Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chinese history

The Terra Cotta Warriors represent an
 important of Xi'an's history.
I took on a new  task related to China this week when I was appointed the topic editor for Chinese history for  I've been writing for Suite101 for more than two years, and have contributed many articles to the site's China travel section, as well as about Chinese food and tea, museums and the like. While I've always tried to include a bit of history when I'm writing about sightseeing attractions, concentrating on the country's history will be a new challenge for me.

Besides writing articles, I'll be editing articles on Chinese history written by other Suite101 writers and choosing the best articles to feature on section pages.

I'm really looking forward to this new assignment. China has a history which dates back thousands of years, and is rapidly assuming the role of a super power today. I believe it is important for us to understand China's past so we can better understand it's future.

Join me on the site as we travel back in time.

Are you going to China?

If a trip to China is in your travel plans, please check out Cheryl's China and feel free to email me if you have any questions about traveling in China, especially Beijing, which is my specialty.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Think sweet!

My friend Sophia, who was born and grew up in Asia, makes fabulous ethnic desserts, so I was quite thrilled when she agreed to give me a cooking lesson on how to make a couple of them. The first dessert was Indonesian, and involved mixing grated coconut, grated cassava, butter, eggs, sugar and flour together, spreading in a pan and then steaming for 40 minutes. Sophia has made this dish so many times, she doesn't use a recipe.
A Malaysian dessert made with sticky rice flour.

While this was steaming, she showed me how to make a Malaysian dessert with glutinous rice flour. It was even easier! She adds salt and Pandan, a Thai flavoring which turned the flour green. Next you mix in water and sugar, and then form a tablespoon or so of the dough into a ball. Flatting the dough to a round circle, then plop a small chunk of brown sugar cane on the dough and form a ball around it. You then drop the ball into boiling water until it floats to the top. Remove the ball from the water and dredge in grated coconut. It's best to eat these slightly warm, as the sugar cane melts into a liquid that explodes -- delightfully -- in your mouth. Yum!

The Chinese have a very similar dish, called tang yuan but is stuffed with a sweet bean paste instead of sugar cane. This treat is served at the Lantern Festival which occurs 15 days after Chinese Lunar New Year.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, check out my website, and feel free to email me with any questions.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Thank the Chinese

You can thank the Chinese for giving us one of our most enduring Fourth of July traditions: fireworks displays.

The Chinese invented fireworks even before they invented gun powder. According to the website Pyro Universe, fireworks may have been invested accidentally, when chunks of  green bamboo were tossed into a fire around 200 B.C. They burning bamboo snapped, crackled and generally scared the Chinese and their animals. After awhile, a tradition developed of throwing green bamboo on fires at Lunar New Year to scare away the evil spirits for another year. Later, after the Chinese had invented gunpowder, they put this concoction into bamboo tubes. Thus the first firecrackers were born.

Ironically, some places in China ban fireworks today because of the dangers and serious injuries caused to people who don't know how to use them properly. They're also messy. During my first year in Beijing, a friend and I went to Tianjin on Chinese New Year's Day. The streets and sidewalks were covered with red paper remains of fireworks.

Probably the most extravagant display of fireworks I saw in my time in China was the celebration in Beijing after Hong Kong was transferred back to Chinese ownership by the British. That night, the Chinese put on a spectacular celebration involving 18,000 performers at Workers' Stadium in Beijing. One of the things I remember most about that night is sitting maybe 25 feet away from Chinese President Jiang Zemin and his cabinet. It was indeed an awesome night.