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

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A Contemplative Cuppa

Heart Food Tea Masaru Emoto Imagine

My collection of Hobart gems is growing; yesterday I found a charming establishment called Heart Food, a vegan/vegetarian tea house located at 66 Liverpool Street, by the entrance to Bank Arcade. (I intend to return to explore the other little shops along the arcade, it seems to be an interesting, modern-eclectic mix).

I explained to the very sweet lady who served me at Heart Food that I was hoping to spend a calm few minutes on my own, and so she recommended the Relaxation Tea. I gather it was an in-house blend; it contained peppermint, lime blossom, rose petals and calendula flower and it was mixed with care so that none of these ingredients overpowered the others. I enjoyed it a lot, it was a sweet brew and it went nicely with the date and coconut slice that I also ordered.

The reading material offered by Heart Food included Love Thyself by Masaru Emoto. Dr Emoto is the scientist who seems to have shown that water crystals are influenced by words and intentions to which they are exposed. He interprets this phenomenon as reason to pray and show gratitude, because he believes it demonstrates that we can control our surroundings. I’m certainly impressed by the possibility that our thoughts and attitudes might be this powerful.

Whether it was the tea or the environment that relaxed me, I’m not sure. With the Japanese flute soundtrack, the minimal distraction and the intriguing photographs of water crystals, my experience provided just the brief respite that I required. I look forward to returning for more tea and food served with love at Heart Food.

(The photo above shows a water crystal after John Lennon’s “Imagine” was played to the water).

Love and Tea

framed-sweetheart-cupcake

For the love of tea: that’s why Many Cha Cha is here. Last Saturday was Valentines Day, and it slipped by without much fanfare. I didn’t use the occasion as an excuse to express my love (I find every day suitable for that purpose) but I did use it as an excuse to make some Sweetheart Cupcakes with Rose Tea Icing. I took the finished product, wrapped and in tins, to a friendly Valentine BBQ. Unfortunately the scooter journey to get there was not kind to the cupcakes and they arrived dented and squashed… but the flavours survived and they were popular nonetheless. Another sweet addition to the BBQ was a home-made “Post Office” for guests to make and deliver love-notes.

Sweetheart Cupcakes with Rose Tea Icing
(Adapted from a recipe in Vogue E&T, Christmas 2001)
125g butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon rose syrup (from Middle Eastern grocery)
125g self-raising flour
1 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon butter
Strongly-brewed rose black tea (cooled)
Red food colouring (for decoration)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius
1. Cream the butter and sugar together
2. Beat in eggs one at a time
3. Mix in rose syrup
4. Fold in the flour.
5. Spoon mixture into small paper cupcake pans
6. Bake for about 10 minutes, until risen and golden
7. For icing, place icing sugar and butter in bowl. Add tea
and mix until it reaches a stiff consistency.
8. When cupcakes have cooled, use butter knife to spread icing
evenly over each one.
9. To create heart decoration, add red food colouring to small
portion of icing until it is your preferred shade of red or
dark pink.
10. Place spoonful of red icing in centre of a square of
aluminium foil, and fold then roll the foil into a cone
shape, folding over the larger end to seal the icing inside.
11. Cut a very small hole in the narrow end of the cone, and
squeeze the cone until a thin stream of icing emerges. Use
this to “paint” hearts.

Enjoy these with your sweetheart any day of the year!