Frog musings (no reference to the French!)

“Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”—Mark Twain

My fabulous long-distance teacher from my Health Coach studies at IIN – Kara Snyder (Vitalcorpswellness.com) – sent this in her newsletter the other day: “If you’ve forgotten your New Year Resolution, please know you aren’t alone. By the end of January the success rate of sticking to that resolution that you thought was so f#x-ing spectacular at the beginning of the year is down to a 55% success rate”. The frog concept could be a good way of boosting that success rate.

The ‘frog’ idea is that if you do the worst thing on your plate first thing in the morning, the rest of the day is a breeze – not that resolutions are ‘bad’ ……..but chances are they are a little bit challenging.

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Incidentally – for Australian folk –  Mr Twain was not referring to our dear little friend Freddo Frog (pictured).

Right now I don’t have a few frogs …….. I have a whole pond of them!

Perhaps I need to experiment – the frogs could be ‘prepared’ differently, served in a different order or cut into bite-size pieces…… or blended!

Shanghighs‘: I discovered a number of inspiring quotes from Mark Twain.

It snowed for a few seconds this week.

Shanglows‘: It’s cold enough to snow.

Shangunusuals‘:  It is so ‘Shanghai’ to be in a mega modern city yet to still find numerous traditions still remain:

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 Left: street brooms are still being made from branches by hand right on the side-walk.
Right: eels are hung out to dry on the street- possibly in preparation for New Year feasts.
I have been watching this policeman with interest each morning as I walk my son to school (I have plenty of time because the traffic lights change only every 4 minutes at this particular intersection). It is unusual to see any form of traffic control and he appeared about a week ago. His mission appears to be  to bring some sort of order to this busy cross road….and he has his hands full. Unlike the UK (where the drivers are perhaps the most courteous in the world), the Shanghai drivers, cyclists, people on scooters are incredibly self-righteous, impatient and out-right dangerous. Being a pedestrian here means being on constant alert: scooters on the sidewalk, cars zooming through red lights, motor-cyclists riding down one-way streets…the wrong way…..oh and dog poo.

We are now in the run up…

…….. to Chinese New Year (Spring Festival). This year is the Year of the Goat/sheep/ram (some confusion as the character for the 3 animals is similar)- this year it falls on February 19th (the date changes each year as it is determined by the 4,000-year-old Chinese lunar calendar).

– The festival lasts for 15 days and is celebrated by a sixth of the world’s population. On New Year’s eve apparently many Chinese watch the annual CCTV New Year’s Gala (‘The most watched television program in the world’) which to me is perhaps akin to the Americans watching the Super Bowl on Thanksgiving! There is also the ‘Nian Ye Fan’ or reunion feast with family. The festival finishes with the ‘Lantern Festival’ 15 days later which corresponds with the first full moon of the New Year. I believe that some of the fish-dish prepared on New Year’s Eve is finished on this date too…..mmmm.

IMG_5450Apart from lots of red decorations, it’s also the prime season for petty theft. Many people are under enormous pressure to go back to their home towns for the New Year laden with gifts and cash to show that they are “making it” in Shanghai. As the date creeps closer, so (for some) does desperation and temptation.

Hongbao is a traditional New Year gift consisting of money wrapped in a red paper envelope that is customarily given by parents, grandparents and others to children. However, these days  it is a a gift expected of just about every-one: The person I deal with in the management office in our building didn’t fail to mention that I could give little red envelopes to all of the staff….naturally …including her ;

IMG_5430Shanghighs‘:I got a painting done as a souvenir of China: fish symbolize ‘abundance’ (abundance of …joy, lightness and space of course!) and the spiraling represents …life.

Shanglows‘: I had a message pop up on my computer screen this week explaining that the reason that I’d been having so much difficulty connecting to various web-sites (such as this one) was due to the recent Chinese Government being more vigilant than ever at blocking companies such as Google and social media sites such as blogging platforms, Facebook…..etc.

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‘Build core values with one heart and realize the great Chinese dream with one mind’

Shangunusuals‘: These posters have been popping-up all over town. I asked someone who has been living in China for over 10 years what they were all about and he said…….’oh..its propaganda’.

Back from quick trip to Japan…..

The New Year is an important time in Japanese culture – Hatsumode, the first visit of the year to the shrine (or temple) – is one of the most important Japanese New Year customs and so the temples in the historic city of Kyoto were BUSY – but so beautiful …..especially under the snow that we were covered/blessed with.

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Here you can see ‘fortunes’ (o-mikuji) being selected by shaking out a rod from the metal box and then the associated fortune slip of paper is read and tied to a tree or onto the rows of strings in the shrine grounds. Kagami mochi is a special traditional Japanese decoration for the New Year that we saw everywhere: It is made from two rice cakes (mochi) of different sizes, the smaller placed over the larger one, and a daidai, a Japanese type of bitter orange placed on top. The small orange symbolizes the continuity of the generations and long life, while the mochi symbolizes the past year and the year to come. So, kagami mochi symbolizes the continuity of the family over the years. (Muza-Chan’s Gate to Japan)

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Speaking of mochi (glutinous rice pounded into a paste and molded into a shape)..when I lived for 4 months in Japan way back in 1992 I tasted it once and quickly decided that it was a chewy tasteless over-rated ‘food’. However, on this trip I really appreciated it – especially grilled. 

 

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Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion) Rokuon-ji Temple – picturesque under snow.

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At the entrance to Kiyomizu-dera Temple

 

Men and women dressed in traditional kimonos were spotted all over the city during our stay. So elegant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This ‘internationally famous rock garden’ from around 1500 at Ryoanji Temple was…well…covered with snow. We were a little surprised by the visitors taking photos.

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We stayed in a Ryokan (traditional Inn) for a night and enjoyed a breakfast feast of fish, soup, sake…… all the while dressed in our yukata (cotton gowns).

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I love Japanese food, even their ‘fast food’ is delicious. I still can’t read Japanese so it is always a surprise to find out what is in the middle of these onigari …. pickled plum, fish eggs, tuna………

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Tsukemono (pickled vegetables) at nishiki market. Pickled daikon is wonderful!

 

 

 

 

 

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Delicious soba noodles (buckwheat noodles)

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We warmed ourselves by the hot grill in this okonomiyaki restaurant as we watched lunch being prepared.

 

 

 

 

 

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Favorite dish of the trip – quintessentially Japanese – simple yet refined. This clam soup tasted – as our daughter said – like the sea and was enjoyed in a little restaurant that our neighbors back in Shanghai reserved for us.

The Japanese really do eat  by their principal of hara hachihunme (eating until 80% full and not to the brim) and while I strive to do the same, I did have some room (perhaps 25%?) left over to taste some matcha/green tea ice-cream. Yes it was snowing, but it simply had to be done.

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Gochiso-sana deshita (it was a real feast)

 

Although many people had said that we’d be ‘blown away’ by the cleanliness of Japan, what struck us much more was how quiet it was (compared to Shanghai). The importance of ‘wa’ (harmony) and the group being more important than the individual was evident everywhere.

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Pedestrian light red, no cars…..no one moved a muscle to cross until light was green!

Looking at map in the street….we were asked if we needed help (on numerous occasions!)

In restaurant no rowdy clients (except our 2 kids)…..etc

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Buttons on toilet – note the ‘flushing sound’ button which….well…made a flushing sound ?!?!?!?

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While we were away our daughter turned 7-years old – known as the ‘Age of Reason’. This is an apt description as she has been giving me some pretty reasonable parenting advice recently 😉

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I liked this quote that was displayed on the desk of the hotel where we stayed. It fits with my main resolution of this year which is to ‘Help Others – and myself – be Happy’. Yes it is far too broad and not concrete enough….but I’ll work on it….over the next 12 months.

If any of you are needing some kind of nudge to achieve your New Year Resolutions, consider the American internet company stickK.com that helps people make ‘commitment contracts’ that are ’empirically proven to help users accomplish their goals’. It’s based on putting your money where your mouth is, and your friends or charities will benefit from your ‘ransom’ money if you don’t reach your goals (so at least you can rest in the knowledge that someone will benefit!).

This year I’m wishing you all a pleasant journey on the roller-coaster of life. Roll on 2015!