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2013 is the Year of the Snake and Chinese New Year celebrations are fast approaching! The 1st day of the 2013 Chinese astrology year begins on February 4th with Chinese New Year Day falling on Sunday, February 10th. Chinese New Year is the most important Chinese holiday and is known as Spring Festival in China. It ushers in the lunar New Year and is like rolling the West’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve into one giant celebration.

In the days leading up to the holiday, every house gets a thorough cleaning, because sweeping on New Year’s Day could sweep away the coming year’s good fortune. Nearly every university student and migrant worker travels home since it is such an important time for families to spend together and celebrate. Food plays an important role in the celebrations. Fish is a commonly served dish because the Chinese word for fish is a homophone for ‘surplus’. It is a lucrative time for children as red envelopes filled with money are given to young unmarried relatives by elders.

Snake years are sixth in the cycle and recur every 12 years. Chinese legend says a snake in the house is a good omen meaning your family will not starve. It is said that those born in the year of the snake are the wisest and most mysterious of all. They are usually financially secure and have a taste for the finer things in life. Snakes are goal-oriented, hate to fail, and are intense and passionate. Their weaknesses include being stubborn and jealous.

More specifically, 2013 is the year of the Water Snake. Water is an element that shapes us and will play a prevalent role in 2013. It provides calm, nurtures and forges new paths of discovery. Water’s influence makes this year the perfect time to take on new challenges and open yourself up to new experiences! This year will also bring many opportunities for the career and romantic life to flourish, and friendships will be more important than ever. This is a year for people to come together for a greater good. 

2013 is a year to be bold like the water snake and take chances! Best wishes to you from AJ Panda!

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*The following is a guest blog post by Stacie Hrabe, mother of two girls adopted from China. 

I first heard about Chinese adoption in the early to mid 90’s (before I was married or knew my husband) looking at the referral photo of a co-workers niece I knew instantly in my heart that I would some day adopt from China.

Ten years later my husband and I set out on the journey to start a family.  We realized that we would not be able to conceive (without IVF) on our own and after a few attempts we made the decision to adopt.  Chinese adoption had stuck in my mind and heart for those ten years, knowing eventually that we would find our child there but not knowing in what way it was to happen.  I am such an emotional decision maker, but this time I wanted to make sure that our decision was a rational one, as well, so I set forth on many months of research and due diligence into the different adoption programs both International and Domestic.  In all cases China seemed the most stable but most importantly I could not get China out of mind.

Long story short- the power of the Red Thread is unstoppable.  We were meant to be the parents of these two amazing girls. Zoey, our first, was adopted at 14 months old in the non special needs program (after a 2 year wait).  She is now 6. Violet was adopted last month at 30 months old in the minor special needs program after less than a year wait.

It was inn January of 2011 that I felt the tug of the Red Thread, once again.  I knew that I had left a piece of my heart in China and it was time to go back to find that missing piece. We chose to be matched rather than choose from a waiting child list because I wanted it to be a process that was completely out of my hands as I am someone who tends to overthink everything!   We had been unsure up until this moment as to whether we would adopt again but the feeling of “now or never” was so overwhelming that we jumped right in knowing that our daughter was waiting for us to come.

Celebrating Zoey and Violet and their Chinese heritage has become a way of life.  It is interwoven into our daily lives through festivals , celebrations and customs we take part in.  It is present in the Mandarin lessons, calligraphy, Chinese watercolor painting and the food we cook.  It is present in the school we chose that celebrates all countries and customs and welcomes Zoey to share hers from her first country.  It is present in the art and decorating we choose for our house and the friends that we seek out who share our daughter’s heritage.  We are excited to join a family culture camp in the next few years once Violet is old enough and look forward to many trips back to China, the country that has given us so much!

Every Tuesday, we feature a new family whose lives have been touched by adoption. If you would like to contribute by sharing your story, please e-mail amy@ajpanda.com. 

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If you are anywhere near AJ Panda’s hometown of St. Louis, MO, you are going to want to make plans to attend the Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden!

The annual Lantern Festival is one of China’s most ancient and cherished traditions. “Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night” will be an international exhibition of immense, lighted works of art from China. This festival will include extravagant outdoor sets that celebrate Chinese culture through bold colors, impressive light and fascinating designs. This is an opportunity to witness an extravaganza rarely available outside of Asia.

“Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night” will run at the Missouri Botanical Garden from May 26 through August 19th. For more information, please visit their website at http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/.

Lantern Festival - MO Botanical Garden

Lantern Festival – MO Botanical Garden


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Tea connoisseurs say that a Yixing teapot is an invaluable tool for any tea enthusiast’s collection. The qualities that make them truly special are the clay from which they are made and the highly skilled craftspeople who create them. Yixing clay is named for the city where it is found, in the region near the city of Yixing in Jiangsu province, China. The purple clay dates back to the Song Dynasty and is typically used to make tea vessels.

While Yixing teapots are famous in China for their beauty as well as practicality, it is their ability to absorb flavors of the beverage it holds, creating a more robust flavor over time. It is said that a well-used Yixing teapot will retain so much tea flavor that after many years of use, the teapot can brew tea by just pouring in hot water without using tea leaves. Yixing teapots also distribute heat more evenly to bring out the most flavor and health benefits of tea and can keep your tea warm for an hour or longer!

Due to the porous and unglazed surface of Yixing teapots, there are special care instructions to follow. To prepare your teapot for use:

  • Remove lid and completely submerge teapot, lid, and teacups in a pot of cold water.
  • Add tea leaves into the water bath and bring everything toa slow boil.
  • Boil for 15 minutes, then let the teawares sit and cool for 2 hours.
  • Remove the teaset from the water.
  • Rinse well with hot water.
  • Add tea leaves into the teapot and fill with boiling water.
  • Let the tea sit in the teapot for 24 hours.
  • Empty out the contents and rinse again with hot water. This removes the natural, earthy aroma of the teapot and rinses awa any clay residue from inside the pot.
  • Let air dry uncovered.

To maintain and clean your Yixing teaware:

  • Use the teapot to brew tea, not as a stove-top kettle.
  • Never use in a microwave oven.
  • Do not use any soaps or detergents to clean your teapot. Rinse ONLY with water and wipe dry after each use.
  • Do not use any abrasive pads to clean the teapot.
  • Do not expose the teapot to salt or oils.
  • Never teapot in a dishwasher.
  • It is recommended to only brew one type of tea in a Yixing teapot to avoid “cross-brewing”.

You may notice red spots or white water marks two to three weeks after first use. This is normal and will help prevent rust. When properly cared for, Yixing teapots can last a lifetime.

All Yixing teapots are on sale now at AJPanda.com!

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Another reason to book a trip to explore the wonderful country of China! When you go, make sure to visit the new skywalk on Tianmen Mountain in Hunan Province. Test your nerves by walking the 200-foot glass skywalk over a half mile up off the side of the mountain. Tianmen translates to Heavenly Gate Mountain, perfectly describing the views your will see. Also take a ride on one of the longest cable cars in the world while you’re at the park.

To help with your travel planning, AJ Panda has a wide selection of books on Chinese travel and culture.

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The Royal Wedding is just days away and everywhere you look there is news coverage about every tiny detail! It is anticipated to be one of the most publicized and watched events ever and Chinese culture is going to be part of the big day! Zhu Xiaoju, a Chinese woman who studied in the UK, offered to create a custom tea set to be used at the wedding and the royal family accepted. After 10 days of design meetings, Zhu picked a hexagonal design teapot in a blue and white rice pattern porcelain. The names William and Kate are etched on the design that is decorated with plum blossoms, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo.

Royal Wedding Chinese Tea Set

Royal Wedding Chinese Tea Set

The set was produced in Jingdezhen, China’s capital of porcelain. Zhu says she wishes William and Kate to be attached to each other and live a happy life. She also says “”With this tea set, I want to congratulate the royal couple and also hope it can be the medium for a cultural exchange between the West and East.”

You can learn about Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremonies at ChinaBridal.com. If you would like your own Chinese tea set to follow along with while you watch, visit AJ Panda and check out our wide selection.

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I wanted to take a minute today and highlight one of the great books we have here at AJ Panda. The adoption process is long and complicated and nothing can help calm your nerves more than advice and stories from others who have already gone through the process.  While AJ Panda offers a large selection of books on Chinese adoption, culture and language, there is one that everyone seems to always love. A Passage to the Heart: Writings from Families with Children from China comes highly recommended for waiting families. It is a collection of 100 articles and stories regarding all aspects of adopting from China. It includes personal accounts from adoptive parents about both the joys of adoption and the challenges of parenthood.

One customer review on our site described it as “a compilation of stories related to the adoption process and experience; some of the stories are difficult and gut-wrenching and some are joyful and heart-warming. This balance in perspective helped prepare us for the many emotions and experiences that we encountered during our adoption process.”

No matter what step you are at in the adoption process or if you are just starting to explore adoption, AJ Panda has great resources for you. Or if you have already adopted, we have many great children’s books to help your little one learn about and celebrate their culture.

A Passage to the Heart

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AJ Panda has teamed up with The Alliance for Children Foundation (the Foundation) to give away one of our Mini La Baby Asian Dolls! This is one of our most popular dolls, made by Berenguer. The doll is wearing an adorable outfit with a matching animal-themed blanket. She is scented with baby powder and has a soft body with vinyl hands and head. Each doll measures 11″ tall.

To enter, go to http://www.afcfoundation.org/ and click on the picture of our doll. All you have to provide is your name and email address and wait for them to notify you when you win! A donation is not required to enter the contest, but all donations are greatly appreciated and help provide basic needs to orphan children world wide.

Good luck!

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I couldn’t let another week go by without a call out to the Golden Dragon Acrobats from China. I went to their performance last weekend at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in St. Louis. They were amazing!

Their performance ranged from incredible displays of strength, flexibility, grace, and power. All of it is performed with cultural backdrop of Chinese tradition. My five-year old daughters were mesmerized, as was I. It’s a show I would definitely recommend.

 

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In the United States, tea drinking is much more casual than in Chinese culture. Here we drink it iced, flavored, sweetened, made from an instant mix and out of vending machines. The practice of drinking tea actually originated in China where the first tea leaf was found in the southwestern region thousands of years ago. Wild tea trees 2,700 years old can still be found there! Tea is drunk in China every day to symbolize good health and for simple pleasure, but there are also several special circumstances when it is custom to prepare and serve tea. It is hard to imagine that the Chinese have been observing these customs for thousands of years!

  • As a sign of respect – The younger generation shows respect to their elders by offering a cup of tea.
  • At family gatherings
  • To apologize – Pouring tea to the one you wronged is sign of regret and submission.
  • In the traditional Chinese marriage ceremony – The bride and groom serve tea to their parents and say thank you for raising them. Tea is always served when introducing large, extended families at wedding ceremonies. Drinking the tea symbolizes acceptance into the family.

Whatever the occasion for drinking tea, don’t forget to do the “thanks” knock! To show gratitude to the one who poured you the tea, tap your bended index or middle finger on the table.

At AJ Panda, we strive to offer our customers the most authentic and unique Chinese teapots and tea sets. We offer yixing teapots, cast iron teapots, porcelain teapots, tea cups and other Chinese tea accessories. Whatever your tea drinking rituals are, we hope we offer a set that suits your needs and tastes!

 

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