Easter And Eggs

When painting some eggs, with by companions, for a Columban Easter Egg Competition, I learned three things about eggs.

1. Hens no longer lay white eggs. All the eggs in the supermarkets are brown.  Its harder to paint brown eggs!

2. In China they paint eggs red on the 100th day after the birth of a child. The eggs are then hidden and young boys (boys only!) are sent to look for them. The boy who finds one will bring good luck to his family.

3. In the USA they have green-themed ‘Shamrock Eggs’ on St Patrick’s Day.

Speaking of St Patrick, on 25 March 433 he broke the ancient custom of not lighting a fire  on that day (to mark the coming of Spring) until the king on Tara did so. Patrick lit his on Slane first and so gave the occasion a new significance, Easter Sunday!

Photos: Our eggs and Chinese Red Eggs.

March 2021 Update

I usually take these opportunities to report on what is happening in China, especially regarding educational circles, as I am the representative of a group which facilitates Irish teachers teaching in universities in China.  I spent 17 years as manager of the organisation’s headquarters in Hong Kong, now a much-changed city.   

However for the past year the Covid pandemic has put activities on pause though a number of our teachers remained on in China working online or in restricted circumstances.  We hope that travel will be possible again in the autumn and we can resume sending volunteers.

At present kindergartens, primary, middle and secondary schools are open and third level institutes may restart in a limited way by June.  

The country is proud that is it almost covid free and restricts foreign travel to keep it that way.  The lock-down has ended but  regular mandatory tests are held and proof that you are covid-free may be necessary when entering some facilities and shops. People take the pandemic rules and suggestions very seriously and are amazed at how relaxed people are in the West. 

China has developed its own vaccines which it shares with neighbouring and African countries rather than seeing a need to roll them out to all the billion and a half population at home.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong a small but significant number of new cases is reported every day. Commentators on the mainland are not slow in pointing out that this indicates the superiority of their social system.

New Year Daffodils

In these two photos one set of daffodils is Irish,  the other Chinese.

The Irish ones have been standing out in the cold of our front garden since mid-December. They were probably prepared to celebrate a ‘normal Christmas’ and still do not observe social distancing.  They remain alert, despite the harsh weather, as if waiting for someone to tell them what to do next.

I checked with google and learned that daffodils and narcissus are the same plant. They are susceptible to pests, diseases, viruses, fungi, mites and nematodes though ours are very healthy despite the weather and benign neglect.  I just wish our fruit trees could learn from them how to avoid disease and fungi, and even nematodes.

Daffodils came originally from the south of Spain and got to China during the Tang Dynasty (618-909).  Since then they have been popular around the Chinese New Year (next Friday!). In China they are treated with respect, as you can see in the second photo. If they bloom in time for the Festival it is a sign of wealth and good fortune in the year ahead. (Ours, being Irish, of course came out in time for Christmas instead.) 

But beware. A few years ago ten members of the Chinese community in Bristol nearly died because they ate daffodil bulbs and stalks they bought in a local supermarket thinking they were chives just like the ones they used at home when making the New Year festive dish, dumplings. 

There are over 50 species of daffodils so you should have no trouble getting some before Friday, just don’t put any in your dumplings.  

Vovid Update

Another Virus story and a question.

Recently a Chinese student returned home from Ireland for non-virus related reasons. She had personal concerns and wanted to be with her family for the Lunar New Year celebrations (mid-February).

She got a virus test 72 hours before leaving, another during a transfer and one on arrival. Then she when into a two week hotel isolation during which she was tested twice. On arrival back at her home town she got another test and again was negative.

Five days into her home isolation she thought she was safe because of her six negative tests and went out for a stroll in the local area.  The next day her father tested positive. The authorities immediately saw her as the source and not only isolated her but two thousand other people in the town. Some of them were people she had met in the street, in shops and coffee bars, but the others were family members or contacts of those she had encountered.  The girl protested that she had been tested six time without showing positive but when word got out nationally a storm of abuse was unleashed on her. Imagine being castigated by one billion people on social media!

In the meantime, it seems no one had time to ask whether she got the virus after her return to China. When I shared this story with acquaintances I was surprised how their responses differed. Some blamed her for not staying at home for the prescribed two weeks and said she deserved the abuse she got. Others thought what she did was reasonable.  What do you think?

No to the New Year

Happy Birthday Everyone!

In case you had forgotten, at the beginning of the Lunar (or Chinese) New Year an extra year is added to everyone’s age. If you were born at the end of the Old Year it would mean you were two years old in the New Year. A drawback for anyone hoping to play for their county’s minors.  

(My birthdays is listed as I January.)

In China this New Year’s celebrations won’t differ from last year’s which were cancelled by a lockdown.  Thanks to intensive efforts early in 2020, the country was almost free of the virus until the beginning of this year. An outbreak was reported in the northern city of Shijiazuang and by 7 January there were 123 symptomatic and 181 asymptomatic cases there.

Immediately the country was once more declared ‘at war’ with the virus and people were confined to their houses until further notice.

The entire population of the Shijiazhuang (11 million) was tested within a week and a week later a second round of tests was finished in three days. There is no travel in or out, or inside, the city. Factories and offices are closed. Everything stopped. The virus continued however so there was a third round of tests.

Not unexpectedly in these anti-religion days, a rumour started that a foreign priest had brought the virus to Shijiazhuang.  Although there is no international travel and foreign priests are not welcome in China the story spread quickly through social media and the Church took a lot of violent criticism. Eventually a government official stated the rumour was untrue and the attacks have simmered down.  

The ‘we are at war’ approach puts a stop to any celebrations again this year. However it won’t stop you from becoming another year older.

Year of Ox

2020 was the year of the Rat, 2021 is the year of the Ox. So is that any reason for hope?

In Asia the Rat is considered smart and active.  His ‘year’ is the first in the twelve year cycle so the Rat is seen as a sign of ‘new beginnings’ – of love, money and other opportunities.  So far, so good. However the 2020 Year of the Rat was under the influence of another star and foretold to cause all kinds of health issues.  As you know he did create opportunities – for the Covid virus to spread. Active but not very smart. Maybe that is why elsewhere the rat is considered a pest.

Now enter the Ox. In countries where the Ox has been the tractor for muddy rice fields he (or she) is considered hardworking, positive and honest.   Korean proverbs often praise the Ox, Chinese paintings lovingly portray the Ox and Japanese temples abound in Oxen. The Ox‘s image has always been praised, he (or she) is considered the helper of mankind.

So what has the Ox to offer us in 2021?  Well, did you notice that the next vaccine being offered to us, easier to transport and not needing extreme refrigeration, is the Ox-ford. No coincident there.

Buy box, return jewel

One of my Chinese friends said this year their Christmas greeting was mai du huan zhu

Of course I had to ask what that meant.

A long time ago a craftsman found a unique jewel and polished it up till it glowed like a star. When it came to selling it, he wanted to design a box worthy to hold it. He used the finest wood and the most colourful enamel.  

Finally a customer came who seemed rich and refined enough to deserve to be its new owner. The customer examined the box carefully, inside and out. He seemed satisfied.

After paying a handsome price he gave it to his servant to carry and they left.

The next day the servant returned with a cotton bag.  ‘My master found this in the box and wants to return it,’ he said.

The craftsman looked inside and was amazed to see the jewel.

‘But this is a priceless Jewel, does your master not want it?’

The servant looked puzzled, ‘My master is very proud of the box but has no time for whatever was in it.’

Every Chinese child knows that story,  mai du huan zhu, buy box, return jewel.

So what was that to do with Christmas? Well, I was told, at Christmas we enjoy the decorations and trapping but might overlook the jewel behind them.

What jewel? If you don’t know what the jewel is you won’t recognise it. 

Hoping you (and I) will find it this year and that it helps clear off some of the gloom and fear with which the year ends,

And have a Happy Christmas!  Hugh

Hidden Meanings

We usually expect some hidden meaning in Chinese stories but I have some trouble with this one.  It was originally heard from a Chinese priest who had studied in Germany so maybe there is some distortion.

Anyhow, an allied airman was shot down over Western Europe during World War ll and landed in a tree. He could see all around him but was not sure what country he was in.

A man cycled past on a bicycle so he called out to him, ‘Could you help me? Where am I?’

The cyclist stopped and answered, ‘You are up a tree.’

‘Are you a priest?’ asked the pilot.

‘How did you know?’ asked the man.

‘Because what you told me is true but it is not useful,’ the pilot responded.

Is he saying what I think….? No it could not be.

It definitely must be Chinese story with a deeper meaning.

Checking the Sources

These lockdown days I have plenty of time to listen to the stories of my Chinese fellow-residents.

It seems there was one young man in North China who liked gambling and to ensure his good luck kept a statue of every god he heard of in his room.

One of his neighbours came back from the city with a present of a new god, named Jesus. There was only one problem, there was no space left in his room so he decided to find out which ones he could do without.  He put a small cup of wine in front of all the statues, including that of Jesus which was sitting on his bed.

He called out to them, ‘Drink up the wine. If you cup is empty I will keep you and throw out the rest.’ He then shut the door and waited an hour.

When he went back in all the cups were empty except that of Jesus. He immediately threw out the other statues and just kept the one of Jesus.

When his friend asked him why he changed his mind he replied, ‘How could I trust any god who obeyed a human?’   From then on he did not need extra luck when picking winners.

Single’s Day

You may not have been aware that last Wednesday US$74 billion was spent on online shopping in China. It was 11 November, ‘Singles Day’ or (previously) ‘Bachelors Day‘s.  The idea was launched in 1993 by students of Nanjing University to celebrate the fact they were single, and likely to remain so.

All the single digits in 11th of 11th stand for single people and the ’singles’ bought presents for each other. Soon it became National Shopping Day with huge discounts in prices and the rest is history.

This year most people opted for 5G technology devices but there were also a few unusual items at greatly reduced prices.  

You could buy a shrunken skull (originally meant for medical students to practice on) for E5. It made an unforgettable present.

For 3 to 6 Euro you could get a ‘Jar of Sunlight’ –it has a solar battery on the lid.

Five live leeches for E4 is a good bargain, they can be raised as pets or used medically.

A fortune teller will bring you good news for a very reasonable price. One person said, ‘I don’t care if he is correct, I just want to calm myself during this difficult time.’

You can have noodles with your name on them for E3.   

Most of the sales were on Alibaba, the Amazon of China which had two million new items on its ‘digital shelf’, double last year’s.  They warm up their customers the night before with an extravagant TV gala featuring international stars.

‘Singles Day’ is not a national holiday in China yet but I’m sure it will be soon and the rest of the world will be quick to jump on the delivery waggon.