The Mid-Autumn Festival

Chinese traditional moon cakes
Chinese traditional moon cakes

On the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, or the full moon between early September and early October, China and Vietnam celebrate the Mid-Autumn Day (sometimes called Moon Cake Festival). In Chinese, the festival is known as 中秋节 (Zhong Qiu Jie), which literally means middle autumn festival. The festival signifies the end of the autumn harvest and is a cultural, and in some places, religious holiday. It’s among the most recognized Chinese holidays, along withDragon Boat Festival, Chinese Valentine’s Day and the Chinese Spring Festival. In China, Mid-Autumn festival ranks behind only Chinese Spring Festival in significance.

History

In China, the moon has always been observed carefully, and most important decisions are somehow tied into the moon and its movements. All major holidays are planned according to the lunar calendar, and wedding dates are often chosen by the position and phase of the moon. The moon was thought to have close relationship with how the seasons change, and thereby also affect the agricultural production. So, to express their gratitude, the ancient Chinese would give thanks and celebrate the harvest with sacrifices to the moon on the autumn days. This tradition is said to be as old as the Zhou Dynasty between 1046 and 256 BC.

In recent years, a more romantic story has gained traction. A long time ago, ten suns had risen in the heavens and it was causing hardships for the people. An archer, known only as Yi, shot down nine of the suns, and as a reward he was given an elixir of immortality. However, Yi didn’t consume the elixir because he didn’t want to become immortal without his wife Chang E. One day, when Yi was hunting, Fengmeng broke into his house, and forced Chang E to give up the elixir. When she refused Fengmeng threatened her, so to keep the elixir safe she drank it herself and flew towards the heavens, choosing the moon as her new residence. When Yi came home and heard of what happened, he was inconsolable –  he found the fruits and cakes that his wife loved and put them forward to her. It’s possible this story is actually the origin of the sacrifices to the moon.

Customs

One of the most popular customs around the Mid-Autumn festival is eating moon cakes. Moon cakes come in many shapes and sizes, and with a variety of fillings. Everything from fruits, nuts, bean paste, coffee, chocolate and flowers. The cakes are round, symbolizing the reunion of a family. Eating a round moon cake under a round moon makes the Chinese long for their friends and family. Today, presenting moon cakes to friends and family is a way to wish them a long and happy life.

On this day, Chinese families gather to gaze at the moon, which is rounder than at any other time of the year. They get together and express their yearnings towards the friends and family who live far away.

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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

5 Reasons You Should Be Guest Blogging

Find a New Audience!
Find a New Audience!

If you’ve spent a bit of time teaching English in China, chances are you’ve started a blog by now. It’s a fantastic way to share your travel stories with people who care about you, and if you’re really good at it, you might even earn a little 零用钱 (língyòng qián, or pocket-money).

Starting a niche blog makes you part of a small community, and it’s not uncommon for bloggers in the same niche to guest post on each other’s sites. If you’re not guest blogging already, here are five reasons you should start:

  1. It’s a 双赢 (shuāng yíng, or “win-win”) situation! Guest blogging is great for both parties. The host site gets a fresh voice, and the guest blogger has the opportunity to…
  2. Find a new audience: If your blog is really popular, guest blogging is a perfect opportunity to reach even more readers in the same (or similar) niche. If your blog doesn’t get as much traffic as you’d like, it’s an ideal way to….
  3. Gain more followers: Blogging can be a lot of fun, but let’s face it – you’re writing travel blog because you want readers, and you want people to subscribe to your blog. Successful bloggers usually distribute their posts on Twitter, G+ and Facebook, so guest blogging can help you quickly gain followers on your Social Media accounts as well. But your reasons don’t have to be completely selfish; you may want to guest blog so you can….
  4. Give back something valuable: When I talk to prospective teachers about teaching jobs in China, they typically want to know as much about the job and the city as possible. The problem is, it’s not always easy to find information about cities except Beijing and Shanghai. Stumbling on a blog from an expat living in Chongqing, Ningbo, or Shenyang can be a huge relief for someone thinking about relocating there for a year or more! Photoblogs are an awesome way to tell a story, and theme based blogs (food, adventure travel, nightlife) are also attractive to readers looking for specific information about a particular place. Theme based blogs are a good way to make you an authoritative voice on a subject, which is valuable for….
  5. Networking: The blogging community tends to be full of like-minded people, and perhaps more importantly, a blog can almost instantly connect you with people in your niche. Often the most effective way to secure a job is through weak ties, and building a vast social media presence will increase your exposure to potential future employers. (But make sure your social media presence doesn’t do anything that might make an employer think twice about hiring you!).

If all these reasons aren’t enough, this might be a compelling reason to guest blog: Five Unexpected Things Happen When You Blog Frequently

I’ve listed a few reasons you should consider guest blogging – can you think of any others? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

AND (you saw this coming), if you’d like to become a guest blogger for ESL Suite we’d love to have you! We’re interested in photoblogs, ESL lessons and teaching tips, and anything else in general that might captivate our readers (and yours!).

To become a guest blogger at ESL Suite, email us at: social@eslsuite.com.  Write “Guest Blogger” in the subject line, tell us a bit about yourself, and send a link for your blog!

The Legend of the Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Jie (端午节) is a National Holiday in China, and is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month following the traditional lunar calendar. This year, the festival falls on June 20th.

The English name “Dragon Boat Festival” translates directly to Longchuan Jie (龙船节) which is also its name on the Chinese mainland. The name Duanwu Jie is more commonly used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The date of the festival, according to the lunar calendar, 5/5 is also the source of its alternative name, the “Double Fifth Festival”.

While there are a few different origin stories for this holiday, in most parts of China the festival is said to commemorate the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan (屈原). During the Warring States period of Ancient China, Qu Yuan worked as a minister in the ancient Chinese State of Chu. During this period, there were seven warring states, and Qu Yuan supported the decision to take up arms against the State of Qin, a formidable opponent. However, the King of Chu decided rather than fight and risk defeat, he would ally with the State of Qin.  When Qu Yuan publicly opposed the alliance, he was exiled and accused of treason.

Qu Yuan had such love for his country, that during his exile he wrote countless poems about his home country. Twenty-eight years later, the state of Qin captured Yin–the capital city of the state of Chu–and, in despair Qu Yuan threw himself into the river and drowned himself.

The legend says the local people admired him so much, they raced out in their boats to try to save Qu Yuan, or at least retrieve his body. They couldn’t find his body, so they threw balls of sticky rice into the water with hopes the fish would eat the rice instead of the body of their beloved poet. The race to retrieve his body is said to be the origin of the actual dragon boat races; the sticky rice balls (zongzi, or 粽子) have since become a Chinese delicacy eaten during the holiday. There are varying English names for this traditional Chinese food, including Dragon Dumplings and Glutinous Sticky Rice Balls. They are often wrapped in leaves and sold in supermarkets, on the street, and in specialty stores, where they prepare gourmet zongzi of various tastes and flavors.

In modern-day China, the festival is celebrated in some places by racing dragon boats and eating zongzi. It is also believed to be a time to strengthen your body, cleaning your house, and doing what you can to prevent getting sick during the hot summer. This is done by hanging mugwort leaves and calamus in the house, and wearing small perfume pouches that protect children from evil. In metropolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, you are less likely to see many of these customs and traditions. But they’re still very much alive in more traditional rural cities.

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

Photo credit: Tolbzela (Flickr) | License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Hotpot and Xiaomian: Two of Chongqing’s Amazing Foods

Chongqing hotpot
Chongqing hotpot

I don’t normally eat spicy food, so it may seem strange that I moved to Chongqing where the food is mostly full of peppers and fiery. I didn’t move to Chongqing because of the incredible food culture, rather because it was simply where life took me at the time. I have since then experienced the signature mouth-burns that can follow from a Chinese hotpot (火锅) meal and the more subtle and soothing spicy taste of the local xiaomian (小面), which literally translated means “small noodles”.

When I went to my first hot pot restaurant in Chongqing, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I knew the basics about what hot pot is: a big bowl of spicy broth over an open flame—which you put raw vegetables and meat in to boil—then dig out with chopsticks and eat. It’s typically a social and communal meal, meaning that many people will around the same table and eat together. I recall sitting at a grand table with friends all around, everyone snatching food from the pot with their chopsticks. After just one bite, my mouth was on fire.

It’s not just foreigners who suffer from sweats and burns when we eat hot pot, the Chinese can’t always handle it, either. Many hotpot restaurants now offer different grades of spiciness to cater to as many customers as possible. It’s definitely an experience, and a “must try” while in Chongqing, but for the most part I’d rather leave this kind of extreme spice for friends and colleagues with a more adventurous palette than I have.

Another famous local food in Chongqing is xiaomian. Thinking it was a fad, I avoided it at first; everyone wouldn’t stop talking about how delicious it is. Finally, after trying a bowl of “small noodles”, I could taste what all the fuss was about. There is a small kitchen near my school; not quite a restaurant, it’s just a small room with tables and chairs, and a kitchen in the back. It’s become the “go-to” spot for me and my colleagues.

Chongqing xiaomian
Chongqing xiaomian

While hotpot can be a bit pricy by Chinese standards (about CNY 300-400 for four people), a bowl of xiaomian is usually just around CNY 5 (less than $1!). One bowl will completely fill you up, and though the taste is spicy, there’s no lingering burning sensation in your mouth. It’s quick, tastes great, and isn’t completely unhealthy. My colleagues and I have a 2-hour lunch break on weekends—after a bowl of xiaomian we usually have another 90 minutes to sit, talk, relax, or take a nap. It’s perfect.

I do enjoy hotpot occasionally, and believe it or not, the spice is easier to handle if you’re in good company. If there are a few 外国人 (wai guo ren, or foreigners) at the table, the waitress will usually ask how spicy to make the hotpot. We usually aim for something moderate—between drop-dead spicy and plain water. With a nice, cool beverage, and a little sauce to neutralize the spice, hot pot can be a very enjoyable and social meal, even for who don’t like spicy food.

If you ever pass through Chongqing, these are two foods that you absolutely must try. Thankfully that’s easy to do, because you can find hotpot and xiaomian restaurants on nearly every street corner in Chongqing!

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

How to Run a Fun and Efficient ESL Activity

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One of the biggest challenges faced by an ESL teacher in China is trying to re-invent yourself to your students. As you spend more time with the same students, your methods will have a shorter lifespan. You want your students to learn, but no one learns well if they aren’t engaged with the lesson materials and activities.

Over the course of my four years teaching in China, I’ve used numerous activities, warmers and games. Some are instant hits, others don’t quite fit the energy or English level of the students. It’s unrealistic to think every activity will be a “home run”, so it’s important to accept that some activities will fail. Good teachers learn from those experiences as well. A successful TEFL activity takes preparation, planning, and sometimes a little luck.

Running an activity can be divided into Five Steps. Each step has a specific purpose, and following this guideline will ensure your activities are effective and run efficiently.

  1. Lead in

Before starting an activity, it’s a good idea to get the students focused on what they’ll be doing. For example, if I’m teaching new vocabulary and the words are mostly verbs, I might start by having the students brainstorm all the verbs they already know. Since kinesthetic learning is so important for children, I’ll also tell them to act out the words as they say them. This way I’m getting the students engaged, and previewing what’s next. Now they’re already thinking about verbs, so I’ve given them context when I present the new vocabulary.

  1. Set Up

Naturally, the students will not be able to do the activity without clear instructions, so demonstrate the activity first. If the activity is simple, you can give instructions for the whole thing at once. If it’s long or complex, do it in stages and have the students follow you. Never hand out papers, tools or toys before you’re finished explaining. Students will be more interested in what you just gave them, rather than listening to your instructions. To be sure your students understand what you want them to do, ask concept check questions, or ask a student to explain the activity back to you.

  1. Run

Once all your students understand what you want them to do, the activity should be able to run itself. The teacher must monitor, make sure students use the target language, and make corrections as necessary (try not to interrupt unless you have to!). Some corrections can be made after the activity, because every time you stop the students it disrupts the flow of the activity.

  1. Close

Closing an activity can be difficult. Try to sense when the students are ready to stop. It is better to stop an activity before the students get tired or bored, but make sure you give them enough time to be productive. Time warnings are a good way to inform the students the activity is about to end without suddenly stopping. Sometimes you stop when one team has finished, or when the majority of the students are done. You can’t always wait for everyone to finish your activities. Try and set a time-limit or a clear goal for when the activity will end, and make sure the students understand when the activity is finished.

  1. Post-Activity

When your activity has finished, it’s a good idea to ask the students what they learned. You can also correct some of the errors you observed while the students were doing their activity. And don’t forget to praise your students for doing a good job!

Remember, regardless of the age or level of your students, they will feed off your energy. If you’re presenting an activity with no enthusiasm, your students won’t get excited, either. Make your activity fun and interesting, and use big gestures when you’re demonstrating what to do; even if you look or feel foolish! Your students want to have fun, and sometimes you need to show them they’re allowed to have fun while learning!

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

Celebrate Spring Festival with a ‘Bang!’

Spring Festival Chongqing 02China’s biggest holiday of the year is 春节 (“chun jie” – Spring Festival), or Chinese New Year as it’s referred to in the West. Spring Festival is like Christmas and New Year’s Eve combined into a one week super-holiday. Nearly everyone returns home to see their family during Spring Festival, so it’s the annual cause of the largest human migration on Earth; every year China sets a new record for the most people traveling at the same time. Last year, around 260 million people traveled to various parts of the country within just a matter of days.

Because Chinese holidays are set according to the lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year doesn’t usually start until late January or early February – this year, Spring Festival started on February 18th. Unlike Christmas and New Year in the Western world, which are traditionally only celebrated for one day each, Spring Festival is celebrated from the last day of the last month, for fifteen days until the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first month. Throughout these fifteen days, people have dinners at home with loved ones, play traditional Chinese games like Mahjong, and exchange gifts such as 红包 (“hong bao” – red envelopes full of money). It is also tradition to wear new clothes at the start of the New Year, so the few days before the Spring Festival begins it’s common for everyone to go shopping for new (usually red) clothes.

The staple food during Chinese Spring Festival is dumplings. The 馅儿 (“xian’er” – stuffing, or flavor) varies by region. In the north for example, Spring Festival dumplings are often filled with pork, shrimp, and leeks. Another salient feature of Spring Festival is the hanging of red lanterns along the road, and 春联 (“Chun lian” – Spring Festival couplets) on doorways and windows. These are usually adorned with Chinese characters for happiness, health and fortune. It is believed that hanging these symbols in your house will bring good luck in the New Year.

Perhaps the most important (and loudest) part of Spring Festival is playing with firecrackers. Unlike in the west where we shoot fireworks into the sky for the New Year, Chinese firecrackers are smaller in size, but larger in number. Instead of shooting off a single rocket, the Chinese will light firecrackers that are several meters long with several thousand smaller bangs. The shooting of fireworks and firecrackers can be heard year round in China (especially during weddings or when a new business opens), but Spring Festival is when they are most prevalent. At midnight of the New Year, you will hear hundreds of thousands of firecrackers being set off simultaneously, and the festivities last deep into the night. The purpose is to scare away evil spirits with the loud noise, and as a blessing to mark a new beginning.

Although celebrations are similar across China, some Spring Festival traditions are slightly different from place to place. Big, modern cities like Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing – though in different parts of the country – celebrate Spring Festival in a very similar fashion. But each province has their own way of doing things. This is especially true as you venture further into the countryside to the small villages; there are ways of celebrating that are unique to their specific location.

Being in China during Spring Festival is indeed a remarkable and memorable experience. Aspects of it remind me of Christmas in my home country of Denmark; it’s not necessarily just about gifts and food, but a chance to spend time with family and enjoy the spirit of the season.  Enjoying this type of festive season while living abroad is very special, and is a great reminder of why I have chosen China as a place to live and work.

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson
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

City Profile: Shenzhen, Guangdong Province

Gone are the days when every aspiring teacher wanted to go to either Beijing or Shanghai – Shenzhen is the hottest destination for today’s TEFL crowd. Just thirty-five years ago Shenzhen was nothing more than a small village adjacent to Hong Kong Island. But, Deng Xiaoping’s great “Reform and Opening” brought swift change. Shenzhen became China’s first Special Economic Zone, and the economy subsequently took off. Today, Shenzhen is a boomtown – the first ‘Mega-City’ to spring up in the Pearl River Delta. It boasts a thriving economy specializing in international trade, foreign investment, manufacturing, and financial services offered by the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

Because of the city’s humble beginnings as a fishing village, it doesn’t have as many cultural or historical attractions as Beijing, Nanjing, or Xi’an. But there’s an offset to this drawback; because of the many opportunities here, it attracts job-seekers from every corner of China. As a result, Shenzhen is one of the most diverse cities in the mainland. Regional cultures, customs, and cuisines from various parts of China blend seamlessly. Not to mention, Shenzhen has loads of modern sights and places of interest, such as the Window of the World, Xichong Beach, Happy Valley Theme Park.

Being a cosmopolitan city with a large expat community, there’s no shortage of western restaurants, bars and nightclubs; plus, plenty of parks, temples, theaters and museums. Shenzhen is a symbol of China’s modern economy, and the birthplace of the entrepreneurial spirit that is now found even in the most remote parts of the country.

If it’s for three days or a year, experiencing Shenzhen should be high on everyone’s ‘to-do’ list when passing through China.

Have a look at our China job board for more information about working in Shenzhen (or anywhere else in China)!