Category Archives: holidays

Chinese Girls in Frilly Dresses

little girls in frilly dresses, Qingdao, China

Chinese Girls in Frilly Dresses    —by Jinny Batterson

Last fall, one of our favorite former students in China emailed us exciting news—she was about to get married.  A few weeks later, our former student, “Mona,”  sent a second message with an attachment: a picture of her and her new husband in their wedding clothes.  Mona looked fetching, much dressier than the Mona I was used to—she posed, seated on a high stool, in an elegant flower-print dress with a brimmed hat to match. Her husband, decked out in a casual summer suit, looked over her shoulder.

For much of June this year, I had a chance to travel in mainland China and to reconnect with some former students and colleagues. Especially wonderful was a chance to visit Mona, whose new husband had been a high school classmate I didn’t yet know. They’d chosen each other after a long, sometimes long-distance courtship. I got to spend a couple of days with them. While I was visiting, Mona explained the logistics of arranging her wedding pictures, an increasingly common part of Chinese wedding preparations:

Few people actually buy clothes for their wedding pictures or have pictures taken on the wedding day itself, she explained. Rather, they rent dressy attire from specialized businesses and pick out a place and time to have professional still pictures taken, sometimes adding a brief video. They usually choose a historic or natural beauty spot, on a weekend day when both partners are off work. Because Mona is short for a woman of her generation in China, preparations were somewhat complicated. One weekend, she and her groom-to-be visited a rental agency and picked out clothes they liked in close to the proper size. The following weekend, they went back to the agency to pick up the clothes, which had been altered slightly for better fit.  On still a third weekend, she and her fiancé dressed in their rented finery and met a hired wedding photographer at the agreed upon site and time. Scheduling was tight and did not make allowances for weather. The day Mona’s pictures were taken, it poured down rain. The search for a “perfect shot” took most of a very long day and left both photographer and subjects tired and bedraggled. It took a fourth week to get the rental clothes dried, cleaned, and returned to the rental agency.   

Not long after my visit with Mona and her new spouse, I ventured out on my own to parts of central and northern China where I’d never visited before. In the northern seaside town of Qingdao, I came across a cobblestone plaza more filled than usual with elaborately dressed Chinese.  Primed by Mona’s descriptions of her wedding picture adventures, I realized that what I was viewing were a whole series of wedding photo shoots. June is a prime wedding month in China, just as in the U.S.  I counted eighteen different couples having their wedding pictures taken. The weather was windy and blustery—gowns and photo accessories were hard to keep steady. A dozen of the brides were wearing western-style dresses in white, while others had flowing formals in red, considered a lucky color in China. For one set of pictures, an entire wedding party was assembled, including five or six young girls in frilly white dresses. 

Over the course of this China visit, I noticed more and more young girls dressed in frills and bows, and not always in wedding groups. I’d see them on public busses, on trains and subways, in public parks. All were with at least one parent or grandparent. Often, a parkland family group would be taking selfies, the grandparents somewhat subdued in both manner and dress, the dads fairly casual, the moms dressier, anchored with the latest shoe fashions, the daughters often in white or pastel lacy dresses not much less formal than bridal finery. I crossed my fingers that the attention these girls were getting was a sign that the traditional stigma of having a daughter in China was lessening. None of the girls I saw looked neglected or abused. Many were far from docile. Most seemed valued family members, confident without being arrogant.

A few times, I saw girls and young women in less frilly outfits—on one park walk, the mom and dad in front of me strolled along at a normal pace, while their two daughters in trainers, shorts and tank tops raced ahead running sprints. At another public square, I noticed a young woman in jeans and a t-shirt with an English-language slogan: “Women are the Future,” it proclaimed.

My re-entry into the U.S. was through our 49th state, Alaska, where few women are shrinking violets. I saw the kennels run by the family of Susan Butcher, who’d earlier won the  long-distance Iditerod sled dog race four times.  I got to meet her elder daughter, now actively involved in training new generations of sled dogs for new challenges. Perhaps China’s daughters, and America’s, will one day soon be ready to take their places in a rapidly changing world that needs and welcomes their skills.   

Summer!

Summer!      —by Jinny Batterson

Our calendar and our weather sometimes seem out of sync these days. Spring-like days occur during what is officially labeled “winter.” Winter resurges sometimes during officially calendared “spring.” Inklings of summer can pop up at almost any time of year.  Regardless, to me there seems something slightly magical about the official start to summer—the summer solstice, which this year falls in the northern hemisphere on Wednesday, June 21. Where I now live in central North Carolina, the sunrise-to-sunset interval today is over 14 1/2 hours, with an additional several hours of pre-sunrise and post-sunset reflected light. 

When I was a child, summer included my longest vacation from school. School summer vacation overlapped with part of solar-calendar-designated summer, the period between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox around September 21.  Childhood summers were mostly carefree times then. They were times for going barefoot, toughening the soles of my feet so that after a few weeks I could show off for my friends by walking across all but the hottest, roughest surfaces without flinching. I could catch fireflies in jars and marvel at the way they blinked on and off. I found hideouts in the deepest glades of nearby woods and held picnics—sometimes with fake food and imaginary friends, at other times with filched cookies and Kool-aid plus real friends. Once, when I was invited to a friend’s country house for a sleepover, we took off our shoes and socks and spent part of an afternoon wading in a cool shallow stream, stirring up the bottom mud, then standing very still until the water cleared and small fish started nibbling at our toes. 

On hot, sultry August days, I could stretch out on a straw rug in front of a circulating floor fan in my grandmother’s slightly dimmed, cool living room and lose myself in a good book. At dusk, our family would gather on the front stoop, waiting for the ice cream truck to come down our street. I’d rush to be the first to reach the Good Humor man, holding out my dime for a creamsicle. Of course, there were challenges, too—I was very slow learning most outdoor skills, from riding a bicycle to swimming without panic in deeper water. In those days before chemical sunscreens, my fair skin would blister and peel if left exposed, so on beach excursions I was faced with the unpleasant choice of either covering up from head to foot or getting a painful sunburn. However, summer’s discomforts were vastly outweighed by the glories of its time-bending freedoms. 

Later, when as an adult I had a full-time job and was helping raise our children, summer vacations were never long enough. We’d still somehow manage to escape to our rustic cabin in the woods beside a Vermont lake for at least a couple of weeks. The cabin had running water, gravity fed from a tank up the hill. It had several wall-mounted kerosene lamps, a gas refrigerator and gas stove with an oven, but no phone and no electricity. If we timed our arrival right, we’d catch the height of wild blueberry season. Even us summer people knew of favorite, out-of-the-way spots where the bushes grew thick and the berries grew sweet. On other warm afternoons, I’d venture out onto the lake in an inflatable dinghy while the rest of the crew swam. One morning,  a wizened neighbor took me fishing. He helped me bait hooks, then gutted enough of our sunfish catch to make a good lunch. I don’t think we bothered with a clock at the cabin—times were fluid, punctuated by meals, excursions, and darkness.

Changes in technology and changes in society have greatly diminished the freedom I used to associate with summer. Lengthy stretches of free time are rare, either for our over-scheduled children, for working-age adults with little or no paid vacation, or even for many retirees who’ve succumbed to the blandishments of over-scheduled, over-priced organized tours and activities. Have we traded up to a supposedly richer existence, only to be impoverished by never having or taking time to laze, to just hang out, to enjoy our natural surroundings, to dream? 

I’m among a lucky few who who have the option to indulge in unscheduled time fairly often and who recognize its importance. As I post this, I’m partway through this year’s loosely timed adventures. If you do not have the same opportunities, please try to figure out a way to create a time window for yourself, however short, when no tasks or obligations intrude.  Take a short walk on an area greenway or trail; breathe a few deep, cleansing breaths of fresh air. Summer can become a magical time again, if we let it.        

Eighth Decade Beginning Inventory

Eighth Decade Beginning Inventory    —by Jinny Batterson

Eyes:  sometimes rheumy, not quite as sharp or quick to focus any more; still capable of seeing beauty around me.

Teeth: ditto about sharpness, not as firmly rooted as before; still capable of chewing the fat.

Ears:   prone to sunburn, hearing less acute; especially deaf to husband’s complaints or criticisms.

Nose: runnier, more often stuffy; still inquisitive. 

Gait:  slower, plodding, even, on uphills; still fond of exploring.

Lungs:  clear and easy most of the time; more sensitive to smoke, pollen, other stressors than before.

Heart:  ditto.

Sleep: easy to start, occasionally wakeful and restless toward morning, more memory of dreams; seems more natural to take naps.

Soul:  more aware of happy times, more grateful; still needs work toward being inclusive.

World: still full of controversy and conflict, still a little dangerous, sometimes tragic; still also full of adventures and joys waiting to happen.

Didace’s Garden

Didace’s Garden   —by Jinny Batterson

It’s a magical time of year here in central North Carolina. The trees have leaves of that vibrant green that’s unique to early spring, before they gradually darken and fade in the heat and dust of later seasons. Shrubs and flowers bloom in profusion, both in cultivated spaces and in parks and woodlands where they’ve either originated or escaped. Recently I spent a couple of hours “tidying up” parts of a traveling friend’s back yard. Mostly, I wanted an excuse to revel in the colors and blooms of the nearly solid wall of azaleas along one side of her property.   

As I raked and pruned, I remembered a different garden, a different season, a different part of the world. For a couple of years in the 1980’s, I had a temporary assignment in the small central African country of Burundi. Most weekdays, I worked in a rural development office in the country’s capital city of Bujumbura, participating in a project to strengthen and diversify a network of consumer/producer cooperatives throughout the country. Burundi then had a few business people and high government officials with great material wealth, a local and expatriate community of civil servants and shop owners who lived modestly, and over 90% of its populace who ground out a bare living as subsistence farmers. It is somewhat ironic that this Peace-Corps-like assignment was the only time in my life when I had human household help. Modern appliances were few; electricity was expensive and intermittent; having an employee to tend the yard was a godsend. My duplex neighbor and I shared a gardener/night watchman, Didace.

Any lasting impact I had in the country was more likely a result of my interactions with Didace than of any tasks I accomplished at the office. Though he had little formal education, Didace was proud of his skills as a small-hold farmer. While he scoffed at my feeble attempts to grow temperate-climate vegetables in the tropics, he faithfully dug small plots for me in September and January, at the beginnings of each of the country’s two rainy seasons. Later, he tracked down supports for the pea and bean vines that straggled upward. The income he got from maintaining foreigners’ gardens supplemented what he could grow on his farm to eat or sell, helping provide a better life for his family.

Before the first Christmas season of my assignment (which occurred during a lull between the shorter and longer of the two rainy seasons), I mentioned to Didace that I would be traveling to Greece to see family over the holiday. Was there anything I could bring back for him and his family as a small gift?  He thought for a while, then explained that what he’d really enjoy were some pictures of his family and his small farm. Didace had noticed the snapshots of family and travels that I kept on the room divider in our open-plan bungalow. Would I be willing to visit his home, take pictures with my (traditional) camera, then get the film developed on my trip and bring back several of the best photos?

We made plans for me to borrow a project vehicle one weekend in early December and to drive, then walk, to his family’s home in the hills above town. The paved road quickly became dirt, which gradually got more potholed and rutted. Didace met me at the intersection of the road and a person-wide path that led further into the hills. Once we arrived at his house, he pointed with pride to the tin roof he’d recently installed with a loan/advance on his monthly wages. He introduced me to his wife and two young sons, and then showed me around the small plots where they grew beans, corn, and cassava, a root vegetable whose tubers provided most of the carbohydrates of the Burundian diet. At one edge of the house was a small banana grove. A few chickens scratched in the dirt.

Then, in a small fenced area, I saw a flower garden. If memory serves, it had a mixture of gladiolas, dahlias, and other showy flowers I didn’t recognize. They were beautiful. I asked why his family chose to grow flowers on some of their limited acreage. Partly, he said, so they could sell the best blooms at the Bujumbura central market for additional income. But mainly, just because they were pretty. I wish I had made and kept copies of the pictures of Didace and his garden. Beauty knows no boundaries.            

Saint Pat, Bless His Heart…

Saint Pat, Bless His Heart…     —by Jinny Batterson

A set of reports from an ancestry DNA service recently confirmed that over half of my ancestors originated in Ireland, England, or some other part of the set of islands off the northern coast of France that its current rulers like to call the “British Isles.”  Just which parts of the islands, I cannot say with confidence, nor, apparently, can the DNA service (unless I want to spit into another tube, answer a lot of intrusive questions, and send a heftier fee). 

From what I know of the various branches of my family tree, a fair number of my ancestors were of “Scots-Irish Presbyterian” background—at some point before arriving in America, they had lived in northern Ireland, having migrated there from parts of Scotland in hopes of farming better land. At some time in the old country, also, they had deserted Roman Catholicism for Protestantism.

I follow a rather eclectic faith tradition, with a substantial modicum of “live and let live” in its theology. Yet once I ran into a situation in which my ancestors’ creed and country of origin seemed to be important. Many years ago, I was riding in a Jeep driven by an ebullient Irishman whose family name was similar to that of some of my forebears. We were on a weekend excursion to an isolated upland farming station in central Africa, along with several other international development workers. When Mr. Dudley found out that part of my ancestry was Scots-Irish Presbyterian, he commented on my lack of pedigree:

“Ach, your forefathers were renegades,” he lectured me. “They likely fought pitched battles with mine, who did their best to uphold the true faith.”  Lucky for me, he forgave my great-great-great-grands their transgressions and did not kick me out of the car.  Properly pedigreed or not, I usually sport at least a touch of green when March 17 comes around each year.

One year, when I was half a world from the U.S., teaching English at a school in a frontier outpost near  China’s northwestern border, I organized an evening English language program about the Saint Patrick’s Day holiday. It was difficult to get my students to believe that there was an island that stayed permanently green—the little bits of green in our desert oasis town required near-constant irrigation. However, there was a different link of sorts. In preparation for the program, I’d boned up on the history of Irish and Scots-Irish immigration to the United States, which began well before American independence, but peaked during the 1840’s and 1850’s. Over about a decade then, a famine in Ireland wiped out a million people and caused a million more to emigrate, reducing the island nation’s population by 20 to 25 percent. Most of my students had not been directly impacted by famines, but they generally knew stories of parents or grandparents who had, during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. So there was a tenuous bond with the plight of the Irish, even if few Chinese were accustomed to wearing green, greeting leprechauns, or drinking green beer.

Now that I live in the U.S. South, I’ve been surprised to learn that one of the major Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in our country takes place in Savannah, Georgia. Second only to the New York City parade, Savannah’s festivities are lubricated by “to go cups” and last for most of the day.  According to the travel website moon.com, some of my distant relatives may have had a hand in early Savannah festivities: “ …the first parade in Savannah was organized by Irish Protestants. Thirteen members of the local Hibernian Society—the country’s oldest Irish society—took part in a private procession to Independent Presbyterian Church in 1813.” 

In 21st century America, smaller celebrations occur throughout the South, the festivities overshadowed only by “March Madness.” This evening, during halftime of whatever NCAA basketball game we happen to be watching, let us pause and hoist a glass to Saint Pat, bless his heart. 

International Women’s Day Thoughts

International Women’s Day Thoughts  —by Jinny Batterson

March 8, 2017 will be celebrated in many countries as International Women’s Day, a holiday that gradually has taken hold since the early 20th century as a way to honor women’s economic and social contributions and to press for more equitable treatment of the “fairer sex.”  No one agency, country, or non-profit is a primary sponsor for International Women’s Day. Some companies have underwritten celebrations in various places, perhaps hoping to get their names associated with being good corporate citizens, perhaps welcoming this occasion to market their products more emphatically to women.    

The first time I had a chance to participate in an International Women’s Day celebration came a decade ago, when I was teaching English at a small agricultural college on the far northwestern fringes of China. That year the holiday fell on a Thursday, and our classes were shortened to allow for an afternoon of amateur intramural sports. According to the journal entry I made at the time, I participated in “water bottle bowling” and jump rope competitions, winning an extra liter of cooking oil and a ribbon for my efforts.

In 2014, I attended a North Carolina International Women’s Day gathering in a local church hall on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t remember a whole lot about the celebration—it was small and fairly informal. Among the participants were several older nuns and a different group of singing elders, the “Raging Grannies.” The grannies wore aprons and floppy garden hats and belted out political satire words set to traditional tunes. After a while, all of us went home.

International Women’s Day was first recognized by the United Nations in 1975, in conjunction with the first International Women’s Conference and a U.N. themed “Year of the Woman.”  That same year, though not on International Women’s Day, women in the Nordic country of Iceland decided to take a day off to illustrate how vital women were to the smooth functioning of Icelandic society, despite what was then a 40% pay gap. According to excerpts from the account given by the BBC in 2015, the October, 1975 “Women’s Day Off” was a turning point in the relationship between the sexes in Iceland:

“Instead of going to the office, doing housework or childcare they took to the streets in their thousands to rally for equal rights with men. (An estimated 90% of Icelandic women took part, including rural women.)

It is known in Iceland as the Women’s Day Off, and Vigdis Finnbogadottir (Iceland’s first woman Prime Minister, elected initially in 1980) sees it as a watershed moment.

‘What happened that day was the first step for women’s emancipation in Iceland,’ she says. ‘It completely paralysed the country and opened the eyes of many men.’

Banks, factories and some shops had to close, as did schools and nurseries – leaving many fathers with no choice but to take their children to work. There were reports of men arming themselves with sweets and colouring pencils to entertain the crowds of overexcited children in their workplaces. Sausages – easy to cook and popular with children – were in such demand the shops sold out.

It was a baptism of fire for some fathers, which may explain the other name the day has been given – the Long Friday.”

The pay gap in Iceland has not entirely disappeared, though it has shrunk to one of the smallest of any nation. In 2016, Icelandic women for a single day staged a smaller work stoppage as a protest of the enduring part of the wage gap—figuring that they were paid 14% less than men for equal work, many quit work at 2:38 p.m. rather than “work for free” for the rest of the day.   

So far, International Women’s Day has not caught on in a big way in the United States of America, where the gender wage gap hovers at about 20% nationwide, with considerable variation by state and a much larger gap for women of color. One of the initiatives favored by the current U.S. administration is support for childcare expenses, which typically helps families with working parents. So far, there is little detail about how such support would be administered or financed.  Considerable skepticism exists about whether that support would be structured to help improve the lives and earning capacity of those at the bottom of the wage scale.

In my family, women through the generations have carried at least their share of both nurturing and earnings responsibilities. If I do nothing else this International Women’s Day, I will pause for a moment to honor these foremothers who farmed, ran households, got educated, taught, provided vital family income, and invested for the future. Once they got the right to vote, they for darn sure did their best to make fulfillment and advancement easier for their daughters as well as for their sons.    

Eating Out in Twenty-Nine Palms: Honoring National Service

Eating Out in Twenty-Nine Palms, Honoring National Service   

                                                  —by Jinny Batterson

During part of our most recent political transition, in late 2016, I spent several days in the desert interior of southern California, exploring the area around Joshua Tree National Park. From a small vacation rental home in the town of Twenty-Nine Palms, my husband and I could drive several miles uphill to a park entrance. We could explore the park’s trails, marvel at its unique geological formations, view the large members of the yucca family that gave the park its name, and experience the variety of its altitudes and desert landscapes. Toward the end of our stay, a heavy wind kicked up, making hiking less appealing, so we spent some time indoors, learning about the town. At the Chamber of Commerce, we watched a film about the town’s history and viewed displays and pamphlets. We learned that the town’s first growth spurt had come in the wake of World War I. Then, a sympathetic veteran physician specializing in lung ailments had begun to recommend the climate around Twenty-Nine Palms to fellow veterans suffering from mustard gas exposure or tuberculosis. The dry air and moderate altitude provided an ideal setting for recovery. Several hundred veterans filed homestead claims in the area.

We also learned that a large modern U.S. Marine base existed nearby, in the opposite direction from the park. Soldiers could be stationed there for periods ranging from a few months to several years, with over 50,000 military personnel receiving training the preceding year. We drove out to the base gate—the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center/Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command—but were unable to enter without an approved escort.

That evening, we ate in town at a small local restaurant that catered to a burgers-and-milkshakes clientele.  When we first arrived, the restaurant’s central area was completely filled by a set of pushed-together tables where a dozen young people, five men and seven women, were chatting and ordering food. They looked fit and tired, primed to enjoy a simple evening meal. Several were wearing matching sweatshirts with the initials “NCCC” on the back.  I guessed they might be members of some rock climbing club, since the park was a mecca for climbers. After a bit, my curiosity got the better of me and I walked over to one end of their table.

“What does ‘NCCC’ stand for?”  I asked. “Are you a rock climbing group?”

“No ma’am,” responded one of the young men. “We’re a team from the National Civilian Community Corps. We’re on our way back to our base in Sacramento after an eight-week assignment helping repair homes in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that were damaged by last summer’s floods.”

As my husband and I ordered our food and waited while it was prepared, half a dozen young men with short haircuts arrived and settled into two booths nearby. They were in civilian clothes, but I guessed they might be on leave from the marine base: several barber shops in town advertised “Marine haircuts,” and these fit the bill. The men talked quietly among themselves as they too ordered and waited for their suppers. 

Both the Marines and NCCC volunteers I saw at dinner in Twenty-Nine Palms were training and practicing to meet whatever threats and emergencies might require a military response, civilian action, or some combination of the two. I was grateful for their service, as I remembered previous generations of Americans who had participated in larger numbers in either military or civilian service—the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s depression years, or the military draftees of the 1940’s World War II era and beyond.  Surveying these young service men and women at supper in 2016, I also imagined what it might look like for similar service again to become a bigger part of our American society.

Various bills introduced in Congress since 2003 have attempted to create a framework for some sort of mandatory service component for young people, including a modest monetary stipend and educational funding assistance. Our nation’s physical and educational infrastructures are aging. Elements of our natural environment are threatened. The needs are great; the potential even greater. On this Presidents’ Day, let’s renew the value of public service as part of our heritage and responsibility as Americans. From the loftiest tasks to the most humble, each of us has something worthwhile to contribute. When a service ethic is lacking, we are all impoverished, and not just monetarily.        

Welcoming the Year of the Rooster

Welcoming the Year of the Rooster    —by Jinny Batterson

Cock-a-doodle-doo!  (Or maybe wo-wo-wo!, the Chinese Mandarin equivalent.) This Saturday, January 28, 2017, will mark the beginning of the Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese lunar calendar. People of Chinese background throughout the world may gather to celebrate what is known in most Western countries as Chinese New Year. This festival has been celebrated for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It remains China’s most important annual festival, even in modern times. Visiting extended family is an important part of festival traditions, somewhat like Thanksgiving in the United States. (For more traditions, check out a recent series in the English-language version of China Daily. (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/culture/2017-01/22/content_28023167.htm). In previous blog posts, I’ve written about personal experiences of living in China during two different sets of New Year’s festivities, and also about the meanings of various zodiac years. (Spring Festival in LipuBeasts of the Chinese Zodiac, More New Year…

As China’s economy has developed and more and more Chinese families have spread out geographically, this period of the year has also become known for the largest human migration on the planet. In 2017, nearly 3 billion trips are expected to be taken by Chinese in, from, or to China during the period between January 13 and February 21. People will travel by automobile, motorcycle, train, plane, boat or any other way possible. A feature in a recent edition of China Daily chronicled the journey of one migrant worker who was going home by bicycle. He’d left his temporary restaurant job in Shanghai on January 12 for Chongqing, a distance of over 1,000 miles. He expects to make it home by January 27, New Year’s Eve.     

Different employers, schools, and institutions in China vary somewhat on the timing and length of holiday break awarded for this most important festival of the Chinese calendar, but nearly everyone gets at least a week of time off. China has nearly 280 million migrant workers, typically young adults who’ve left their birthplaces in rural areas to seek better job opportunities in China’s burgeoning cities but want to get home to visit family at Spring Festival, as it’s called in China. 

Wealthier Chinese families increasingly use this time to travel internationally. According to an online travel service, Chinese will travel to 174 destinations outside mainland China during the holiday period. Within China, favorite spots include the tropical tourist city of Sanya, Hainan, dubbed “the Hawaii of China.” Although Sanya flight and hotel prices peak during the holiday, winter-weary travelers from colder parts of China still flock here to swim, snorkel, or just lie on the beach in the sunshine.  

Within the U.S., there will be Chinese New Year celebrations in many major cities, including the dowager of all celebrations—an annual parade and festival in San Francisco that has been held since the 1860’s.  Disneyland in Anaheim, California will hold two full weeks of celebrations, hosted by cartoon figure Mulan, plus Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Chinese costumes. For sheer glitz, it will be difficult to beat Las Vegas, where several hotels are vying for the most extravagant display. Lunar New Year parades will also be held in Washington, D.C. on January 29; in Chicago on February 5; and in Orlando, Florida, on February 11.

So, wherever and whenever you choose to celebrate, Happy Year of the Rooster!  Some of your Chinese friends may appreciate a Mandarin Happy New Year greeting(pronounced roughly shin-nyen how):  Xinnian Hao !

   

Winter Beach Respite

Winter Beach Respite     —by Jinny Batterson

Barrier island beach at sunset

Barrier island beach at sunset

Just after New Year, we packed the car: layers and layers
Of casual clothes, plus assorted toys and games.
We headed for one of the barrier islands that
Dot the Atlantic from the Carolinas to Florida.

We’d spend a few days at the beachside condo
Of old friends, a final annual chance to reconnect
Before tax season swallowed them
And potential citizen activism swallowed us.

We arrived to balmy weather, with time for a brief
Beach stroll before sunset. Little view yet of the miles
Of downed vegetation and splintered piers and decks,
Remnants of Hurricane Matthew’s October impact.

It was after dark before our friends arrived, having
Battled urban traffic on their different trajectory east.
A brief political discussion gave way to reminiscences:
The guys had known each other since youth. 

One afternoon proved too chilly and windy for outdoor activity,
But often we walked–carrying binoculars to hone in on shore birds,
Or exclaiming as our more experienced friends pointed out the
Dolphins that sometimes trolled for fish in the breakers at low tide.

A morning guided excursion took us through parts of this island
Once owned by Gullah families descended from slaves.
Before resorts and tourism took over, they earned decent livings
Farming or fishing or ferrying neighbors to and from the mainland.

Predictions of an approaching winter storm cut our idyll short.
Several days of shivering and stabbing at recalcitrant ice have
Partially diminished our relish for January in the Southeast,
But not entirely. Our beach respite memories remain.

Still Subtle and Various and Human

Still Subtle and Various and Human…    —by Jinny Batterson

The year 2016 has provided quite a roller coaster ride, especially in U.S. politics. Now that the year is nearly done, I’m trying to be more philosophical about this year’s largely negative political campaigns and their outcomes. While trying to avoid stereotyping anyone as a typical voter in any contest, I did pay attention to one exit polling result: the lopsided divide among those who said they favored change when casting their vote for president.

What gives me some hope for change is that recent conversations I’ve been having with family, friends and acquaintances of various political persuasions have been getting deeper without getting rancorous. My sample size is small. However, among those with whom I’ve gingerly broached the subject of American politics, what stands out are the variations in both motivations and reactions. I’ve not found consensus. Nevertheless, the opinions I’ve heard are more subtle and more nuanced than much of what I read and hear in the media, neither entirely elated nor entirely despairing, often including varying traces of spite, cynicism, skepticism, and indifference. 

Though in theory I’m now part of the older, wiser generation, I find myself wishing that my parents’ “greatest generation” were still around in large enough numbers to impart wisdom and to exert more influence on our media mix. The views of some live on in their writings. I like some of the lesser-known volumes authored by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whose early life was sheltered and privileged, but who came to maturity as global politics darkened during the 1930’s. She and her aviator husband Charles Lindbergh had for several years sought solace and privacy in England after the kidnapping and murder of their eldest child in New Jersey in 1932. By 1939,  Anne was back in the U.S., tending a growing household while struggling with her husband’s strong isolationist opinions, viewing events in Europe with increasing alarm. Parts of her journals from the period were published much later, in 1980, as War Without and Within. I found the lead-in to her entry for September 2, 1939 especially compelling:

“The Germans are steaming ahead into Poland; all negotiations are off. Even the news becomes not diplomatic but military, not subtle and various and human but clear and cold and metallic.” 

Tomorrow we’ll start 2017 with a fair number of possible problems and threats on our horizons. We will also have various experiences, opinions, and expertise with which to cope with them. Some choices will seem stark; others may be difficult. Still, we will have the capacity to remember in coping with lots of our issues that we as Americans and as citizens of the world can be subtle and various and human, if we choose to do so.