The spring semester is over, so it is time to say goodbye. We ended our course with Chinese ghost stories. Like in Finnish folklore, there is a great variety of different kind of ghosts, monsters and supernatural creatures. There are venomous ghosts, hungry ghosts, trickster ghosts, messenger ghosts etc. It is good to keep in mind that not all ghosts are bad, there are also good spirits among them. Some of those creatures are adopted to Chinese folklore from neighbouring cultures like Korea and Japan.
Chinese have their own traditional festival for ghosts called The Ghost Festival. The 7th month in lunar calendar is Ghost Month and 15th day is Ghost Day. It is believed that on Ghost Day the deceased ancestors will visit living ones. This festival has some similarities with Mexican festival El Día de los Muertos and is also sometimes known as the “Chinese Halloween”. There is a lot of superstition in the air during the Ghost Festival: people are avoiding outdoor activities, getting married or moving to a new house. While the Ghost Festival be aware: if ghost finds you in a street and follows you home, the bad luck will follow you for the whole next year!
This course has taught me a lot. Not only about Chinese food, culture and history but also about communication skills, creativity and openness. This has been great way to improve English skills both oral and written. I noticed that this course is actually much more than teaching and learning languages or cultures. It is a great opportunity to break stereotypes and get rid of prejudices which you might have.
I invited Yu to our home to have a dinner. At first I had been thinking to cook something traditional Finnish food but then Yu asked me if I could cook something vegan. Lucky me, because almost all traditional Finnish foods includes meat and I have no idea how to cook meat dishes. I haven’t eaten meat for ten years so probably it would have been a disaster. And of course, it was much easier to cook something we both can eat than prepare two different kind of dinners.
It was nice that Yu was so interested in vegan food and wanted to get to know my lifestyle. And that is the greatest thing in this course; you do not just learn about language and culture but about different lifestyles and ways of thinking. I would have to say that Yu and I don’t have that much in common, but nevertheless we have had fun at every meeting. It is good to get out from your comfort zone and get to know people who don’t agree with you on every matter.
We had a short conversation in Finnish considering our summer plans. Yu is also taking some Finnish lessons in school so his language skills are getting better and better. After our Finnish session, we ate a lot, discussed about movies, vegan foods and sports. Well at least Yu and my boyfriend talked about sports. And the evening ended with the story of Chinese jumping zombies. Apparently, there will be more ghost stories at our last meeting.
This time we watched an episode of document series called A Bite of China. The programme presents not only different kind of traditional Chinese foods and regional differences, but where and how people get all the ingredients. It demands a lot of know-how to find matsutakes or dig lotus roots.
Matsutake is a very expensive mushroom because it is quite rare and hard to find. It demands certain type of environment to grow and that kind of forests don’t exist anymore that much. Beside of that matsutakes are hidden under the moss. In a document, old woman who has collected matsutakes for years said that normally you find one matsutake per one kilometre.
The other interesting thing in the document was how people collect lotus roots. Roots are deep in the soil of pond or river bottom so it is not exactly easy to dig them up. Roots are also quite big and you must be careful not to break the roots with your shovel. Roots can only be harvested by hand so the work can be physically challenging. Harvesting time is usually in late summer right after the plants has produced seeds and started to dry out.
The document taught a lot about Chinese food culture. It is fascinating to learn how the food ends to your plate. How ingredients are grown, collected, cooked and why they are served in certain style and certain plates or bowls. All the episodes of the document can be found in Youtube so I will probably watch them all to learn how to cook authentic Chinese food.
This time I took Yu to Pyynikki conservation area. This place is one of my favourite spots in Tampere because of its beautiful nature and spectacular views. Yu hasn’t been there before so I had to show that place to him. First we took a walk in the forest and then sat down in the view point where you can see Pyhäjärvi and the old factory buildings. I had made presentation about mythical ancient creatures of Finland. What would be better place to talk about those creatures and spirits than forest?
In Finish folklore appears a lot of different kind of gods, spirits, mythical creatures, fairies etc. There are stories of elves and fairies who lived in houses with people and protected them. Some people lived with an evil fairy called para. It took a form of a cat, a bird or a frog and stole things from others. It was common belief that para lived with witches and a witch itself was also a part of para. I told stories about goblins, how they stole a human child and traded it with own child. And of course, I told a story how giants made the islands. A story says that giants were enemies of humans and gods. When people started to build churches, giants run away deeper and deeper in to the woods and then started to throw huge rocks to break the churches. Some of those rocks fell in to lakes and that is how the islands were born. Today we have more reasonable explanation for that…
After couple of hours walking and talking we ended our tour to observation tower of Pyynikki and ate ice cream. This 7th meeting was nice and casual, just like Sunday afternoon is supposed to be.
Last Sunday we went to have a dinner in a Chinese restaurant called Dada. Yu had chosen this specific restaurant because he has been helping there every now and then. Yu wanted me to try some traditional Chinese food so he had made the order beforehand. I learned that not all dishes in Chinese restaurants menus are authentic Chinese food. Some dishes are modified to fit in our taste. Eating in Chinese restaurant can sometimes be challenging for a vegan. That is because “vegan” has different meaning in China. They usually tend to think that vegans can eat cheese, eggs or even fish. Basically, they think that vegan and vegetarian are same thing. But that kind of thinking is changing.
Usually when I am eating in Chinese restaurant I must ask if they have used fish sauce, oyster sauce or broth in the dish I am ordering, just to be sure that the food is suitable for my diet. Although Yu was aware of what I can and can’t eat and he had told the cook that I am vegan there was still some confusion and they put eggs in my portion. I’m quite used to that kind of hustle so it wasn’t a big deal for me. After all I had my vegan portion, it was delicious and that is only thing that counts.
During the dinner, we talked about differences between Chinese and Finnish food. We spoke a bit about farming, mostly how people grow rice. Yu told some basic things about regional differences relating to food. I learned that there are four different styles to cook dumplings. And we also talked how to make noodles.
This was quite relaxed meeting. We joked and laughed a lot and planned a bit our future meetings. I promised to Yu that I will invite him to dinner and make vegan food for him because he said that he has never eaten good vegan food. Challenge accepted!
It has been a while since our last meeting. We both have been quite busy with our studies. At the moment I have many projects going on and it is a bit hard to find the time to meet friends or people at all. Luckily we both had a day off this Friday and found some time to meet each other. This was our fifth meeting so it was my turn to be a teacher. I had planned earlier that we would go to Kauppi Sports Park, but because Yu had a little sport incident couple of weeks ago, we couldn’t do that.
On our previous meeting, I gave Yu a little homework to do. I asked if he could write a diary for one week. In Finnish, of course! On this meeting, we read the diary. Yu can already write basic sentences and he had made the effort and learned some new words while writing the diary. We talked a bit about Finnish grammar, regional dialects and learned some adjectives.
After all that official learning stuff, we went to have a lunch and talked about everyday life. We also planned our following meeting. Since Yu is going to teach me some things about traditional Chinese food, we are trying to find some nice Chinese restaurant to visit.
Our 4th meeting took place at TAMK library and Yu taught me things about the most important Chinese festivals. Altogether, there are lot of festivals in China during a year and those festivals are quite different compared to our holidays. Chinese calendar is called lunisolar, or shortly, lunar calendar. It is influenced by the sun and the moon and it is used to determine the days of traditional festivals. The calendar is based on moon’s cycle so that is a reason why Chinese New Year is at different times on different years.
Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is the most important festival in China. It is time for official public holidays. People spend that time with their families. Basically, Spring Festival is like our Christmas holiday. It is time for a big family reunion dinner. The whole family get together, relax, give gifts to each other and celebrate the year of hard work. The colour of the festival is red and it considered auspicious colour. People are dressed in red and all the decorations are red. The colour red is believed to vanquishing misfortune. The next big and meaningful festival is right after Chinese New Year and it is called Lantern Festival. Lantern Festival is the first full moon night in lunar calendar. The way to celebrate the festival varies regionally. There is colourful decoration all over the cities, different kind of activities, lion dances, dragon dances and riddles written on lanterns. At night, it must be magical to walk along the street, watch the full moon and all those lighted colourful lanterns.
Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day) is the day when people show respects to ancestors. This is also a time when you can start to enjoy the greenery of spring (beginning of April). This is a time to visit and sweep the graves. Some may put fruits on top of the tomb stones. It is also common that people burn incense and paper money. The tradition is that you light three incense to the memory of the deceased. After the Qingming Festival comes the Dragon Boat Festival on May. Dragon Boat Festival or Duanwu Festival is also traditional and important celebration in China. There is a legend about a poet called Qu Yuan, who jumped off the bridge in the Miluo River and drowned. He was a loved poet, so people tried to save him. They took their boats and rowed on the river, but couldn’t find Yuan. A legend also claims that they threw food into the river so that the fish would not eat his body. That is the story behind the Dragon Boat Festival. The most important activity during this festival is, of course, dragon boat racing.
China also has its own Valentine’s Day and it is called Double Seventh Day. It is on the 7th day of 7th month in lunar calendar. It is based on a romantic legend (the legend of Niulang and Zhinüand) and there are different variations of that legend. This one is the most romantic Chinese festival and that is why it is called Chinese Valentine’s Day. Originally the festival has been quite different but now it has many Western features.
Uh, there are so many festivals in China that I already lost count. And I probably forgot to mention some other important Chinese festivals… All these festivals are very fascinating, because of their background stories. It was also nice to learn that people in China still celebrates these holidays in traditional ways. I learnt a lot today and I really enjoyed all these stories and legends Yu told me.
On our third meeting, I took Yu to Vapriikki. I thought that it would be nice place to visit because its beautiful location and various exhibitions. We were there almost three hours but still hadn’t enough time to see everything. At first we went to Hurriganes exhibition and I taught Yu some instrument names in Finnish. After that we dropped in Tampere 1918 exhibition, Mineral Museum and The Natural History Museum. When we had our first meeting, I taught Yu some species of animals living in Finland. The Natural History Museum was a great place to review the names of animals and to learn more.
The Finnish Museum of Games is the first museum of gaming in Finland. There are over 100 games and you can play almost all of them. There are all kind of games from board games to pinball and computer games. Because of the winter holiday the museum was quite crowded but we managed to play some games and had a great time. I highly recommend to visit Vapriikki. There is a lot to see and to do and there is free entry on Friday afternoons.
We also discussed some cultural differences between Finland and China. I learned that one is not allowed to own a gun or any kind of weapon in China, while in Finland almost everybody can get a license for a gun. In China joining the army is a choice not an obligation. There is just a short period of time, one or one and a half months, that every young man must spend in the army. Getting married is legal in China when person reaches the age of 22. We also talked a bit about the status of women and one-child policy in China.
On our second meeting we talked about history of ancient China, dynasties, leaders and myths. Yu told me fascinating stories about dragons and other mythical creatures. It is a fact that Chinese myths are a way cooler than our stories about Väinämöinen or elves…
I learned that in the ancient Chinese astronomy the sky was divided into four section. Each of these four sections is assigned to a mythological creature also known as Four Symbols. The mythological creature in the East is The Azure Dragon. It is the head of the Four Symbols and its element is wood (usually Chinese dragons are associated with water). Dragons are not only fearsome and mighty animals but they are also believed to be just, benevolent and bringers of good fortune and wealth. The White Tiger is a protector and a defender. Its element is metal and it corresponds to the season of autumn whereas The Azure Dragon corresponds to the spring. The White Tiger is the mythological creature in the West.
In the North the mythical creature is The Black Tortoise and in the South it is The Vermillion Bird. The Black tortoise corresponds to winter and its element is water whereas The Vermillion Bird corresponds to summer and fire. The Red Vermillion is quite similar with the phoenix, they are look-a-like and both are considered as a symbol of fire. The Black Tortoise is a symbol of longevity and wisdom. One interesting thing in The Black Tortoise is that its tail is actually a snake.
Yin yang is a world widely known symbol, a circle which is divided into two sections. The black section is called yin and the white is yang. The really short explanation what yin yang symbolises is following: everything in universe is constant and cyclical. One force dominates for a while until the opposing force replaces it. This activity repeats itself over and over again. Yin and yang are opposing forces and represents different things but when put together they symbolises harmony and balance in the universe. Those two forces are constantly interacting and they exist everywhere being the basis of life.
So I learned quite a lot about Chinese myths and philosophies. A lot more than I manage to write here. It was so intriguing to hear these stories from Yu. Mostly because in our culture this kind of myths hardly exists. Also knowledge about ones past is the key to understanding the current functioning of society and human behaviour.
I am Johanna, a first year social services student from TAMK. I applied to this EOTO course because I want to improve my English skills and meet people from different cultures. I got paired with a Chinese man Yu. I am quite excited because, I have to confess, I don’t know that much about China. So I am looking forward to learn more about Chinese culture, traditions and history.
Our first meeting took place at Cafe Europa. Because Yu have lived in Finland for a couple of years, I wanted to test his knowledge about Finland. I asked him questions like ”Who is the president of Finland?”, ”What is the national animal of Finland?” and ”When the Winter war was fought between Finland and Soviet Union?”. The quiz also included tasks like name the cities/places/products.
After the quiz we started to discuss ourselves, studies, food, animals etc… Yu already know how to count in Finnish, he also knows weekdays and can introduce himself in Finnish. So this time I taught him how to order a coffee, how to ask how much something costs and how to buy a train/bus ticket. So we started with very basic things.
On the next meeting Yu is going to teach me Chinese history. So I am looking forward to meet him next Friday!