Monthly Archives: February 2017

Around the World #34: Li Song Mei

Li Song Mei: Picture of Dan Perry and Li Song Mei.

With my guest, Li Song Mei.

My guest today is Li Song Mei. I met her through Arthur, her former teacher, who was on episodes 30 and 31 of the podcast. Li Song Mei is from a small village in Guizhou Province, China. She's currently in grad school in Beijing.

Li Song Mei is a member of the Hmong (Miao) ethnic minority group. We discussed a lot about her culture, including the largest traditional Hmong festivals. You can read more about the Sister's Rice Festival in the show notes below.

Let's listen to the show, and don't forget to subscribe on iTunes to get regular updates:

Download this Episode (right-click and choose “save as”)

Show notes:

  • There are around five million ethnic Hmong people in the world, three million of whom are in China.
  • Hmong New Year traditionally takes place at the end of the harvest season, which can be any time from October to December. It's a time for family gatherings, ancestral worship and celebrating the year to come.
  • Li Song Mei mentioned the “lusheng” during the podcast. This is a musical instrument made from multiple bamboo pipes. Here's a short video of one being played:
  • Li Song Mei also talked about the significance of the butterfly in Hmong culture. This page has more information about the butterfly, as well as several other Hmong mythological creatures.
  • This article talks about the last native speakers of several languages. It's always sad to read about someone who has no one to talk with in their native tongue.
  • Microsoft's campus is indeed located in Redmond, Washington, 16 miles east of Seattle.
  • I mentioned my book, 1000 Days Between. You can read about it on Amazon or on this website.
  • Fenghuang is an ancient water town in southern China. You can read more about it, and see some amazing photos here.
  • I recently visited the Xuan Kong Hanging Monsatery near Datong. Here are a few of my photos:
    Li Song Mei: Li Song Mei: Picture of Xuan Kong Hanging Monsatery.

    Li Song Mei: Picture of Xuan Kong Hanging Monsatery. Li Song Mei: Picture of Xuan Kong Hanging Monsatery.

    Click here for more of my photos from the monastery.

Finally, Li Song Mei provided the following photos and description of the Hmong rice festival. Thanks!

Li Song Mei: Picture of parade. Li Song Mei: Picture of parade. Li Song Mei: Picture of parade.

The Sister's Rice Festival is celebrated by the Miao (Hmong) ethnic people in southwestern China's Guizhou province, especially in the Taijiang and Jianhe counties along the banks of the Qingshui River. It is regarded as the oldest Asian Valentine's Day.

Li Song Mei: Picture of parade. Li Song Mei: Picture of parade. Li Song Mei: Picture of parade. Li Song Mei: Picture of parade.

A few days before the festival, Miao (Hmong) girls collect special wild flowers and leaves in the mountains to produce natural colors to dye the glutinous rice, known as "sister's rice.” The rice is dyed blue, pink, yellow, and white to represent spring, summer, autumn and winter respectively.

Li Song Mei: Picture of Li Song Mei.

Li Song Mei

Li Song Mei: Picture of food. Li Song Mei: Picture of village.
Li Song Mei: Picture of rice.

Sticky rice.

At festival time, thousands of Miao (Hmong) girls and women dressed up in their spectacular embroidered clothes and silver ornamentations in a parade. Bachelorette young Miao women dressed up in their finest beautiful embroidered clothing with silver torque, headdresses with phoenix crown and hair pins.

Li Song Mei: Picture of outfits. Li Song Mei: Picture of embroidered outfits.
Li Song Mei: Picture of Li Song Mei.

Li Song Mei in traditional clothes.

Li Song Mei: Picture of embroidery.

When young men arrive, they begin to single out the women they hope to marry someday and begin to sing for them. The young women respond to their songs by giving them a drink of rice wine and the sister's rice wrapped in handkerchiefs with different symbols on them.

Li Song Mei: Picture of embroidery. Li Song Mei: Picture of celebration circle.
Li Song Mei: Picture of silver outfits.

The long dinner table.

Li Song Mei: Picture of girl in traditional outfits.

A pair of red chopsticks means "I love you too"; one chopstick means, "no, thank you"; a garlic or red chili indicates a flat refusal; and pine needles indicate that the boy should present silks and colorful threads and that she will wait for him. There are also many other activities, including bullfighting, horse racing, traditional Miao performances and Lusheng music.

Li Song Mei: Picture of embroidery. Li Song Mei: Picture of girls in silver.

Li Song Mei: Picture of baskets.

Around the World #33: Morgan McKinnon

Morgan: Picture of Dan and Morgan.

Morgan and I are super happy to be with our plant.

My guest today is Morgan McKinnon. She has been living in Beijing for over four years. We talked a lot about expectations versus reality in moving to China, and some of the great and not-so-great aspects of living here. One of Morgan's many messages is that you have to keep challenging yourself. Following her own advice, she'll move to Morocco next school year, where she'll start the next chapter of her life.

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Morgan McKinnon:

Download this Episode (right-click and choose “save as”)

Morgan has set up a Go Fund Me page to help raise funds for her upcoming surgery. If you are interested in donating, click here.

Show notes:

  • This frugal blogger met a couple who spent $30,000 eating at restaurants last year. He tells their story in the article.
  • Here is how your FICO credit score is calculated. They give a high-level overview, but the nitty gritty details remain a mystery.
  • Here's an article with pictures of men baring their bellies in Beijing.
  • There are many websites dedicated to showing pictures of funny English signs in China. Here is one of them. I would've found these signs a lot more funny before I moved to China. But now, not so much. I can read a bit of Chinese, so I can see how most of the bad translations happened. And I see these signs so often, they've become normal. “Fuck the duck until exploded” is among the many “gems” on this site that are now just “meh” to me.
  • The “fatberg” problem we talked about is worse than I thought. It turns out whole world's sewers are in trouble.
  • If you can't read Chinese, then Ctrip is arguably the easiest way to book train tickets in China. Check out the new unofficial jingle Morgan created for them during the show!
  • Or if you're feeling brave and want the cheapest price, you can try the official website for booking tickets, 12306. Only available in Chinese.
  • Here's how to do a hook turn in Melbourne:

Here are some of my pics from Beijing:

Morgan: Picture of Jing Shan Park in Beijing, China.

You can get a good view of the city from Jing Shan Park.

Morgan: Picture of scorpions and seahorses for sale in Beijing, China.

Scorpions and seahorses, a yummy snack.

Morgan: Picture of a man riding a rickshaw through a Beijing hutong.

Hutongs are one of the highlights of the city.

Morgan: Picture of kids playing in Bada hutong, Beijing, China.

Bada hutong.

Click for more photos from Beijing

And here are some pics from camping on the Great Wall. We'll probably get back to the Wall this spring.

Morgan: Picture of camping on the Great Wall of China. Morgan: Picture of camping on the Great Wall of China. Morgan: Picture of camping on the Great Wall of China. Morgan: Picture of camping on the Great Wall of China.

Finally here some more of my Great Wall photos

Biking around Beautiful Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake: Picture of Katie.

Katie, with our bikes.

At the end of our disastrous bike trip through Yunnan (read more about it here), Katie and I had one last day to spend around Dali's old town. We decided to rent a bike and pedal around nearby Erhai (洱海) Lake. Shaped like an ear (“Erhai” means “ear-shaped sea”) and at 1,972 meters (6,470 feet) above sea level, the lake is the second-largest highland lake in all of China.

We had a great day of riding along the shore, through many crowded towns full of cars trying to squeeze through narrow roads. Along the way we ate lake fish for lunch and found an interesting dragon festival in a small village. The next day we rode a train for seven hours to the big city of Kunming, from which Katie flew back to Beijing and I took another train for 33 hours. Just 'cuz.

The best part of our day at Erhai Lake: no broken chains. Here are some photos:

Erhai Lake: Picture of workers and mountains.

There were many fields like this one, with ubiquitous mountains in the background.

Erhai Lake: Picture of Katie next to her bike.


Erhai Lake: Picture of wedding photography at Erhai Lake.

The lake is a popular place for wedding photography.

Erhai Lake: Picture of dragon performers.

This group was preparing for a performance.

Erhai Lake: Picture of dragon dancer.

The dragon dance begins.

Erhai Lake: Picture of curious girl.

One of the young performers.

Erhai Lake: Picture of tea drinker.

Tea time.

Erhai Lake: Picture of dancer. Erhai Lake: Picture of onlooker.

An onlooker.

Picture of dragon dancer. Picture of Katie and old radio guy.

This guy was having a fun time with his radio.

Picture of temple.

We found this temple along the way.

Picture of field.

A field at sunset.

Picture of Katie on her bike.

On our way back to Dali.

Picture of rapeseed field.

A rapeseed field.

More photos from our Erhai Lake trip

Around the World #32: What Do You Call Armor That Breaks? Chain Fail!

Chain Fail: Picture of Katie and Dan with their bicycles.

About to start our bike trip.

In this episode of the podcast, I talk about my bicycle trip with Katie through Yunnan Province in China. We bought folding bikes for the Chinese New Year, loaded them with gear and took off for a two-week adventure. At least that was the plan.

While the trip was basically a disaster, we did learn some valuable lessons (or at least some of our previously-learned valuable lessons were reinforced):

Around the World #31: Arthur and Xiao Ni

Picture of Dan, Arthur and Xiao Ni in Shaxi, China.

Happy Year of the Rooster, from Dan, Arthur, and Xiao Ni.

This is my continued discussion with Arthur and Xiao Ni. (To listen to my first podcast with them, click here.) Xiao Ni continued to impress me with her stories. Unfortunately, as she sojourned through Turkey and Lebanon, she was plagued by misfortune and people of ill repute. Maybe the theme for this show should be “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.”

If you like this show, I'd really appreciate it if you left a review on iTunes or Stitcher. This is a low-budget podcast with no advertising; reviews can be super helpful in spreading the word. Thanks for your support!

Now, let's listen to the podcast:

Download this Episode (right-click and choose “save as”)

Show notes:

  • In English, we have one word for the children of your parents' siblings: Cousin. But in Chinese, they have many words, depending on which side of the family this cousin is on, whether they are male or female, and whether they are the children of your parents' older or younger siblings. Confused yet? We're just getting started! Here are some of the words for “cousin” in Chinese: 表弟 and 表哥 and 表姐 and 表妹 and 堂弟 and 堂哥 and 堂姐 and 堂妹. On top of that, if a Chinese person refers to their “brother” or “sister” in English, they often mean their cousin or their close friend.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine has five elements, one of which is fire. Since moving to China, I've heard a few people talk about “too much heat.” I still don't fully understand this, but here is an explanation to get you started.
  • Another ancient Chinese concept is that of Yin and Yang, the opposing forces which are also complimentary. Here is some more info.
  • Xiao Ni used the ubiquitous Airbnb during her trip. I haven't used this service yet, but I have been using Couchsurfing since 2005. I occassionally host people in Beijing. Here is my profile. (You must be logged in to view it.)
  • I mentioned Palmyra, thinking that the ruins were in Lebanon. They actually were in Syria. And I use were instead of are because ISIS destroyed them. This is tragic.

Around the World #30: Arthur and Xiao Ni

Picture of Dan, Arthur and Xiao Ni in Shaxi, China.

Dan, Arthur, and Xiao Ni.

My guests for the next two podcasts are Arthur and Xiao Ni. After a long career in Seattle, Arthur came to China to volunteer with the Peace Corps. Nowadays, he spends large portions of his time volunteering at a university in Guiyang, a “small city” of 3 million in Guizhou province. Xiao Ni is Arthur's former student. She didn't want her whole life to be planned for her, so after college, she decided to go on a long journey around Tibet, India, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt. All she needed was a way to pay for it.

Let's listen to my podcast with Arthur and Xiao Ni:

Download this Episode (right-click and choose “save as”)