Wednesday, March 20, 2013

T is for tú zhāng 图章 (chop, seal)

Four kids in the class have name chops from their visit in China. They are all carved from fine stone, exquisite with the figure of their animal year.  
图 means picture and 章 means chop. A tú zhāng, which is also known as a chop, is a stamp of a person's name. The chop is usually carved by hand and made of bamboo, wood, or fine stone. The chop is dipped in red paste and used for the signing of important papers.
This is the picture of an imperial jade seal of famed Chinese Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) of the Qing Dynasty.
The seal was made of Hetian jade, China's best quality jade, in 1790 to mark Qianlong's 80th birthday and the 55th year of his reign.
It's time to make our own name chop! It's easy and safe. Use pencil to write their Chinese name on a piece of foam, then tape it on a block. It's done! Use the stamp ink and press down. They also made some picture stamp. Look at this cute bunny!


They drew on a scroll of paper what they learned about China and then put their name chops on it. Love it!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My birthplace - Gansu 甘肃

Rui Xue was born in Zhangye City of Gansu Province, which is located in the northwest of China. Gansu is different from other places in China we covered in the class in the way that Gansu hasn't changed as much as many of China's provinces. The population is still largely rural, and it remains on the frontier and development has lagged in comparison to some of its eastern neighbors.
Every time when we introduce a birthcity, there is so much to talk about. I try to pick something children feel connected or familiar with. We have a girl from Hebei Province. Two girls were excited when they found out they lived in the easternmost and westernmost ends of the Great Wall of China. The westernmost end of the Great Wall of China, Jiayu Pass, is in Gansu Province. The Jiayu Pass remains largely intact, and is in remarkably good condition considering it was built in the 14th century during the early days of the Ming Dynasty.

But Zhengye is different from other part of Gansu Province. The city has numerous streams, abundant sunlight and fertile soil, making it an important agricultural centre for Gansu. Zhangye is famous for the Giant Buddha Temple, in which a two-storey Giant Buddha Hall houses China’s biggest indoor Buddha statue. The gold-plated and painted Giant Buddha is made out of clay and is 34 meters long, 7.5 meters shoulder to shoulder and has feet that are about 4 meters long and the ears are 2 meters long.

Many people visit Zhangye to see the amazing Danxia Landform Geological Park. The unusual colors of the rocks are the result of red sandstone and mineral deposits being laid down over 24 million years.
We used play-doh to build Danxia landform model on the paper plate. They mixed the play-doh of different colors to build the colorful mountains. They sprinkled the color sand and even made a person climbing the mountain!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

My birthplace - Hunan 湖南

Judy was born in Hunan Province, located in the south central part of China. She was very excited today, sharing her photoes when she was a baby and the picture album of Hunan.
Hunan means "south of lake". The province is situated mainly south of Dongting Lake
, second biggest fresh water lake in China. Bordering on its north is a province called Hubei, which means "north of lake". Dongting Lake  is famous in Chinese culture as the place of origin of Dragon Boat racing. We celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival every year, so they know the story of Quyuan, who was an ancient Chinese poet in the State of Chu, which is nowadays' Hunan. 
The class got excited when they saw the video of the longest cable car ride in the world, 7,455 meters, in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in the north of Hunan Province. But they thought it too scary to ride. The floating mountains in the Hollywood movie, Avatar, are actually the photoes of the stone mountain of the park.
Hunan Cuisine, also called Xiang Cuisine, is one of 8th major cuisines in China. It's famous for spicy food. Hunan dishes are normally made with fresh chili peppers. Girls from Hunan Province are often called "spicy girls". 
We made some paper red peppers while we were watching the music video of famous Chinese folk song Spicy Girl. Judy was wondering if spicy girls are the farmers of red peppers in China.

Friday, March 8, 2013

S is for shàng hǎi 上海

I picked Shanghai as today's topic because I believe some of the kids in the class will visit China in the near future. When foreigners visit China, a lot of them will land on Shanghai or choose to visit the city, which is the financial and commercial center of China and also the largest city by population. 23 million people live in Shanghai, almost 3 times of the population of New York city.

Shanghai sits on the Yangtze River Delta on China's eastern coast. It is one of the earliest Chinese ports opened to international trading. I showed them Shanghai's city skyline, which some of them saw before: Oriental Pearl Tower, Jinmao Tower, World Financial Center, the Huangpu River and numerous skyscrapers along the Bund. When I talked about the first commercially-used magnetic levitation train in the world, which was in use in Shanghai since 2004, they asked me all kinds of questions: How fast can it go? Is the whole train a huge magnet? Is it safe? Will people get dizzy on train? I hope some day they can take a ride on the train in Shanghai!

I miss Shanghai Xiao Long Bao so much! Although the class is familiar with how dumplings are made and what they look like, they never know Shanghai is so famous for its soup dumplings, also called Xiao Long Bao. The Shanghai dumplings consists of a ball of minced pork, wrapped in a pleated flour dough skin, which is then steamed. But every xiao long bao also holds a delightful surprise: there's a spoonful of hot soup, made from chicken or pork, sometimes both, inside.
Thanks to my mom, we had our first Xiao Long Bao making experiment! We took turn to make one, step by step following my mom's instruction, pinching the edges of the dough into pleats and pressing each pleat to seal the dumpling. Look at what we made! They said they looked like little pumpkins! I think they are right! Then we steamed them for 15 minutes. They came out perfect! Yumm! 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lantern's Day

Today we celebrated Lantern's Day! The Lantern's Day in China is a festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunar year, marking the last day of the Chinese New Year.  The fifteenth day is the first full moon of that lunar year. According to tradition, at the beginning of a new year, when there is a bright full moon in the sky, there should be thousands of colorful lanterns hung out for people to appreciate. At this time, people will try to solve riddles on lanterns, eat glutinous rice balls and enjoy a family reunion.
My friend in China went to see a huge lantern exhibit and sent me some photoes. These lanterns are gorgeous. Some from Taiwan are popular, like the transformer, two huge dragons and Taipei 101. I showed them another familar video of the sky lantern festival held last week in Taiwan. People wrote their wish on the lantern and let them fly. They shouted 2013, which sounds like "love you all my life" in Chinese.

I had planned a paper lantern craft, but they want to make a lantern that can be lighted up. I made the lantern frame for them and laminated it, so the light can come out. They designed their own lanterns, drawing snake, panda, flower, butterfly, etc. Look at these lovely lanterns!  

I asked them to light the candle at night and sent me a photo. Here is one:
They told me they want to go to China on a Lantern's Day to see the huge lanterns, a full moon and eat the rice ball.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

R is for rùn 闰 (leap year)

We have an exciting science lesson today! It's about the traditional Chinese calendar - lunar calendar, which is based on the phases of the Moon.
In lunar calendar, a lunar month is the time between two new moons or full moons, which is 29.5 days. I showed them a video by history channel about moon phases and demonstrated with globe, flashlight and a pingpong ball as the moon.
So why does Chinese New Year fall on different days each year? Because Chinese look at the moon. Winter solstice is on 21st or 22nd of December. This is the shortest day in the northern hemisphere. The second new moon after winter solstice is the first day of Chinese new year. The next full moon is the last day of Chinese new year, which is the Lantern Festival.

Look at these two moon phases calendar in Jan. and Feb. of 2013:

The shortest day in 2012 is Dec. 21st. The first diagram shows that the first new moon after Dec. 21st is Jan. 11th, 2013 and the second one shows the second new moon is on Feb. 10th, which is the first day of Chinese New Year. The next full moon, which is on Feb. 25th, is the last day of Chinese New Year, which is the Lantern Festival. 
So today's class is actually about lunar calendar, not about leap year. The calculation of leap year would be too hard for them. The essential question for today's class is how moon changes. We did a fun craft to demonstrate moon phases. They used yellow paper to represent sun, red strips as light, a green circle as the earth and black and white as moon phases.
I ask them to observe the moon on Feb. 25, which is the last day of Chinese New Year, and see if the moon is big and round, because that day is a full moon.
I love Chinese way to determine the calendar, which is more correct in terms of seasons. In China, we never say Chinese New Year. Instead, we call it Spring Festival. Because the second new moon after the winter solstice is the beginning of spring.

Friday, February 15, 2013

My birthplace - Beijing 北京

There is so much information about Beijing, the capital of China, and the place Ellis grew up before she joined her parents. She still remember her favorite nanny, the playground with slide, and even which nanny woke her up every moring.
The Great Wall of China is a must when one visits Beijing. They feel very proud that the Great Wall is the biggest man-made structure in the world. When I told the class Great Wall was built by hand over 2000 years ago, they realized how old the wall is. 
The other tourist destination they may find related is the Temple of Heaven. Many of them visited the Epcot of Disney World before and saw a replica of the Temple of Heaven in the China Park. The Temple was built in Beijing in 1406 for Emperors to pray for a good year of harvest.  
I also mentioned 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and showed them the pictures of the Stadium and the new look of Beijing. I want them to see the other side of this metropolitan city, modern, crowded and fast-pacing.  

We built two sections of Great Wall! It's not an easy thing. The bricks are light and hard to stack on, but they enjoyed it!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Q is for qí páo 旗袍

Every girl needs a Qipao! Qipao or cheongsam is one-piece Chinese dresses which were first worn by the Manchu women during the late Qing Dynasty (late 19th C.).Qipao features high collar, fabric buttons, slits and is usually made of silk, silk brocade or satin and featured intricate embroidery.
I showed them how Qipao transformed from wide and baggy style to the modern variations of bell sleeves or be sleeveless and are made out of a variety of fabrics. From photoes of Qipao, kids find out there are several patterns often shown on Qipao: peony symbolizes richness and prosperity; Chriysanthemum symbolizes longevity; Fish is a symbol of prosperity; Dragon symbolizes supreme power; Phoenix is a symbol of beauty and purity. 
It's time to design a Qipao! I gave them stickers, shining pieces, etc. They drew necklace, buttons, even the arm and legs! Lovely!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

P is for pīng pāng 乒乓

What's China's national sport? It's ping-pong! The English word actually comes from its Chinese pronunciation, ping pang. But Chinese didn't invent ping-pong. The game was invented first by an English man when he introduced the first action game of tennis on a table in 1890.
Why does China dominates ping-pong? I showed kids some photoes and they can see how popular ping pong is in a country of 1.3 billion people. It's a cheap sport, doesn't take a lot of space, and everyone plays it.
 In the rural areas, there are rows of concrete ping pong tables with a concrete "net" in schools and parks.
 In cities, there are indoor ping-pong stadiums and ping-ping sports schools. 
We watched the video of China's national team winning the champion in 2012 London Olympics. They are amazed at how fast a ping-pong ball can go. Then we talked about some basic rules of ping-pong and we tried it! 
We started from walking with the ball on the paddle, then walking while bouncing the ball on the paddle. They feel it hard to bounce such a small ball. Then two kids at a time tried it with the dinning table and a "net" in the middle.
Personally, I really enjoy ping-pong with my kids. It doesn't need a big space and offers entertainment and good exercise. The risk of injury is low and the intensity is manageable. I would love to see some day schools here can be equipped with ping-pong tables for kids!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

O is for ǒu 藕

The lotus is an aquatic plant natvie to southern Asia and Australia. It is regarded as the supreme flower of summer. Under the influence of Buddhism, Chinese poets have praised the cleanliness and purity of the lotus flower rising above the muddy water.
 (The Goddess of Mercy sits peacefully in a lotus blossom seat.) 
The Chinese make great use of every party of this special plant. The seeds are made into a sweet paste for desserts; the seed pods are used for medicine; and the roots, are canned or cooked as delicacies.
You can eat lotus seeds fresh from its pod or cook the dry seeds as dessets.
No one in the class ever see a lotus flower before, neither the lotus roots. I want to introduce lotus root to parents because they are good source of dietary fibers, vitamin C and provides healthy amounts of important minerals like copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, and manganese. When I passed on the dry lotus seeds from China, some of kids cracked them open and ate them and they said it's very yummy!

Parents can find the fresh lotus roots in local Chinese grocery, which are farm raised. In China, wild lotus roots in the fresh water lake can sell for high price because they need to picked up by hand, intact. This episode from A Bite of China shows how hard lotus roots workers work in 7 months a year in the muddy water to dig for lotus roots. (watch from 22:00 min.)
I brought pure lotus root powder from China and we made some jelly! To prepare, you first mash a spoonful of the powder in cold water to make a paste, then quickly stir while pouring in a cupful of boiling water. As you stir, the opaque powder becomes a transparent gel. The desired result is a bowl of light brown translucent jelly, which you eat with sugar either hot or cold. This is one of my favorite snack!                            

Friday, January 18, 2013

Introducing handwriting of Chinese characters

I've been thinking about how to introduce the handwriting of Chinese characters to my younger students for a while and haven't come up with a good idea. It's hard for them to relate the handwriting to the real life, let along the handwriting of Chinese characters which are made of strokes. I have two 4-year-olds who are not yet developed the concept of print. 
Our family took a trip to the Sanibel Island during Christmas. We had a great time at the beach. Joey and dad found seashells of different colors and varieties. While they were on the shell hunt, I was relaxing at the beach watching people playing sports, walking dogs, surfing, and some kids writing and drawing with sticks in the sand. Yes, how about making Chinese words by drawing pictures in the sand! I think it's a brilliant idea! It's related and fun!
So here I am, with the finest sand I can find from the Senibel Isand and an innovative picture At The Beach from Huy Vun Lee.  

It's a beautiful day at the beach.
Xiao Ming is learning to write Chinese.
"Many Chinese characters are like pictures." Says his mother as she draws in the sand.
"I know that character." Says Xiao Ming. "It means person. See, it looks like someone is walking." 
 I put the sand in the paper plate and kids used their fingers to draw Chinese characters. We started from the very basic strokes, like the horizontal and vertical strokes, sweeping left and dot, etc. Then we tried some simple characters, those from the book, like person, big, small, etc. It was fun! They were doing great, even following the stroke order!

I love this introduction activity! Through their drawing in the sand, they can easily see the similarities between characters and real life objects. And the book is educational, fun and beautiflly illustrated. They are very proud of themselves writing Chinese characters! 

So what's the prize for their hard work today? Sea shells from the Sanibel Island!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

N is for nián 年

Chinese new year is one month away! In these couple of weeks, I planed my lesson with connection to Chinese new year, which is the most important holidays in China. We talked about firecrackers before, my kids are familiar with the traditions, symbols and the tales of Chinese new year. They all know Nian is a monster who came out at the new year's eve to eat people and animals. I find this new animation about Nian with fantastic music and pictures.  The story adds a cute baby Nian. They enjoyed the new story and thought it was because Nian that Chinese celebrate the huge festival all over the world.

We made our own Nian! They drew scary Nian on the paper plate and add colorful stripes as hair. Then we had a lion dance with Nian masks! I love this simple lion dance to reinforce numbers in Chinese. 
Nian in Chinese means Year. This is how to say Happy New Year in Chinese:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Birthplace - Jiangxi 江西

I love to talk about birthplace with kids, enjoy their family albums and amazing stories. Research about these cities helps me better understand them, find some untold stories and see the tremendous changes China is going through everywhere.  
Today we talked about Jiangxi Province, located in the southeast of China. When I first know Ally's name in Chinese, I was wonering if she is from Jiangxi because her last name in Chinese sounds the same as the short name of Jiangxi. That's one part I like names in Chinese. They mean something. Some time we can guess which season or what time of the day one is born, like part of Ally's first name meaning early morning
The concept of 56 minority ethnic groups in China are hard for kids to understand because there is no real American ethnicity and they don't see people in their life with a unique language, food, attitute, cuisine, etc. So when I told them there are more than 30 minority ethnic groups living in Jiangxi, they don't know what they mean. I use American Indians as an example, they are still confused. I think I need to work on this.
Jiangxi is very famous for its porcelain. Best porcelain from China are from Jingdezhen in Jiangxi. We designed our own plates by using only blue paint or sharpies. They put Chinese pavilion, giant panda even Christmas tree on it. Lovely!