Poor Damn Monkey-Chinatown was just not giving any love at all to the symbol of this New Year!  When we were in China and it was Year of the Horse, there were ponies and stallions everywhere…big, small, red, gold, etc. decorating all the shops and homes.  Horsey party to the extreme and very festive.   So, we were missing the real Chinese New Year celebrations and decided to check out Seattle’s version this year.  What a disappointment!

Dragons and firecrackers welcome the Year of the Monkey!


Now, true the egg tarts always delight from the Chinese bakery there, but the first weekend we went, right before the official 2/8 holiday, there was nothing going on at all.  Boring.  We went back this weekend and finally, there were some dancing dragons and firecrackers going off to a small degree to welcome the New Year and the gods of wealth.

But really the crowd was there to feast on the $3 bargain food offer where you could stand in line to get select bites at the various food places.  Not really our cup of tea and not a cultural event but it seemed popular with the gorging masses.  Meh.

Still, I was really seeking out even a few crazy looking monkey decorative items in the shops.  Can an expat get a little selection of monkey-themed decals or anything really to celebrate???  After shopping at the local grocery, Uwajimaya, for some salmon for our Valentine’s dinner, we grabbed our egg tarts and headed home, monkey-less.

Now, in Shanghai, I hear that having monkeys as your in-home pet is all the rage.  Illegal, of course, but it’s probably not enforced and I’ve seen articles where folks are putting leashes on their monkeys and taking to the streets for a stroll.  We saw a few monkey pets on the streets while they were there and they did turn heads.  I’m sure in this Year of the Monkey, it’s very high status to actually own one.  I am the Year of the Rat-wonder if the Chinese locals will leash up their rats and parade them around too?  We didn’t really see rats over there too much-any small creature like that is considered food and served up as a lunch protein selection.  Yum!

Got my egg tarts!
Got my egg tarts!


Bring on the dragons and vinyl-an urban weekend in Seattle!

Chinese New Year and TET Celebrations in Seattle collided this weekend with far less pollution and far fewer people than last year’s adventure in Shanghai and Hanoi.  While it was awesome to be in a crowd again while visiting the International District, I missed the craziness of the scooters in Hanoi during TET.   I did find my favorite Taiwanese crackers at the Uwajimaya Supermarket and sampled some egg tarts-always tasty but the crust seemed so heavy after the light airy layers of pastry goodness found at the KFC’s in China.  Warm buttery heaven egg custard deliciousness in my hand…ahhhh…I miss it so.

We celebrated CNY and TET with dragons and performances and food
We celebrated CNY and TET with dragons and performances and food

To get everywhere we needed to go, we took advantage of multiple transportation options since we don’t have a car here in Seattle (Enjoy our Kia, little Mia!).  For lunch on Friday with David Axelrod giving a talk at my work, we booked a Zipcar and enjoyed hearing all about David’s journey working with Obama.  His book looks like a winner and I can’t wait to read it.  Thom, hurry up and read, read, read or I’m stealing it.  SERIOUSLY.

I got to ask David the inevitable question–How does HIllary win in 2016?  He felt she got beat by Obama because she was too confident going into the Primaries thinking she was destined to win without too much effort and also she wasn’t as authentic as Obama when campaigning.  This time around, hopefully she will be herself and make history as the first woman President.  I’m here to help her in any way I can.  Go Hillary!

David Axelrod signing his book for me,  Very smart and funny guy.
David Axelrod signing his book for me, Very smart and funny guy.

On Saturday, Thom and I jumped on the Metro Bus first, walked ALOT to get to the International District and then found another bus to go to the SoDo district to explore highly rated Silver Platters for our first vinyl purchases (at least in the last 20 years).  What goes around, comes around and the cool hipster thing to do now is to use the cloud for your music on the go but go retro and use vinyl records at home for a leisurely music experience.  Well, this year Thom got spoiled rotten with a turntable and speaker for his birthday.

New hobby!  After wandering the streets by the stadiums to find a Car2Go, we finally found one after exploring some cool home stores (handmade desks for only $1800.00-what a steal) and finding the main Macrina bakery–it was a high carb day for sure!  Can you say half price day old potato rolls???  We really just went in to use their bathroom after being locked out of the Starbucks facilities in the International District.  Upon asking for the key to the Starbucks ladies room, I was informed that the store had “closed the bathroom for the day”… at 2 p.m.  WTF!!!  Even paying customers were s%#t out of luck, literally.  I get that on a busy day with the CNY festivities that they might not want to clean up hourly but that’s just basic customer service 101.  Shame on them.  Luckily for us, Macrina was awesome–bathrooms AND bakery products.  Win-Win.

Thom's new obsession-Vinyl!  He got the complete package for his birthday.
Thom’s new obsession-Vinyl! He got the complete package for his birthday.

Sunny beautiful skies welcomed us outside to walk the dogs around Seattle Center.  Back home, we found a table at CostPlus World Market that would hold our new turntable and Bose speakers, so we hopped into the closest Prius Zipcar and off we went.  You have to rent it for at least a hour so we grabbed the table and raced to catch the sunset from Kinnear Park that overlooks the city.  Scores of tourists from France and a wedding party were also enjoying the city lights.  Gorgeous!  A must see for tourists and city residents alike.

Sunday dawned a new day and I had to get a start on the week with LOTS of work to do starting at 6 a.m. and continuing pretty much all day.  Why must I be one of “those people” who feel a need to work hard to be the best.  Shame on me. But I’m lucky to have a great career that allows me to take care of my family so work I will.  On Friday, I leave for a journey to the Midwest where I hope to combine work with a visit to see Mom and Becky, snowy roads not withstanding, next weekend.  If thwarted by crappy weather, at least I will get to see my best friend and sister from another mother,  Patti, in Indy and will wind up somehow in Detroit on Monday to work for a week.   Oh boy–Detroit in the middle of winter–what fun.  NOT.  At least my busy weekend was capped off with another incredible sunset-it never gets old and I will be dreaming of returning to it (and Thom and the puppies) as I toil away in Motown.

Another outstanding sunset caps off a busy weekend
Another outstanding sunset caps off a busy weekend

CNY has arrived with a BIG BANG!

Holy.  Crap.  Midnight arrived with a BIG ASS BANG a few minutes ago.  Waves of toxic fumes are rolling down the streets and the noise is deafening as everyone with a lighter is setting off firecrackers.  I even saw eruptions of fire being thrown out of high rise windows.  Here is what it is like to experience CNY in Shanghai and I am told it lasts all night long: 

On a quieter note, it has been interesting learning the traditions and superstitions surrounding Chinese New Year or CNY as we “locals” call it.  CNY has been celebrated for more than 4,000 years so there are ALOT of them.  2014 is the year of the horse so everywhere you look, there are horses for sale.  Mine had to be sparkly and cute of course.  To bring good luck and immediate money, you put money on the horse’s back.  Done and done.

My good luck pony!
My good luck pony!

It is also necessary to wear red to counter bad luck, and many find it necessary to wear red underwear and a red string around the waist or wrist  plus wearing a gold necklace is said to have spiritual power to conquer evil spirits.   Done and done.  Red also plays a role in the legends that monsters feared the color red so all CNY decorations are red to ward off monsters.  GOOD TO GO!   Other dos, don’ts and symbols include:

*Chinese New Year’s Eve.  You should only speak positive and lucky words.  Firecrackers are supposed to be set off at midnight.  I  heard an incoming whistle followed by a huge bang at 8 p.m. so somebody didn’t get the message.  The monsters in Chinese legends fled when lighted bamboo made loud cracking noises so thus the custom of firecrackers going off.  I also heard that the sound attracts the god of money to your house on the fourth day when more fireworks go off.   Lots of money and no monsters result in an AQI of 500+ from the toxic fumes let off by the firecrackers.  Everything in life is a trade off.  I’m buying a new designer air mask with all the money I will receive from my good fortune lucky pony.

*Chinese New Year’s Day.  People get up early today and set off MORE FREAKING FIREWORKS!  Because the AQI of 500+ hasn’t dissipated yet so WTF.  There are also many taboos like you can’t sweep because good luck can be swept away for the new year—no problem, our ayi has the day off.  Pink got her “red envelope” which is a bonus you give those who work for you and hopefully she is enjoying some time off with her family.  She keeps our house clean and we miss her.   You are also not allowed to use sharp tools, take out garbage, wash anything or take a bath—all actions that could negatively affect your luck in the new year.  I plan to stay in my PJ’s all day and have a movie marathon while waiting out the air quality to improve.

*Every day following CNY  has significance and many, many, many rules.  Many shops and restaurants are closed for at least five days to observe the holiday, though many workers have to go home for several weeks to visit relatives.  The seventh day after CNY is the day of the Ren Ri or Human Day.  Legend has it that the goddess Nu Wa created creatures in 2 days- chickens first, followed by dogs, pigs, sheep, cattle, horses and humans.  I’m thinking cats should be in there too since they act so superior???  Supposedly if you eat qi bao geng which is a congee made of 7 vegetables or fruits on this day you will rid your body of pathogenic energies.  Hopefully this dinner will cleanse me of all the toxins caused by the fricking firecracker pollution.  Of course, I will be in Vietnam on this day enjoying our vacation with warm weather and hopefully cleaner air.

CNY has arrived with a BANG!

*CCTV (China government TV) runs a huge TV special all night with TV stars and singers on Chinese New Year’s Eve.  It is a huge tradition like the ball dropping in Times Square minus Ryan Seacrest.  Unfortunately, our on again/off again TV service has decided to be “off” tonite so we won’t get to watch it.  So sad—I guess we will just have to continue our VEEP marathon instead.  Selina Meyers, you make me laugh so hard I’m crying or is that the pollution making my eyes tear up…..next year, I’ll plan on being out of the country for the whole holiday but, for now, we are going to sit back, insert the ear plugs and pray for a cease fire soon.

Chinese New Year-Yu Yuan Explosion of Lights as Holiday Nears


Pony DisplayThere was a towering gold horse, of course, with smoke streaming out his huge bedazzled nostrils (what the Hell, might as well add to the hazy polluted skies) as well as Snow White & the Dwarfs, Mary & Joseph, the Easter Bunny and many other sequined and totally unconnected characters all featured at Yu Yuan Gardens in an over-the-top Chinese New Year Celebration for the Year of the Horse.  It didn’t make any sense whatsoever but it was quite the show that you just have to experience to believe so I shot some video for you:

Crazy, right?  This is THE place to see Chinese New Year decorations in Shanghai, similar to perhaps Rockefeller Center in NYC but much more colorful and crazy.   I’m just glad that I’m not here for the Year of the Rat–can’t even imagine an enormous rat taking center stage for all this hoopla!  Yu Yuan also has gardens, closed when we visited, plus a huge array of shops that attracts LOTS of tourists as well as locals looking for Chinese New Year decorations.

After my office got all dolled up for the holiday, I just had to dress up our house as well.  I got all the essentials–red hanging lanterns with lots of gold accents, a red metallic stuffed pony, red velvet knotted hanging thing with sequined gold pony and fish, etc.  When in Rome!  I bargained hard but the vendors were tough to negotiate down in price this time.  All in all, I got all my tacky colorful decorations for under $40.

I finally found a nice stall with a pleasant young man to carry around my stuff as I picked it all out.  Thom, of course, wanted nothing to do with the process and waited outside as I haggled like the stubborn mule I have been accused of being and probably am.  WP_20140117_040Now, Thom gets to hang the shit all over the apartment as we start to stock up on groceries and DVD’s.  You see, we have been warned by Fiona that you’ll get a firecracker up your ass if you step outside during Chinese New Year and we trust Fiona.  We plan on hunkering down for the first few days of the holiday, that really goes on for about 40 days as everyone travels back to their families to celebrate.  Midway during the holiday period, if we survive the toxic fumes from all the fireworks going off to ensure wealth and happiness (but obviously not good health) in the New Year, we are going to go to Vietnam where we will no doubt have more crazy adventures.  Stay tuned!

Yu Yuan