, and two croissants for 90 RMB. Pricey - yes, delicious - you betcha!!

Then we went back to the other side of XTD to get ready to watch the countdown on the big screen. By that time it was about 11:40 or so and it was getting more and more crowded by the second. Towards the last 10 minutes it really was like sardines in a can. Stupidheads also thought they wanted to move through the crowd at the last minute and not getting very far. Also I couldn't see a great deal due to tall people, people wearing bunny ears and lit-up devil's horns on their heads, and people holding helium balloons. Still, the good thing about the crowdedness was that it made us all surprisingly warm. My hands (despite wearing thick fleece lined gloves) had gone from frozen to thawed our warmness. Mmm... toasty.

So we watched the countdown, they we saw and heard fireworks. The fireworks were only a block away but behind some buildings so we couldn't see everything but it was OK. Enough excitement for me I thought. :) After that there was a mass exodus of people pushing towards one direction so I guess we just followed everyone.

Hubby thought it would be impossible to find a taxi, I chose to think positively and what do you know. Voila! We got one almost straight away. The traffic wasn't too bad either. We passed Xujiahui on the way home and saw there must've been a big even there too. I was almost kicking myself we didnt go there instead! There was a massive stage outside Grand Gateway and lots of policemen around. They were just starting to pack up the stage when we drove past and I saw 20 policemen standing around.

Eventually, we got home at around 12:45am.

I will say one more thing - I'll never complain about Sydney being cold ever again. This is the girl who thought 15 deg was very cold and 10 deg is downright freezing. After surviving the last couple of days where it has consistenly hovered around the 0 degree mark I will never take for granted Sydney's moderate climate ever again. Also I still find it so hard to understand how a place that gets to 38 degrees in summer can get to -5 in winter!

Also I have been wishing and wishing .. why won't it snow?
I've tried to read up on why and now snow forms but find it all a bit complicated. I think it has to be rainy or cloudy for it to snow? Since it's been sunny the last few days and will also be the following few days, I doubt it'll snow. Boo hoo.