Sunday, April 5, 2009

清明节 (tomb sweeping day)

it's never easy to get back to life as one knows it following a major emotional and transformative event, such as the death of a parent. and when one lives in china, where life as one knows it is already a bit different compared to life in the West, it's taxing to get back into the swing of things. to do normal things, like writing in one's journal.

that being the case, i decided to participate in a chinese tradition this year--to give thanks to my dad for being so supportive and loving, and to give thanks to my grandparents for creating our family.

and lo, here i am, writing.

tomb sweeping day (清明节, qīnɡmínɡjié) is a day to honor those who have passed. traditions include cleaning the family tomb--cleaning away weeds, putting out food for the ghosts, and burning items for those who have gone to the beyond. the night before last, the streets of xi'an were filled with people burning money on the sidewalk. i decided to participate this year.

yesterday i went out with my friend adam to a beautiful temple, qinglong si (green dragon) in xi'an for a spring outing and to feast our eyes on the canopies of cherry blossoms. while we were out, we stopped at an incense shop and i picked out some things to burn. adam helped me a great deal by picking out the "correct" amount to burn, as well suggesting i get a map to help guide those in the beyond back home. although the map i selected shows how to get here, in the East, adam joked with me and said it was appropriate since that's where i am and that's where my dad and grandparents should find me. she also told me that it's traditional to burn things that one would want to give to their loved ones in the afterlife.

the weather here has been wonky this season. in february, we had a day of snow and a little over a week following that, temperatures were in the high 70s (22/23ish)! then it got cold again. very cold. and that's how it's been. until yesterday when it started warming up a bit.

adam and i started our journey with some cotton candy:
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then we frolicked in the flowers, along with lots of grandparents and children. tomb-sweeping day is also a popular kite-flying day, and so for a time, we watched the kites dancing in the smoggy sky.

baby bums!

baby bums are one of my favourite things about china. so cute! in the winter, the babies toddle around like penquins, their pink cheeks peeking out from so many thick layers of clothes...

in the evenings, in my university quad, grandparents and children gather. it's awesome people watching.

adam and i ambled around the trees for quite a while and then headed through one of the ubiquitous hobbit doors to find an artist creating bright images. we went in for a closer look. he was doing calligraphy in a most unique way--each character became a scene or picture. we watched him for a while and then i decided to have mine done. i chose to have him paint my chinese name, han hai xuan (韩海瑄). the crowed audibly gasped as i, the funny looking waiguoren, confidently wrote my name down on my list. as i wrote each character, i heard the man behind me read it in turn. when i had finished, he said i "[had] a good name, well done." i made small talk with the artist and he complimented me by asking if i was a student. he had a kind face. i noticed he had a limp right hand, splashing ink with his left. adam liked mine so much she bought three more paintings--one for her dad and two for friends.


today i took a day for myself. just me and the cat, hanging out. it was lovely outside, but i stayed in. there will be lots of sunshiney days ahead and i just felt like being a homebody.

i thought a great deal about what adam had said about burning images of things to "give" to loved ones and ancestors (the chinese always talk about "ancestors" rather than just relatives or descendants). so i did some art today. just some simple line drawings with a splash of colour. things to burn.

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into my old chinese cooking pot, i first thew in some cash. adam said it was good to give the ancestors at least 10,000Y each. i bought 3 books of bills that contained about 15,000Y each--enough for all my grandparents, my mom's parents and my dad's mom, as well as dad. i also burned two books of maps, as instructed by adam. why this is the "right" number of maps to burn, i know not. i decided to only burn maps for dad. and then, one by one, i tossed into the flames my drawings. some items were for everyone--the ocean, trees, and flowers--and some were for one specific person.

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and now i have a glowing candle and mrrOOOWwwing cat beside me.

the cat would be louie, my well-fed, furry, and deaf companion. he's a bit cantankerous:
louie says yo!

i suppose i should introduce myself, this being the first entry on this particular site.

and, for another reason, i just shared some rather intimate details.


i have an old china journal that i wrote in on a fairly consistent basis. however, the great firewall of china has made it consistently more frustrating to use, it being blocked (it's on el jay: im working on getting those entries archived and moved here. maybe. we shall see. archived certainly. moved? well, that's trickier.

i see china as my home, as i have been comfortably living here for over two years. china has become so much of a home that i dont often see the nuances that visitors observe. i still encounter culture clash, and i still have lots to say about this place. i moved to xi'an in september of 06. i spent one semester back in the US of A, but otherwise have lived in my cozy little apt. in xi'an.

i teach reading and writing to students who will study at my USAian university, Humboldt State, following their freshman year at my chinese university, XISU.

i frequently talk about food, plagiarism, and random things. like baby bums.

old friends, this is where i'll be posting.
new friends, hello, and nice to meet you.


  1. Hey! I'm glad to see you've been able to post, again! (I've added this one as a feed to LJ, too, for all the times I forget that I have a blog over here, too... (; )

    The tomb-sweeping day thing sounds very... cathartic. I couldn't even imagine my relatives doing that kind of thing - it would probably be good for them.

  2. Was really glad to see your posting this morning. Good to have you back with us! Grandpa and Grandma would have loved your honoring the ancestors ceremony...your dad too.
    much love
    Aunt Patty

  3. Hello sister, I liked the chevy in the drwing and dad would of to

  4. China is one of the most fascinating countries in the world with an intriguing culture. The mother tongue of the country, Chinese is also as captivating as it can get. It is supposed to be one of the hardest languages to learn and sometimes it is a little difficult for international students to get a hang of it. Thanks a lot. go to this link