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At the moment it is the Spring Festival or New Year in Asia. Commonly know as Chinese New Year. This year 2016 is the year of the Monkey an animal who has magic properties.

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I was born under that sign since my birth year was the year of the Monkey, 2016 is the 4713th Chinese Year. According to Chinese Horoscope calendar, the first day of Red Monkey is on February 4, 2016. Monkey is the 9th animal in 12 zodiac signs.

Many Chinese women try to give birth in a year of the Monkey, as they believe that this will make their babies clever. In China saying, “Your kid is like a Monkey,” is perceived as praise.

In traditional Chinese mythology, the monkey god is almost all-pervading and all powerful. Images of the monkey (god) can be seen in many traditional settings as a talisman of protection: According to ancient beliefs, the stone monkey blesses the baby with peace, and the baby will be very capable and efficient when he or she grows up.

Monkeys frequently appeared in Chinese literature, most famously “the Monkey King” — Sun Wukong, hero of classical novel Journey to the West. In India he is known at Hanuman and is mentioned in both the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.

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When I lived in Beijing in 2004 we celebrated the year of the Monkey. This period of the year in China is marked with fireworks day and night for 7 days. Everyone buys fireworks and firecrackers. If I remember correctly I believe that each person living in Beijing was allowed to buy 20 Kg of fireworks of all kinds and some of them where the size of what is used here in Canada in professional displays. The Chinese grocery stores sold them on the sidewalk. You could buy the little firecrackers in wheels of 600, you lit up your match set the fuse on fire and ran as fast as you can, it was so much fun, the noise was deafening. Every one did it and it was fun, the sky were illuminated with firework displays.

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Also at the time of my living in China, the old Imperial Temples were being all restored after decades of neglect. We visited them and prayed to the various gods for good luck or fortune or whatever, burning incense sticks. The Lama Temple in Beijing was a favourite of mine as was the Temple of Heaven south of the Forbidden City. The Lama Temple was for many centuries the Official Residence of the Yellow Hat Buddhist and where the Tibetan Dalai Lama came to reside when he would visit the Emperor. Tibet in Imperial times was an independent kingdom.

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The Lama temple in Beijing

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The Temple of Heaven set in a great park full of Juniper trees and old Cypresses.

These temple complexes were not open to the public in Imperial times, they were reserved for the Emperor who would come and perform complex religious rites to bring prosperity, rain, good harvest for the people. The Emperor would travel the short distance from the Forbidden City with an army of Mandarins, Courtiers, family members and other dignitaries, flag bearers and guards along a special road paved with great stones. The people had to kowtow and it was forbidden to look at the Emperor on pain of death.

I was lucky to live in Beijing when these temples were being restored, they had suffered enormous neglect under Mao and his fanatical young Red guards.

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Temple of Confucius and the academy for the training of Mandarins who would work in the Imperial government. In the final exam students were judged for their handwriting and ability to compose poetry under some very strict guidelines based on ancient rules, the judges would then recommend the winner to the Emperor. This 5.4 acre temple park was until recently a school for Communist Cadre and a day care centre for their children, I saw it before restoration in 2005, it was a sad looking place.

But if you are in China food is an important topic, the Chinese love fine cuisine, unfortunately it does not exist here, what you find in most Chinese restaurants is very poor imitation or made up Chinese food, dishes that are unknown in China. I was spoiled by Chinese cuisine while in Beijing.

My favorite dish was Peking Duck and I had my favourite restaurant to go to for it. Beijing’s Da Dong Restaurant is one of the best places in the world serving up Peking duck. Succulent, crispy and perfectly sweet when lightly dipped in a bean sauce, roast Peking duck is pure indulgence. The owner chef is very famous Dong Zhen-xiang.

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DaDong dining room in Beijing

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Duck’s roasting in wood fired stone ovens.

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Roast duck with all the condiments and the paper thin pancakes.

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I also liked the Sea Cucumber, (it’s not a cucumber) delicious.

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First image on the left is Duck Foie Gras shaped into small balls and coated with a hawthorne berry sauce. Middle photo duck steak and on the right duck meat wrapped in cucumber slices.

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Here is Chef Dong Zhen xiang sitting surrounded by other chefs.

There are so many great dishes and none I ever found outside of China. This is all part of the food culture in China which can be refined. In the days prior to the Olympics in Beijing  prices were still reasonable and you could go out almost every night to the restaurant.

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The Northern Gate, Shenwu-men or Divine Prowess, of the Forbidden City looking south towards Meridian Gate, Wu-men and Tian’An Men, Heavenly Peace Gate.

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