An Expat Kind of Lantern Festival

Last week I went to the Lantern Festival with my youngest daughter. We saw many intricate designs. What interested me more than the historical pieces of the festival, were the poetic journey of a man traveling away from home – away from his home country. They seemed to reflect what many of us, as expats, could possibly feel at different seasons in our lives overseas.

I’ve written out the translated poem from Chinese to English (don’t get excited, it was there on a sign and I had taken pictures). They also provided what they called a “Poem Appreciation,” but was like brief summary of the meaning of the poem. I’ve also written that below the two poems.

So, enjoy the pictures of the life-sized lanterns and the poems that describe the scene of each picture.


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Za Shi “Poem”

by Wang Wei

You, who have come from my homeland,

Ought to know well the happenings back home.

On the day of your departure,

Pray tell – Have the plum blossoms outside your window bloomed?


Such is the joy of the man in a foreign land to meet a fellow countryman. Yet knowing not where to begin his enquiries. He starts off by asking after the smallest of things, subtly revealing his deep love for his homeland.


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Hui Hsiang Ou Shu “Returning Home – A Random Musing” by He Zhi-Zhang

I left home a kid and returned an old man,

My accent is unchanged yet my hair has turned white;

A child who meets but does not recognize me,

Laughingly asks “Where do you come from?”


People age easily, yet their homeland remains unchanged. Returning to one’s homeland after decades abroad, one cannot help but feel familiar yet distant at the same time. An innocent remark from a guiltless child draws attention to the poet’s complicated feelings in a poignant yet humorous manner, leaving readers with a lasting and profound impression.

Don’t you just love that no matter what country some one is from, they understand some of the same feelings you may have towards “homesickness” and missing friends and family?



Surviving Gray Clouds

“Winter Blues” by MaDonna Maurer

It’s February, and Chinese New Year is fast approaching. This time of year means beautiful colors, loud noises, and yummy eats. The bright and beautiful colors on this little island does not mean the sun. It is usually gray and dreary this time of year – oh, and cold. It has always struck me funny that this time of year is also called “Spring Festival” when it feels nothing like spring. Okay, the cherry blossoms are sometimes in full bloom. So, if you have any nearby you can gaze on those beauties, but in my experience from the past few years it has been gray and cold the entire Chinese New Year.

If you can’t tell, my attitude is totally affected by the weather. I need the sun. I live in a place where the sun disappears from January to March/April. It is a time of year where one learns the art of wearing multiple layers of clothes to not look like they’ve gained 5kg. It is also the time of year that my hot water kettle is always ready to make a cup of tea or hot chocolate. The blankets are thrown on the chairs and couch, not for decorative purposes, but for convenience. Okay, I may have a hidden desire for my living room to look like one of those country home magazines, but who am I kidding? They look like someone tossed them quickly as they scrambled to the next warm spot – their bed.

I remember the first time I realized that my attitude was being affected by the weather. It had been raining nonstop for about a month. I had young kids, so we didn’t go out so much. One afternoon the sun crept out and blazed an electrifying orange streak across the gray. I immediately exhaled, relaxed, and felt my skin and eyes smile. Trust me, you may not see your skin and eyes smile but you can feel it. I felt like a new person with tons of energy and I know my kiddos were excited to have that mom back!

After a bit of research, I discovered that we need a daily dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is free when you have sunshine. When you don’t, you have to go out and buy some. Well, that made sense to me. I bought some Vitamin D the first chance I got.

All that to say, I’ll be taking my Vitamin D tablet this evening.

Your Turn: Do you see a pattern in your life where weather affects your attitude? Share you story below. I really do love reading your comments.

**Please note that I wrote this a few days ago when it was super cold and dreary. Now? The sun came out and I had a little skip in my step walking from the subway station home from school. I love free stuff! 

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新年快樂! (Happy Chinese New Year!)

Today is Day 3 of 15 of the Chinese New Year. As an expat in Asia, it just means another vacation day with the kids, but to my Chinese neighbors it is another day of celebrating with family…usually the wife’s family.

I’ve been more nostalgic this year. Maybe it is an age thing. Maybe it is because we moved again this year. Maybe it is just because I have time right now as I sit here and write. Whatever the reason, my first experience was wild.

I remember walking from my third floor apartment over to my friend’s apartment, which was just the next building over. Not far. I could hear the explosion of firecrackers booming and others popping like an automatic gun. I stepped out of the exit-way, only to jump back inside the stairwell. A flaming rocket had just flew by within inches of my head. I peeked out cautiously and wide-eyed. The quiet little neighborhood had turned into a free for all war-zone of a party. I covered my ears and ran towards the safety zone, heart beating as I ran up the stairs to the fifth floor apartment.

I’ve not experienced that kind of celebration for a few years now. Reasons?

A few years after I was married with babies, we’d hide out in hotels on the 19+ floor where we couldn’t hear a thing, except the TV episodes of “Friends” showing on Star World. Who wants to deal with crying scared babies at midnight? We didn’t.

Other years, Christmas and Chinese New Year’s vacations were linked together and we left the country to visit family for the longer vacation time. Christmas with extended family is always GREAT!

The past few years we have lived in Taipei. Most of the people that live in Taipei, especially in the area we had lived in, were not from Taipei. That meant they left for their parent’s home, leaving that part of the city very quiet, a bit on the eerie side. Our move has put us in an area of Taipei where people stay and celebrate. They are really from here.

This year we have experienced more of what we remember of CNY. Our neighbors have all decorated their doors with various banners.

One of the gods of CNY on neighbor's door.

Another neighbor with a banner.

We have decorated our door with the traditional red signs that some Christian friends gave us. If you want to read more about why this is traditionally done by the Chinese, you can read about it here.

Our door decoration.

We experienced the fireworks, though NOTHING like my first experience. Uwe and I stood on our balcony and watched a beautiful display of fireworks on the river for about 15 minutes or so. It was too cold for me to stay out longer.

As we stood and watched the green and red glows, an automatic gun sound blasted in the other direction. I looked up and saw the silhouette of a bamboo pole swaying over the building with about 2-meters worth of firecrackers popping it’s way up to the end. These loud firecrackers are to scare the evil spirits to not come into their home. I’m not so sure how much of this is still believed vs. tradition. I’m thinking a little of both.

So, what does tomorrow look like for us? Maybe we will go and let the kids spend some of the red envelop money. Close friends and family give children red envelops with money inside. Maybe we’ll watch more movies. Maybe we’ll go swimming in the local indoor pool. We are going to grill with some friends that evening. I am loving this break!

Your Turn: If you have experienced CNY, what is your most memorable one? If you haven’t, what aspect of this holiday intrigues you the most? Please share in the comments below.

And if you want to read more about this holiday, here is an informative blog post by Culture-4-travel about the 15-days of CNY/Spring Festival. Click here to read it.