Chinese Festivals: Qi Xi – A Day of Love

On August 20th this year, the Chinese people will celebrate their own unique version of Valentine’s Day, known as Qi Xi. As with many other Chinese festivals, the exact date changes every year; its planned according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, which is slightly different from our western Gregorian calendar. In Chinese, this festival is also called the Double Seven Festival because it falls on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, much like the Dragon Boat Festival is called the “Double Fifth Festival” because it is on the 5th day of the 5th month. The Chinese name, Qi Xi (七夕) also gives this away as Qi (七) means seven and Xi (夕) means night. Qi Xi is also sometimes called The Daughter’s Festival as it relates to unmarried girls looking for love.

Story

The Qi Xi originates from an ancient legend of love. The full-extent of the legend is rather long, but generally its a story of forbidden love between a cowherd and a weaver girl. As the legend goes, the boy is literally named cowherd (niu lang, 牛郎) and the girl is named weaver girl (zhi nü, 织女). They fall deeply in love, but much like modern stories like Romeo and Juliet, their love was not allowed. The legend says, the girl’s mother banished the lovers from seeing each other, and placed them on opposite sides of the Silver River (the Milky Way). But, because their love was so strong, everyone felt sorry for them and wanted them to be together. Every year on the seventh day of the seventh month, a flock of magpies would fly together to form a bridge for the two lovers to walk across, so they could be with each other for one night. This night became known as Qi Xi.

Variations

Throughout China you can find several variations of this story. In some versions the girl was a fairy who was weaving beautiful clouds in the sky; her mother was a goddess, and the weaver girl was her seventh daughter. The girl escaped heaven and came across the boy. They fell in love, were secretly married, and had two children. But, when the goddess found out her fairy daughter married a mortal, she became furious and banished them. In another version, the girl was taken back to heaven to weave clouds, a task that she had neglected during the time she was with her mortal husband. When she suddenly disappeared, the boy felt very sad. His ox then began to talk to him, saying that if he killed it and lay it on its side he would be able to go to heaven to find his wife. He killed the ox, took its skin and his two children, and went to heaven to find his wife. When the goddess found out she became angry, took out her hairpin and scratched a wide river in the sky (the Milky Way) to keep them apart. This version also includes the magpies forming a bridge so the two lovers could meet for a single night.

Traditions

In rural regions of China, the Double Seven Festival is still celebrated, although not as much as it used to be. Girls would pray to Zhi nü; they hoped for her sewing skills and her sweet love. However, in the cities, this tradition has been replaced with the Western Valentine’s Day, which falls on February 14th of every year. But, there are still a lot of young people who celebrate Qi Xi as they would Valentine’s Day. They go out for dinner, take their crush on a date, bring gifts of flowers, chocolate and cards, and express their love in a manner of different ways.

An interesting note is that it almost always rains on this day. It’s said if it rains on Qi Xi, it’s the river sweeping away the magpie bridge between the two lovers, or the rain is the tears of the two separated lovers. The forecast calls for rain today, so we’ll assume the lovers are saying their goodbye’s until they meet again next year (*sob*).

Photo credit: The Moon of the Milky Way (Ginga no tsuki), before 1892

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

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Street Food in China

For me, street food and traveling go hand in hand. I love eating what the locals eat, where the locals eat, and being among the locals when they eat it. If you too are a lover of street food, you’re sure to find yourself in street food heaven when you arrive in China. If you’re not so into it, I can almost guarantee you’ll leave craving some delicious snack you picked up from a roadside somewhere. To help you in your street food sampling journey, I’ve put together a small list of some of my favorite street food in China.

Beijing bugs – many people fly into China’s capital city Beijing. There’s so much to see and do in Beijing, I suggest spending at least a few days taking in the sights. While you’re there, you simply cannot miss seeing (and sampling if you’re brave enough) the food at Donghuamen Night Market (北京东华门夜市). On offer are skewers of barbecued scorpions, seahorses, centipedes, starfish and much more! Don’t worry, if you’re not into street food of the creepy crawly variety, there’s plenty of other delicious (more Chinese/Western looking) food to sample here too.

Sugar coated fruits – Chinese people love, love, love fruit. Where we westerners might take packaged snacks on outings, more often than not Chinese people take fresh fruit. But fear not, if you haven’t packed fruit with you, you can try some tanghulu (tung-hoo-loo 糖葫芦), which is the Chinese version of a toffee apple. Instead of one apple, you’ll get a skewer of several Chinese hawthorn that have been dipped in liquid sugar and dried. If you’re not a fan of hawthorn, many other skewers of delicious sugary fruit can be found around the place too (such as kiwi, strawberry and grape).

BBQ meat – this is my favorite street food. Perhaps it’s because I’m Australian and barbecuing meat regularly is a big part of our culture, or maybe it’s just because it tastes so darn good! Whatever the reason, come summertime in China you can barely drive a few blocks without seeing chuan  er (chwar 串儿) stalls on the sidewalks. Here you can choose skewers of a range of vegetables, tofu, meats, seafood and animal parts (like heads, feet, and livers) to be freshly barbecued right in front of you. Be sure to ask for bu la 不辣 (not spicy) if you can’t handle heat, as most barbecue stalls add a pretty spicy rub to all their fare.

Savory pancakes – who doesn’t love a pancake? Here in China you can pick up a savory pancake,  or jianbing (煎饼), at almost any time of day – and they’re not to be missed! The most common type available is more like a crêpe fried on a hot, flat metal plate and topped with a thick sauce, egg, scallions or onions, and cilantro, then rolled up like a burrito and served in a plastic bag. You’ll usually find these in street stalls in the morning as it’s a favorite breakfast dish among locals. I highly recommend trying the big round crispy cracker (baocui 薄脆) or savory thick breadstick/long doughnut looking thing (youtiao 油条) wrapped in the pancake too.

Fried noodles – most Chinese people will list noodles in their top three favorite foods, and with so many and delicious types on offer, it’s easy to see why. Fried noodles from a street vendor are just fabulous (especially as a late night bite after a few píjiŭ/beers). Usually there’s a range of noodles (egg or rice, round or flat) to choose from, and a range of vegetables (cabbage, onion, carrot), with an egg thrown in the pan for good measure. Some oil, spices and sauces complete your meal (or midnight snack!).

Roasted sweet potatoes – Winter in China can be brutally cold (depending on where you are of course), so if you’re looking for the perfect snack to warm-up, look no further than a roasted sweet potato (kǎo hóng shǔ 烤红薯). You can usually smell these vendors before you see them (commonly by subway stations) roasting this delicious, creamy vegetable over hot coals. When you buy one, the vendor will weigh it and put it in a plastic bag for you. All you have to do is peel back the skin and dig in!

Street food in China is not only delicious, but it’s also incredibly cheap. Most of the things listed here, you can pick up for 5-10 CNY (a little more or less than $1 USD). If you need a hand with ordering, check out our article on Chinese for Beginners. Then go forth and try some of these tasty treats (but remember to go easy at first, or you might wind up spending a little more time in the bathroom than you’d like!).
Have you tried any of this street food in China? What are your favorites? Tell us below!

DSCN6110Penny de Vine is a thirty-something Australian freelance writer with a love for travel and trying anything new! You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Chinese for beginners – 10 words and phrases to help get you by

The thought of learning Chinese can be overwhelming at first … There’s so many different tones, how can I possibly put them together correctly? What if I say the wrong thing and offend someone? How are people ever going to understand me? … The key is to practice a lot with your new-found Chinese friends (of which you will make many!) and to start with some basics. Chinese people are quite fascinated with foreigners and most love to try to converse with you (even when it’s clear you don’t understand!). It of course helps if you have a few key words and phrases under your belt to start with, so here’s my version of Chinese for beginners – 10 words and phrases to help get you by.

Hello – 你好 Nǐ hǎo (nee haow)

You’ll hear most people say hello to you this way (many actually also use English and yell ‘hello’ at you from afar, I think mostly to get a reaction and sometimes to practice their English).  Nǐ hǎo ma? (nee-haow-mah?) is also a common greeting to ask how are you?

Where are you from? – 你从哪里来? nǐ cǒng nǎ lǐ lái (knee tzaun nar lee lei)

I’ve found Chinese people to be very curious about foreigners, so often the first question they will ask you is where are you from? Even if you can’t understand much of anything else they say to you, you’ll understand this and be able to proudly answer with your country of origin!

Thank you – 谢谢 Xièxie (shsyeah-shsyeah)

I try to be polite no matter what country I’m travelling in, especially when I don’t know a lot of the language. So learning how to say thank you when someone helps you out is a must for me. Thank you isn’t as commonly used here as it is back home, so I find people are generally extra appreciative when I say it.

Waiter – 服务员 fúwùyuán (foo-yu-an)

The most common way to alert the wait staff in a restaurant is to yell foo-yu-an! Now don’t be shy, if you need something from the wait staff, do as the locals do: yell foo-yu-an and wave your arm in the air. Nǐ hǎo (nee haow) will also work, but you’ll have more success with fúwùyuán.

This one – 这个 zhège (je-ga)

Going to restaurants where the menus have pictures is a great tactic to make sure you eat well when you first arrive. You can clearly see what you’ll get, there’ll be (theoretically) no surprises when the dish arrives, and you can simply point to the picture and say je-ga.

Where’s the bathroom? – 厕所在哪里? Cèsuǒ zài nǎlǐ? (tser-swor dzeye naa-lee?)

After a few píjiu (pee-gee-oh, or beers), or just while you’re out and about sight-seeing and you’ve drunk a little too much shuĭ (sh-way or water), you’ll probably need to use the bathroom. Here in Tianjin many restaurants don’t have their own bathroom, so you’ll need to hunt down the nearest one.

Can I have the check/bill please? – 买单 măidān  (my dahn)

After you’ve eaten your delicious meal, you’ll need to call the fúwùyuán over again and ask for the bill, or măidān, as they generally won’t just bring it to you. Having said that, keep in mind that some restaurants will bring you the bill to pay right after you’ve ordered and before you’ve even seen any food!

How much is it? – 多少钱? Duōshao qián? (Dwor-shaow chyen?)

You’re most likely going to want to check out the many markets on offer in China. So that you can at least look like you know what you’re doing (and hopefully grab a bargain), you’ll need to know how to ask how much is it? You’ll probably also want to learn how to count in Chinese, so you understand the reply!

I’m sorry – 对不起 Duìbuqǐ (dway-boo-chee)

If you are late, make a mistake, bump into someone, or just don’t understand something you can use dway-boo-chee. You can also use wǒ tīng bù dǒng (wore ting boo dong) if you don’t understand someone.

Goodbye – 拜拜 bai bai (bye bye)

A colleague of mine told me when she first came to China she thought people were making fun of her when they said bai bai! But fear not, bai bai really is the way to say goodbye in Chinese and this is one of the easier words you’ll learn.

 

Now of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg in your Chinese language learning journey. Chinese lessons are a great idea, as is lots of practice! Try to be fearless and just give it a go. Hopefully these ten words and phrases (plus the few extras I threw in) will be enough to help get you by in the beginning.

What other beginner level phrases do you need to get you by in China? Tell us below.

About the Author:

DSCN6110  Penny de Vine is a thirty-something Australian freelance writer with a love for travel and trying anything new! You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.