Gong Xi Fa Cai – Gung Ha Fat Choy*

*Wishing you prosperity – Mandarin and Cantonese

If the estimated of 155 million people travelling by train alone in China this New Year’s doesn’t impress you then how about the fact that it’s the year 4704 in the Chinese Calendar?

Celebrations started today – well actually yesterday with the time change – all over China for the lunar New Year – the Year of the Boar (Pig) in the Chinese Zodiac. This is the end of the 12 year Zodiac cycle and also the end of a 60 year cycle which means it is also the year DingHai and therefore a Golden year. Given the odds it normally only happens once in anyone’s life time. Having said that I just realized this is my second but I was only 3 months old at the time so I can be forgiven not remembering much about it.

The celebration begins with the first new moon of the New Year and ends with the full moon 15 days later. As with most cultures there are traditions, taboos and superstitions; and its noticeable how many of the same traditions we observe in the west at New Years.

Hui Chun or luck messages are an important part of New Year’s. As well as Fu - Luck  Click here to learn how to write ithanging them in your home or office it’s a nice idea to send one to a friend.

And of course everyone wants to know what’s in store for the New Year so Horoscopes are cast based on your Zodiac sign. You may want trying to find out your prospects for the Year of the Pig by going either here or here – or maybe cover all bases by going to both.

Though many of the traditions throughout the country are common there are variations from region to region. According to Chinese Television the celebrations in the South are of an “exuberant nature” while those of the North are “more austere.” Those decadent southerners! Since one of the Northern traditions is to eat Jiao Zi or steamed stuffed dumplings on the first day I’ll go with Beijing for the food and the exuberant South for almost everything else. Our friend Jack’s mother is a master Jiao Zi maker and I’m sure she has her own secret recipe but I did find this one on the Internet.

All good New Year’s celebrations have fireworks – in fact last night Laurent put his webcam up to the window and we watched the fireworks over Beijing together. Damn technology is wonderful! And though another piece of technology you might just want to create your own fireworks show for the Year of the Boar. ‘Cause every once and a while we all need fireworks in our lives.

Xin Nein Kuai Li – Sun Nin Fy Lok**
** Happy New Year – Mandarin and Cantonese

You Are BeeauutiFul!*

My late friend Ryan loved telling this Edith Evans story.

Dame Edith was not a beautiful woman by any standards – short, stout, hooded eyes and a rather plain face – but she was playing Millamant in The Way of the World and Millamant is described as the most beautiful woman in London and the most desired. A close friend was astounded that when Dame Edith glided on stage she was indeed incredibly beautiful and sexually desirable.

After the performance the friend demanded to know how she had done it? Make-up? Lighting?

“No,” said Dame Edith “I sit quietly in my dressing room before each performance and looking in the mirror say ‘You are beeauutiFul! You are beeauutiFul! You are beeauutiful!’* If I believe it so will the audience.”

I made this birthday card (above) a few years ago featuring some of the actresses who have played Cleopatra – Katherine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Sarah Bernhardt and Dame Edith. On stage I’ve seen Zoe Caldwell and Maggie Smith and wish I had seen Judi Dench and Frances de la Tour as Shakespeare’s seductive Serpent of the Nile. None of them great beauties but all of them capable of convincing you otherwise.

Now it appears the woman herself wouldn’t have made it to the finals of the Miss Thebes 28BC pageant. A story in yesterday’s Guardian reveals that a coin of the period shows thin lips, pointed nose and sharp chin – a rather shrewish looking woman. Hardly the creature conjured up by Vivian Leigh as Shaw’s sex kitten or Elizabeth Taylor in that over-blown, over-budget studio wrecker from the ’70s.

It appears that like Dame Edith and all those other actresses the real Cleopatra knew how to convince her audience that she was “beauutiFul.”

*I admit it, this is an incredibly futile attempt to put Evans’ viola-like voice into phonics.

Being Alive – A Song for Valentine’s


Stephen Sondheim doesn’t immediately spring to mind as the source of a romantic ballad caroling the joys of love appropriate to Valentine’s Day – if you were to look to Broadway that would be Rogers and Hart, the more saccharine Rogers and Hammerstein or the most saccharine Andrew Lloyd Webber. But my friend David sent me the link to a YouTube video of “Being Alive” from the current Broadway revival of Company and that got me thinking. The sentiments and tone of that brilliant eleven o’clock number strike me as both appropriate and romantic.

Though that Raul Esparza version is searing I prefer this John Barrowman clip for its clarity (despite the filmer’s cough) – you can hear almost all the lyrics.

I saw Company three times when the National Touring production played the Royal Alex back in 1972. Offended subscribers walked out during performances – the same people who had sat tittering through the frontal nudity of Hair couldn’t take the fully-clothed Sondheim-Furth attack on their own ‘70s sexuality. Anne Mervish told me that a number of morally upright Torontonians were canceling their subscriptions to protest the filth upon the wicked stage of Ed’s venerable old theatre. Me? I wanted to see it a 4th time.

What’s so romantic about this particularly number? Listen closely to the lyrics – not just Bobby’s but the remarks of the people around him – his partnered friends. Some are in new relationships, some in old, some in stable ones, some in rocky ones but each one of them has found love and more important company in their relationship.

Bobby sings:
Someone to hold you too close
Someone to hurt you too deep
Someone to sit in your chair
And ruin your sleep
And make you aware of being alive.

Harry says:
You have so many reasons for not being with someone but Robert you haven’t got one good reason for being alone.

And Paul adds:
Don’t afraid that it won’t be perfect, the only thing to be afraid of really is that it won’t be.

No, it doesn’t celebrate the first flush of young love or the glow of romantic love – but it does celebrate the love between people who know that relationships are more than roses, candy and candlelight.

And to my Valentine, thank you for making me aware.

Nap Time

My old buddy Don Keballs, from early Transport Canada days, will be pleased to read that a recent report suggests that an afternoon nap is beneficial to your health. This is a follow up to a statement made last week by France’s Minister of Health, Xavier Bertrand. M Bertrand wants to look into the benefits of encouraging napping on the job. I, for one, know that when Don had his afternoon siesta he certainly seemed to have more energy when it came time to put on his coat and boots to go home.

In the Garden of Madame Ha

Keeping up the food theme I’m posting a revised version of a short item from Vietnam with links to a few pictures of the cooking class in Hue. Again just click on the link to see the photos.
It was overcast and drizzly but we spent a great morning at Ting Gia Vien attending a cooking class with one of Vietnam’s national treasures – the delightful Madame Ha. Her restaurant has been on the must-visit list for tourists to Hue for 30 years. Her style of cooking is a trifle elaborate for the home cook – unless you happen to have six assistants hanging around to carve carrot flowers and taro root phoenix heads – but great fun to at least try.

Laurent and I were the only two in the class held on the bonsai and orchid crowded terrace of her restaurant/home. The surrounding garden has the appearance of having just grown naturally – trees, flowers, statues and rockeries thrown together with no plan – so unlike the elaborate food we were to prepare.

Madame Ha is one of nature’s teachers – her own joy in cooking, even after all these years, is contagious. We laughed at our mistakes, basked in her compliments on our omelet techniques and created some fun dishes. The Peacock and the Pineapple Lantern were not all that difficult but still labour intensive.

However the Dance of the Phoenix – our centre piece – was an elaborate dish that we laboured over for almost 3 hours. It took an hour alone to make the thin duck egg omelets – 30 in all. Next they had to be stuff, rolled and steam – another hour; then cut, assembled and fussed over. Though the final result was gorgeous to see and tasted great I won’t be serving it at any dinner parties in the near future.

However for anyone who has an extra six hours to spend in the kitchen, I’ll be more than happy to send you the recipes. But you’ll have to pay for your own kitchen helpers.

And that dragon in the picture at the left? It’s a a simple carrot and coleslaw side salad! Of course!