February 21, 2015

Chinese New Year - An Introduction

There's probably nothing about Chinese culture I get more questions about than Chinese New Year. Since it's such a big thing, TV news worldwide report about it every year, and then I always get all sorts of questions from my friends about it. The Lunar New Year is the most important event in Chinese culture and in several Asian countries. It's something like our Christmas, with family get-togethers. Given the amount of Chinese from the countryside who moved to the cities in these last two decades, China experiences at this time the biggest yearly human migration in the world, with hundreds of millions of people traveling home for the occasion and with public transport collapsing almost every year. Once, a friend who owns several factories in China told me an interesting story that can make you understand just how important these festivities are for Chinese people. Some factory workers opt to leave some days before the official holidays (which last for 10 days in mainland China), even if this means having to quit their job, since they can't get any holidays other than the public ones. After the Chinese New Year, around a month later, they come back to the city and ask for a job at the same factory again. It doesn't matter to them that when they submit a new application they start with the lowest salary, even if before quitting their salary was higher. To them it's all worth it.

Something my friends love to ask about is the Chinese zodiac, and all this thing about the year of the dragon, the monkey, the snake... The legend says the Emperor announced from then forward 12 animals would represent each of the following 12 years, and like this for the rest of the days. The 12 animals who arrived at the meeting point first, would be the chosen ones. The cat and the rat were travelling on top of the ox and were ahead of all the rest. But by the time they almost arrived to their destination, the rat pushed the cat to the river, jumped from the ox and run to meeting point. That's why cats hate rats and why the rat is the first animal of the Chinese zodiac. I think there's a story for every of the animals, like why the Dragon being so big and fast didn't make it the first. Anyway, the final order was this: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. It is believed that babies adopt the qualities of the animal of the year in which they are born, and that's why there's always a baby-boom in Chinese societies in year of the Dragon, because it's the best of them all. I think after the Dragon, the Tiger and the Horse are the most desirable ones. May I poon out that the hubby and I are tigers and Liam is a horse :D The Goat is one of the least desirable zodiacs, which is why a massive amount of C-sections where scheduled for before the end of the Horse year. Crazy!

A common misunderstanding is regarding New Year's Eve. My western friends ask me what I'll be doing for Chinese New Year's Eve, as if it were just like the night of December 31st in Europe, dancing all night long in a club with some friends. The last day of the Chinese year is nothing like that! That evening it's a tradition to go to the flower market, a pop-up market that lasts for the last three days of the year, with flower stands as well as toys and all kind of accessories. All things related to the animal of the new year are always a big hit, understandably. As for the flowers, I think more flowers are sold these days than during the rest of the year altogether, as it is a tradition to decorate the house with flowers for the festive season.

Also, it's common to write fai chun, or greeting messages, in red paper to hang on the door or windows for good luck. This is me in 2011 writing some!

The last dinner of the year and the first meal of the new year are important ones, and as such should be eaten at home. The rest of the first and second day of the year is dedicated to family gatherings, but not the third day, which is believed to be a day in prone to arguments. In these family gatherings, people play mah-jong, and get and receive red packets or laisee. Red packets are small red envelopes with money inside that are given by the older generations to the younger ones. Couples who married also need to give laisee to their single friends and relatives. Kids, and specially babies celebrating their Chinese New Year for the first time, get LOTS of red packets. It's customary to wish people good luck when giving and receiving laisee, by saying 4 character greetings, which are actually the same ones we write in the fai chun. They can cover lots of topics: health, wealth, beauty, family, business... I love to learn new ones :)

The truth is I could write a whole blog on the Chinese New Year festivities, there's just so much to it! Hopefully you found these ramblings interesting :)

February 17, 2015

Anantara Mui Ne - Vietnam

Today is our last day here in Vietnam. I still don't know how we ended up booking our trip to Mui Ne, a place neither of us had heard of before, but I'm glad we did. In fact, I just wanted another trip to Thailand, just like the one in Hua Hin or the one in Phuket, enjoying the heat in a pool villa while it was winter in Europe. To me, being able to escape the cold winter even if it's just for a few days feels like heaven. These holidays don't make much sense when it's summer in Europe, because by then we have our perfect beachfront house for free! But right now the timing was perfect, we were planning the trip back to Hong Kong for Chinese New Year and I told the hubby we had to go to south-east Asia and relax under the sun with Liam for some days. 

I have only been to Thailand the two times I mentioned, but J has been there around 10, so we decided to go somewhere else. Our first thought was Bali, and we almost had everything booked in an awesome resort in the middle of the jungle before, thank God, we realized it was monsoon season in Bali right now! If you look at the weather for Bali in this moment you'll see how it's been raining for weeks and it doesn't seem it will be stopping anytime soon. You probably don't know this but I never ever plan anything regarding our trips, the hubby does it so well that we could really do so for a living, and so I leave it to him to make all the research and all I have to do is choose between two or three options he gives me. So, it was time for the hubby to start his research all over again! It was November already and you should know that flights around Chinese New Year from Hong Kong get full several months in advance, so we were a bit in a rush! Finally J told me about Mui Ne, in Vietnam, supposedly the best beach in the country. Everything looked good, he showed me the Anantara Mui Ne resort which we finally ended up booking and I thought it was perfect. But he also told me there was somewhat of an inconvenient and that is that Mui Ne is four and a half hours away by car from the airport in Ho Chi Minh city. Oh my! I must say I was about to say no to him and ask him to start his research all over again, but somehow I finally agreed. Liam and I slept during most of the car journey. It was a 14 people car for only the 3 of us, meaning I could lay down in a whole row and sleep like if I were in a bed :D The time I wasn't sleeping, I watched Vietnam go by and It was really interesting: busy Ho Chi Minh city, then the fields, the trees, the poor houses...

We still don't know how this happened because no staff ever mentioned and neither did we, but he had booked a pool villa and to our surprise found ourselves checked in at the beachfront pool villa, the best room in the hotel!!! Yay! It is a perfect villa indeed, with a huge garden overlooking the beach. I just couldn't get used to one thing and that is having no shower indoors. I was pretty scared having a shower outdoors at night while I could see some lizards on the wall and I could feel the wind blowing. Oh yes, the wind is really something in Mui Ne. It is a famous region for kitesurfing, as you can see by the picture below!

Even though the wind season is August to December, it was still pretty windy now, and that's the thing I liked the least about Mui Ne. Maybe I'm just over sensitive to the wind, because the hubby didn't seem to really care. Mui Ne beach is very pretty, it's a really long beach with extremely soft sand. 

I can't say I've found the best restaurant in Mui Ne, because there's just so many you'd have to live here for a month try them all, but I'll tell you which was, by far, my favorite from all the ones we tried. It's restaurant Nam Tho, which has two branches, one at number 33 and another at 43. I personally liked Nam Tho I, the one on number 33, better. So that's the one I recommend :) Even though I like Thai food way better than Vietnamese, we have been having some real nice food here as well, mainly the typical Vietnamese dish, Pho, as well as seafood and curry.

I'm happy all of us have had such an amazing time. Liam really did have a blast. He has been so happy with so many nice activities, and has loved playing with his inflatable plane in the pool, as well as discovering the texture of the sand. I think the timing to travel was perfect, because Liam is not such a baby anymore and can sit by himself and play more, but at the same time he hasn't started on solids yet, meaning that all he eats is my breast milk, which makes it oh-so-convenient!

I'm obviously kind of sad to be leaving already, but the Chinese New Year celebrations in Hong Kong are awaiting us, as are three different afternoon teas I'll be enjoying in this coming days. Hong Kong here we come!

February 3, 2015

Bringing baby to work

I've always known I wanted a big family, and I've always known I didn't want someone else to take care of my baby while I went back to work. This is the reason why a while back, before getting married, I quit my job and set up my own company, Frill Me, which I could run from home. I had it all planned: I would work for my online shop from home while taking care of my children, and the shop would eventually be big enough for my hubby to be able to quit his job as well and stay home with us {or in a small office of our own!}. But then during our wedding, my dad made an amazing speech, in which he asked me to come back home. Five and a half years away from home is a long time, he said. And he asked us both to move back and join the family business in the shoe industry.

We gave it some thought and in November we made up our mind: we were moving to Barcelona. My dad was offering us all we ever wanted: working together for ourselves, with the possibility of bringing our children to the office. No wonder we said yes. I think my idea with Frill Me was a very good one too, but I don't know how long it would have taken for the website to get big enough for the hubby to join the business, so my dad's offer was a godsend.

Liam is 5 months old now, and I started going back to the office part time when he was almost 2 months old. Then when he was 3 months old I finally joined full time, with Liam always next to me. I can't imagine it being any other way. If Liam wasn't able to go to work with me, I would still be on leave. There's seriously no way I'd leave my baby with a babysitter during his first year of life. I don't understand why bringing baby to work seems like such a difficult policy to implement for most companies, specially for those who work in an office. To me it makes perfect sense to bring the baby to work, it allows me to focus on my job knowing my baby is safe right next to me, and it makes the baby feel secure and relaxed knowing I'm right next to him, too. Not only does it make moms happier, it also helps the company's accounts, by avoiding the cost of replacing the employee and being able to retain good employees. I'm not the only one saying this, Forbes says Bringing Babies to Work Is Good Business

In today's society, women often find themselves pushing maternity to their late 30s at least, confronted with the reality of having to choose between a career and a family. I think women can have it all. I believe companies should start considering implementing the bringing-baby-to-work policy for the baby's first year of life. When kids turn one year old, they are perfectly able to spend the day in day care, they actually need that extra stimulation and they have fun! But that's not the case for babies under one year old. 

We just decided on Liam's day care starting September and couldn't be more happy about it. We visited the center, and kids have such a great time interacting with the teachers and with each other in all sorts of fun activities. I felt a bit sad for those under a year old, though. They can't really play yet, and I feel like they should be with their mamas. Hopefully companies will start changing their minds about this, although unfortunately I don't think it will be happening any time soon. If you have kids, what did you do with them during their first year of life? I'd love to know.