10 Ways to Travel at Home for Chinese New Year

Happy Lunar New Year  and 恭禧發財 to you! What a fantastic excuse to “travel at home” and enjoy some cultural treats from China, no matter where in the world you are located.

Of course the Lunar New Year celebrations are shared by many cultures (for example, the fellas in my family recently participated in a Vietnamese Tet Celebration— I am training them well!). But I adore China and I have brilliant memories of travelling there a few years ago. So here are my suggestions (quite non-traditional!) for how to imagine you’re in China and perhaps learn a bit about its incredible culture, heritage, history and impact.

1. Drink Tea. Chinese tea, of course– this blog is named after it! There are many resources online to help you choose a variety. Mine is Iron Goddess tea; astringent and cooling (I’ve written about it before here).

Chinese Lunar New Year Green Tea Vintage Doll Decor

2. Read about tea (and opium, and how it links to tea). The history of the relationship between “The East” and “The West” is caught up in tea and opium. The story is horrific and much more fascinating than any fiction; I think it’s important to have context to so much of our current world situation. To read about the world’s first– and probably worst– multinational company, see this article in the Guardian about the East India Company, whose story also reaches across to the beginnings of the American Revolution.

China Tea History Books Travel East India Company

3. Eat Chinese Food. That’s easily done, thanks very much, yum! I’m teaching my two how to use chopsticks with their fab toucan contraptions (it’s a game to them) and I will be attempting some proper Lunar New Year recipes from a fantastic family blog I’ve found called The Woks of Life. I’m also keen to make Tomato Egg Drop Soup which was my favourite when I was in China.

Chinese Luna New Year Geoff Lindsay Chow Down Noodles Kids Chopsticks

4. Read more books about China, its traditions, its more recent history (especially if you plan to travel there). The story of the Cultural Revolution is heartbreaking and the consequences can still be felt in China now. The influence of Chairman Mao and Communism is still evident, despite relaxed attitudes (and no, I don’t think Mao is ever appropriate as decor or fashion, I’m quite astounded at this retailer).

Memoirs are an invaluable way to understand the people of China; the incredible story of Wild Swans and Mao’s Last Dancer are well-known examples, or try Red Scarf Girl for a Cultural Revolution setting. If you are more interested in China as a world power, try these suggestions from Fortune of books to help explain its modern nuances.

Chinese Ma Jian Lunar New Year Books Proverbs Traditional Made in China

5. Watch Chinese movies or movies set in China. There are plenty of Communist propaganda films to help you toe the party line (here’s a famous one called Lei Feng), but I recommend every film by Zhang Yimou, or Kung Fu Hustle with the English overdub for belly laughs.

Chinese Tea Jasmine Films DVD Movies New Year Travel

6. Light some sparklers (the only “fireworks” we are allowed here), consider that gunpowder was invented in China and that gunpowder changed the world. Actually there’s a great film about a firecracker factory, called Red Firecracker Green Firecracker, that I could add to the list above.

Travel at Home China Gunpowder Fireworks History Sparklers

7. Go to a parade and observe fireworks at your local Chinatown if you have one; we’ll be doing that this coming weekend. It seems as though Lunar New Year has finally become mainstream: there are markets and events happening in the city all this week to mark the occasion.

Chinese Lunar New Year Many Cha Cha Lion Dragon Lantern Parade

8. If there is no Chinatown near you, create your own parade! We live in a small town and luckily we are known for marching around in costume, so nobody blinked an eye when we took our vintage lion head out walking to scare away last year’s bad luck.

Many Cha Cha Lunar New Year Kids Parade Lantern Chinese Dragon Mask Costume

9. Enjoy some Monkey Magic! Every year is year of the monkey with my two boys but I think it’s finally time I read the classic work, Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng’en on which so many fantastic Monkey adaptations are based. I would give anything to see this “opera” version by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz, even the promo video is exciting.

Chinese Lunar New Year Monkey Magic Journey to the West Remember Tibet

10. Remember Tibet.

Many Cha Cha Lantern Chinese Red Home Travel Decor Decoration

Flat Out and Full

There’s a festival taking up my time so the days and nights are full at the moment. Here are some other things that are full:

Full of books: a box overflowing with favourite stories.

Full Box Books Children Toddler Baby Picture Illustrated Story

Full of flowers: a little jar with white winter blooms.

Full Vintage Jar White Flowers Washi Tape

Full of Bottles: a collection of salvaged science bottles (beakers? flasks?) in another old box.

Full Box Vintage Beakers Bottles Science Pinecones

Full of Scribbles: Paper (and furniture, oops) covered in doodly drawings.

Full toddler scribble marker drawing doodle furniture table

Full Box Vintage Beakers Bottles Science Art Painting Heart

(Lost Space Bird postcard, above, by Hules).

We All Gotta Eat

Share Cookbook Women for Women International Celebrate Common Humanity

I have never claimed to be a “foodie”. I have usually viewed meals to be a inconvenient interruption, the same as when the car runs out of petrol and it’s time to refuel. In fact I could happily live entirely on avocado on toast and/or vegetable and noodle soup (Vietnamese style, preferably, served with lots of broccoli).

Of course I like tasty food, and obviously I really enjoy it as a way to learn about other places and cultures. But even while writing this I am struck by how lucky I am to even make the distinction between food as fuel and food for pleasure. Many people around the world are lucky to get a meal of charcoal-roasted yams, served with lots of dirt.

Share Cookbook Women for Women International Common Humanity Alison Oakervee

So this book caught my eye: it’s called Share and it is subtitled “The cookbook that celebrates our common humanity” (edited by Alison Oakervee, most photographs by Philip Webb). It features pictures, information and recipes from the war-torn parts of the world where the NGO, Women for Women International, operates. The book’s profits go to this very worthy organisation, which assists women who have survived armed conflicts in places like Rwanda, Kosovo and Iraq, by empowering them to manage and improve their lives.

Share Cookbook Women for Women Org Common Humanity Philip Webb Photography

The book also features recipes provided by many other well-known names. At first I gave a hearty side-eye to all the celebrity contributions, which include Paul McCartney and Richard Branson. Trudie Styler says in her introduction: “Sting and I spend as much time as we can at our home in Tuscany” and I struggle to find what I have in common with that. But I understand the need to have a “hook”.

Share Cookbook Women for Women International Common Humanity Philip Webb

A more thorough immersion in the pages made me realise that it’s the perfect cookbook for me. It features beautifully photographed food from far-flung places that makes me want cook in order to broaden my mind. And most conveniently, the majority of the recipes are designed to be everyday, nutritional family meals. Many of them look simple, tasty and not too complicated to prepare.**

For a non-foodie like me, that’s food heaven.

Share Cookbook Women for Women Common Humanity Kyle Books

**I’ll report back here about my attempts