Move over tooth fairy…make way for THE mouse!

My son’s fifth baby tooth fell out this week. He carefully placed it in a small box under his pillow overnight in anticipation of a monetary exchange by morning (1€ is the going rate in our household). As most of us Anglo-Saxons know, the ‘person’ responsible for this exchange is, of course, the Tooth Fairy. However, in France, the task is carried out by a ‘Petite Souris’ (Little mouse)

It made me think about some of the other differences in traditions here in France in the month of April.

First of all there is a saying ‘En avril ne te decouvre pas d’un fil’ (‘In April don’t take off one thread’ meaning that despite the sunny weather, one should keep the cardigan). This is generally wise advice in my experience.

Then Easter chocolate season begins weeks before the actual date (there’s no difference there with Australia!). Chocolate shops (of which there are numerous in every town and city) are full of high-quality shiny chocolate rabbits, chickens, ducks, bunnies, but especially fish and bells. Yes, fish and bells!

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What’s with the fish?

April 1st involves some little pranks – especially sticking paper fish on the backs of unsuspecting people – and is known as ‘poisson d’avril’ (‘April fish’). I presume that the chocolate shops use this day as an excuse to make chocolate fish throughout the whole month of April. Very small fish, often called ‘friture’, are very popular and are made with 70% dark, milk, or orange flavored chocolate. The quality of the chocolate here is really very good compared with the Cadbury-style chocolate of my youth.cadbury egg

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And the bells?

Easter Bunny (just like the tooth fairy) doesn’t exist in France. Bells with wings are responsible for leaving chocolate eggs in the garden to be found on Easter Sunday. The Catholic tradition dictates that Church bells do not ring between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, to commemorate the death of Christ and his resurrection. The oral tradition says that the bells fly to Rome during this time to be blessed by the Pope, and then return from this trip loaded with chocolate.

Finally, even though the French have plenty of public holidays to mark Christian religious events, Good Friday is not one of them. The children, however, are on school vacation again (The ‘vacances de printemps’ = spring holiday). I was curious to find out whether my kids were spending more days in the year away from school than in it. Here is what I found: The average Australian child spends 200 days a year at school, the average European 186 and the average French child….(drum roll) ….144 days. Ah voila!

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Back from Guilin

Guilin is a 2-hour flight south-west of Shanghai. We decided to spend the long week-end there – for the national Tomb Sweeping (Qingming) holiday of China which coincided with Easter this year.  We didn’t actually stay right in Guilin but in Yangshuo which is about a one hour drive south of Guilin.

DSC_0480We arrived at our little country hotel in the night and when my daughter stepped out onto the balcony the next morning and exclaimed ‘The air is touching me like silk’ we knew we were going to have a nice time away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai……..

But with a population of 1 372 583 323 – and counting – beautiful locations in China can get a little busy (especially on a long weekend) and the rapid ‘progress’ often leaves me wondering how much more beautiful many of these sites would have been a mere 30 years ago.

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Fuli Bridge

With a little effort we were able to escape the crowds (especially along Lijiang River) and endless construction sites. On one of the days we rode bikes for 4 hours to visit Fuli Bridge which was built over 1000 years ago. At one point we had to take a bamboo raft across the river and were relieved to get to the other side as we saw a few bikes needing to be fished out of the water.

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A family of water buffalo crossing the river

Another day we took a pretty strenuous (especially for 5-year-old legs) hike in the mountains and actually saw people sweeping tombs: The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for people to remember and honour their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs, offer food and……let off a whole bunch of ear-bursting fire crackers.

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It was interesting to witness the tradition, but we could have done without the firecrackers whose sound resonated in the mountains and was much less enjoyable than the magnificent bird song.

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These tombs were dotted all over the countryside

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The ground littered with firecracker remnants.

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A rare and beautiful sight, a traditional building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the countryside some traditions remain such as posting pictures of warriors on the front door to protect the home.

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Citrus trees were everywhere in the valleys  and the scent of orange blossom filled the air.

 

 

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The local kumquats were the most delicious I’ve ever tasted in my life.

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Bitter melon (balsam pears) stuffed with pork. The fish in the region were particularly delicious especially the famous ‘beer fish’ (which I ate before I had a chance to take a photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As with practically all Chinese domestic airline travel, our flights were delayed. The usual reason was offered ‘air traffic congestion’ which is not surprising when only 20% of air space is open to civil aviation and so instead of pilots adjusting their flight paths to avoid bad weather/turbulence, they simply remain on the tarmac whilst passengers eat instant noodles in the waiting area and the flight delays get longer and longer.

Our children were lucky to have an Easter egg hunt at all on the Monday morning because the usual shops for western goods (Marks and Spencer, Carrefour, on-line grocery store, local bakeries) had all sold-out of chocolate eggs and I had quite a hunt myself in order to find some.