Tag Archives: asia

Giving Thanks: 5 Rituals from around the Globe

November 27th, 2013


I am always curious about the traditional rituals celebrated by other cultures and set out exploring. On this Thanksgiving, I’d like to share with you five examples of rituals used to mark the passage of time, celebrate life, and give thanks for the harvest that sustains them.

1. Nuts to you!
When my son was little we had a yearly ritual of visiting a friend’s neighborhood to see the “nuts-guy” on Halloween. Instead of offering candy when he opened the door, he would scoop a large handful of nuts (in their shells) from a large bowl just inside the doorway and throw them at us shouting “Nuts to you!” and slam the door. We loved it! It always sent us into spasms of laughter because it was so weird, and unlike our expectations of a traditional Trick-or-Treat experience.

Over the years, I have periodically wondered what ever became of the nuts-guy and why in the world he would do that. While doing some reading about the traditions of giving thanks in cultures around the world, I came across an interesting ritual in observance of St. Martin’s Day, celebrated in Malta. On the Sunday nearest to November 11, the Maltese hand out bags of nuts of various kinds, (and sweets) to children celebrating St. Martin’s Day, known as Il-Borża ta’ San Martin, “St Martin’s Bag.” Mystery solved, the nuts-guy was a cranky guy from Malta.


The feast of St. Martin is traditionally celebrated on November 11, and had its beginning in France, later spreading to Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. St. Martin was known as a friend of children and a patron of the poor, and the feast coincides with celebrations to mark the beginning of harvest. So what if the nuts-guy was a little early.

2. Children’s Festival of Lanterns
Another mystery was solved last week in this very same vein of questioning, as I encountered my very first “Children’s Festival of Lanterns” here in Germany called Martinsfeuer.


Children from all over the area swarmed into the center of the city all carrying paper lanterns and of course, wearing a few glow-in-the-dark articles of clothing. The children walk in processions carrying lanterns, which they made in school, often painted with the face of the sun, and sing Martin Songs.

The trams stopped running their usual routes to accommodate the masses of illuminated little beings, wrapped up in winter gear, eagerly anticipating a huge bonfire in the central marketplace at the end of the evening.

As our tram crawled along at a snails’ pace I looked out the window and asked my husband ‘What’s that all about?’ He only knew that he had done that as a child and that it was a very old tradition that happens every year at this time. I, on the other hand, needed to know.

Martinmas is the beginning of winter and is celebrated at harvest time, and in the wine producing regions it is the time when the newly produced wine is ready for drinking. It is also a time marking the end of winter preparations, and includes the bounty of the harvest. The feast is very closely related to the American and Canadian ritual of Thanksgiving.

American Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of October, also had its roots in religious traditions, and like Martinmas, is celebrated in a secular manner as well. It sprung out of the English Reformation as a rebellion against the large number of Catholic religious holidays. The Puritans wanted religious holidays to be replaced by either Days of Fasting or Days of Thanksgiving. In1621, the Puritan emigrants to the New World brought these special day designations with them, and celebrated their first successful bounty at the end of the harvest season.

The French did the same in Canada in the early 17th century and brought their wonderful Joie-de-Vivre imperative along and continued to celebrate throughout the winter, sharing their food with the Native people in the area. Vive la France!

3. Jade Rabbit
In China and Vietnam the harvest festival is celebrated during a full moon in late September or early October, close to the autumnal equinox. It is a traditional time for family and relatives to come together and celebrate harmonious unions, to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and pray for a good future.
Food offerings were traditionally made in honor of the moon, and today people come together outdoors watch the moon, sometimes reflected in a teacup, as a symbol of harmony and unity.

An integral part of the moon ceremony alongside tea, is the Mooncake. The making and sharing of Mooncakes–– considered a delicacy, is an important aspect of the ritual and symbolizes the completeness and unity of the family. Mooncakes are traditionally round, about 10cm in diameter and 4-5cm thick, and filled with a rich mixture of red bean or lotus seed paste, encased in a thin crust.

Moon worship at the time of harvest is directly connected to the eternal sustenance of life and honors the deity Chang’e, a goddess who drank the elixir of immortality, and flew into the sky, transforming into the moon. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chang%27e_%28mythology%29

In Chinese folklore the rabbit, often referred to as Jade Rabbit is portrayed as the eternal companion of Chan’e on the moon, where he is constantly pounding the elixir of life for her in a mortar and pestle. In the poetry of the Han Dynasty, Jade Rabbit was often used in place of the word for moon.


In both China and Vietnam, illuminated lanterns have become the symbol of the harvest moon festival, and In Vietnam, children parade with colored lanterns, signifying the wish for the warmth of the sunlight to return after the colder, darker days of winter.


4. Light Trumps Dark
Another luminous goddess of light dating back to the Zoroastrian religion of ancient Persia, today’s Iran, is honored in Iran, during their harvest celebration of “thanksgiving.” The ancient Iranian festival of Mehregan, which dates before the earliest Aryans (Iranians), is still celebrated on October 2, and signifies the time of harvest and the beginning of winter.


As in most cultures around the world it is joyously celebrated with family and friends, coming together and illuminating the coming darkness of the winter months. The Iranian festival, as in Europe and Asia, traditionally culminates with bonfires and fireworks.

These “illuminations” draw their symbolism from the ancient Goddess of Light, Mithra or Mehr, who is believed to have defeated evil and triumphed over darkness. It is also a time to reflect on the eternal, regenerative spirit of the birth and rebirth cycles represented by harvesting what has has been sown.

A table is set with reverence to this sacred life-sustaining occasion, which includes; rosewater, sweets flowers, an incense burner filled with frankincense and Espand, as well as a dish of water scented with marjoram extract, and lotus seeds. The table is set with a variety of foods: apples, almonds, pomegranates, pistachios, vegetables, sweets, and flowers.

At lunchtime several rituals are observed such as throwing handfuls of lotus, sugar, plum seeds and marjoram over participants’ heads, while they embrace, and in the evening fireworks are set off and prayers are recited to receive divine blessings.

5.Thai Pongal
In South India, one of the most important festivals for the Tamils is Thai Pongal, celebrated at the end of the harvest season. Throughout India it coincides with Makara Sankranthi, the celebration of the winter harvest usually held from January 13-16.


Pongal is also the name of a rice dish, boiled with lentils and milk to signify the warming (boiling) of the season as the sun travels north towards the equinox. It is a traditional offering of gratitude to the Sun God, Surya, for a bountiful harvest. In the North of India, millions of people immerse themselves in rivers and make offerings to Surya in the form of thousands of colorful kites.

Children also participate in these rituals of thanksgiving as fruits of the harvest are collected and mixed together with flowers in a ceremony called Bhogi Pallu. Money is sometimes placed into this mixture and poured over the children who are then encouraged to collect the sweet fruit and money.

In India, the sun stands for the supreme force of life, the manifest God, Pratyaksha Brahman, who is endlessly returning to bless and sustain life.

In India, the harvest is a time to give thanks and recognition to the animal kingdom as well. Cows are thanked in a ritual called Maatu Pongal, where they are decorated with garlands of flowers, and fed special food, prepared in gratitude for their help in farming.

Cows are not the only lucky ones. Women cook and create offerings to birds in the ritual known as Kanu Pidi. They feed the birds and pray for the well being of their brothers, by placing a selection of colored rice dishes cooked with vegetables and bananas outside, and inviting the crows to descend, in the hope that brother-sister ties will remain forever strong like a family of crows.

May your harvests be bountiful, and perhaps in light of the recent terrible devastation, loss of life and the havoc created by Global Climate disasters, being thankful, and not abusive of Mother Earth, our supreme goddess, might be the best ritual of all. For a thought-provoking essay, check out:

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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20 Facts About Turkey

June 07, 2013


In light of the protests that have erupted in Turkey against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, we wanted to share a few facts about this country situated at the northeast end of the Mediterranean Sea in southeast Europe and southwest Asia. North of Turkey is the Black Sea and on its west is the Aegean Sea. Its neighbors are Greece and Bulgaria to the west, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania to the north and northwest (through the Black Sea), Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east, and Syria and Iraq to the south. The Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus divide the country.

The history and culture of Turkey is such that coming up with 20 facts out of thousands was an incredibly difficult task. We know that so much has been omitted for the sake of brevity. The list below is a primer to this country’s rich heritage.

1. Turkey is officially known as the ‘Republic of Turkey’.

2. The Republic of Turkey was founded on October 29, 1923, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

3. Turkey is a democratic, secular, unitary and constitutional republic.

4. Ankara is Turkey’s capital while Istanbul is its largest city.

5. It has a population of 71.1 million.

6. Of the 87% of the population that is literate 95% are male and 80% female.

7. The major religion of Turkey is Islam, while its official language is Turkish. Kurdish, Dimli, Zaza, Arabic, Armenian, Greek and Azeri are also spoken in the country.

8. Istanbul is the only city in the world built on two continents and has been the capital of three great empires, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman for more than 2000 years.

9. The part of Turkey in Europe is called ‘Thrace’ (an area about equal to the state of Massachusetts), while the part in Asia is called ‘Anatolia’ (an area about the size of the state of Texas).

10. Anatolia is the birthplace of historic legends, such as Omar (the poet), King Midas, Herodotus (the father of history) and St. Paul the Apostle.

11. Julius Ceasar proclaimed his celebrated words, “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) in Turkey when he defeated the Pontus, a formidable kingdom in the Black Sea region of Turkey.

12. The oldest known human settlement is in Catalhoyuk, Turkey (7500 BC).

13. Temple of Artemis and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the two of the seven wonders of the ancient world, are in Turkey.

14. Turks introduced coffee to Europe.

15. Turks gave the Dutch their famous tulips.

16. Turkey has 94 State universities and 45 Foundation (Private) universities

17. Approximately 55,000 Turkish students go abroad annually for educational purposes.

18. Turkey has been sending more than 10,000 students a year to the U.S. since 2000 exceeding other European countries such as Britain and Germany.

19. Istanbul’s Robert College (established in 1863), is the oldest American school outside the United States.

20. Turkey provides 70% of the world’s hazelnuts; the nut in your chocolate bar was most probably grown in Turkey.

Alan Saidi
Senior Vice President & COO

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit http://www.acei-global.org.


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Dispatches from the 2013 APAIE Conference in Hong Kong

March 14, 2013

Hong Kong

There’s nothing like beating jet lag after a 17-hour flight from Los Angeles-San Francisco-Hong Kong, with a ride on the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island first thing in the morning for a meeting. It actually proved to be a relaxing way to get a start on the next two weeks as Zepur Solakian, Executive Director of CGACC and I make our way through Hong Kong at the APAIE Conference and then onto Tokyo, Japan, for a continuation of our discussions on the 2+2 model of US community colleges and universities and importance of international credential evaluations.

We met up with Angel Lau, Senior Advisor with Education USA, a service of the US State Department, at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong. Ms. Lau had arranged for us to meet with Ms. Ellie Tang, Higher Education Adviser at West Island School, a multi-ethnic international school funded both privately and by government offering Grade 6 to 12 lower and upper secondary education. We learned that WIS offers secondary curriculum intended for the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education), the International Baccalaureate Diploma and the Business and Technical Education Council (BTEC) International Diploma. Ms. Tang’s main concern was to help U.S. colleges and universities have a better understanding of the BTEC qualifications and their equivalence to the British General Certificate of Education Advance Levels. Ms. Tang was happy to learn that it is in fact through the actual credential evaluation process that U.S. colleges and universities will learn of the approximate educational equivalence of the BTEC qualification.

Our next meeting began with a lunch hosted by Mr. Peter P.T. Cheung, Secretary-General of the Federation for Self-Financing Tertiary Education (FSTE). We were joined by two members of the Federation: Professor T.S. Chan, Associate VP of Lingnan University and Professor Reggie Kwan, President of Caritas Institute of Higher Education, as well as Ms. Dorothy Hon, Senior Executive Officer (Projects) at the Federation. Both Professors Chan and Kwan shared with us their own personal experiences as international students at U.S. universities during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Professor Kwan, a graduate of Montana State University spoke fondly of his undergraduate and graduate years and his love of nature and American football. Professor Chan’s academic experience began at Whittier College in California and continued onto the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Our hosts all stressed the value of studying abroad and wished to see the same pathway opened for their students. They saw the 2+2 model as a cost effective approach to access U.S. higher education. We later presented the 2+2 model with an overview of the international credential evaluation process at a workshop hosted by FSTE to several of its institutional members. Our presentation was well received helping clarify some of the myths the attendees had about U.S. community colleges. The concept that students in the U.S. can complete two years of general education at the community colleges for a fraction of the cost of what it would be at a four-year institution and then transfer to a university to complete the remainder of their undergraduate education for the Bachelor’s degree is contrary to their counter parts known as “self-financed tertiary institutions” in Hong Kong. “Self-financed,” means that these institutions charge tuition that are, in fact, higher than fees charged by the universities. These self-financed tertiary institutions are seen as a last resort option for those unable to enter the university system with little upward mobility. Unlike the U.S. community colleges, completion of studies at the self-financed institutions in Hong Kong does not guarantee transfer credit to university degree programs. Seeing that Hong Kong students can look at the U.S. community colleges to further their education at the university level as an alternative is beginning to be seen as a viable option.

No trip to Hong Kong is complete without a walk through the Night Market in Kowloon, Stanley Market, Victoria Peak (for a magnificent panoramic view of the HK skyline), and the Big Buddha on Lantau Island. I’m happy that I had the weekend in between meetings and the start of the APAIE Conference to do some sightseeing before transferring to the conference hotel near the convention center miles and miles away from the city center.

At the conference, I served on a panel with Dr. Reza Hoshmand of Hong Kong Baptist University, Zepur Solakian, and Angel Lau (EducationUSA) discussing the 2+2 model and seeing how through Dr. Hoshmand’s efforts the 2+2 model has been implemented at HK Baptist University. We presented our session in the form of a round-table discussion and heard from attending colleagues from Australia, Poland, China, and Canada. Clearly, the U.S. is unique in its 2+2 model and making access to four-year universities possible through the community college route.

A walk through APAIE’s Exhibit Hall brought me in direct contact with the many Asian universities ACEI has been receiving transcripts from for evaluation. It has been a wonderful experience connecting with universities from S. Korea, Japan, Thailand, and China, to name a few.

Friday, March 15th marks my last day in Hong Kong. I’m scheduled for a site visit to the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University. I’ve had an amazing time in Hong Kong and at the conference. I look forward to continuing the exchange of ideas at the next APAIE Conference in 2014 to be held in Seoul, Korea.

I leave for Japan this Saturday for another round of meetings with educators. Stay tuned for news of my visit to Tokyo in next week’s blog!

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI

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20 Interesting Facts about Hong Kong

March 07, 2013

As ACEI’s President and CEO, Jasmin S. Kuehnert, embarks on her trip to Hong Kong next week where she’ll be attending the APIEA http://www.apaie.org / Conference and presenting a session on “Partnerships and Collaborations with EducationUSA, higher education communities in the U.S. and the East Asia Pacific,” we thought it would be interesting to share some facts about Hong Kong.

1. Hong Kong’s official name is the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, or Hong Kong SAR.

2. Hong Kong means Fragrant Harbor.

3. Hong Kong consists of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, the New Territories, and several other smaller islands spread
over 1,092 square kilometers.

4. Hong Kong’s official languages are Chinese (Spoken Cantonese) and English.

5. Hong Kong has more Rolls Royce’s per person than any other city in the world.

6. Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers (classified as building with more than 14 floors) in the world; double that of its nearest rival: New York City.


7. Hong Kong is counted amongst the most densely populated areas of the world.

8. Hong Kong was taken over by the British forces after the defeat of China in the Opium War of 1842. On July 1st, 1997, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China.

9. The emblem of the reunification of Hong Kong with China is Sousa Chinensis (the Chinese White Dolphin)

The Flag of Hong Kong

10. The terrain of Hong Kong is pretty hilly and there are outdoor escalators in the Central district of the Island.

11. Every year, between April and May, residents of Cheung Chau Island organize a bun festival. It’s intended to keep hungry ghosts residing on the island content. They build a tower of buns, but lately they use plastic instead of the real baked version.

Source image courtesy of http://www.atinyrocket.com

12. The Hong Kong dollar is the eighth most traded currency in the world.

13. In Hong Kong, architects take Feng Shui (wind/water elements) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feng_shui into consideration in the design and construction of buildings.

14. For nearly 40 years, Sam’s Tailor http://samstailor.com/ , the famous tailor in Burlington Arcade in Hong Kong is reputed to have made clothes for heads of state and celebrities like Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Prince Charles, Pavarotti, and Michael Jackson.

15. The 1955 film “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” based on a romantic novel about an American war correspondent (played by the actor William Holden) who fell in love with a Hong Kong Chinese doctor (Jennifer Jones) in the run up to the Korean War was filmed in Hong Kong.


16. Dai Pai Dong, Fast Food Noodle Shops, are common sites in Hong Kong offering an inexpensive bowl of noodles for around HK$20 and free tea.


17. Eating noodles on one’s birthday is considered by the residents of Hong Kong to afford one a long and blessed life.

Source image courtesy of http://www.equator.eftours.com

18. The saying “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” originated in Hong Kong. The writer Noel Coward wrote the words referring to the Noon Day Gun in Causeway Bay fired every day at the stroke of midday since colonial times.

Image courtesy of http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/see-do/culture-heritage/historical-sites/colonial/noon-day-gun.jsp

19. The Tsing Ma Bridge is the world’s longest road and rail suspension bridge and a Hong Kong landmark.


20. As for education, Hong Kong government extended free education in the public section from 9 to 12 years effective 2008/09 school year.

And, here’s one more bonus fact:

21. A new academic structure at the secondary level was implemented in September 2009 and comprises of 6 years of secondary education (i.e. 3 years of junior secondary and 3 years of senior secondary education). The new curriculum leads to one public examination at the end of Secondary 6 and award of the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination which replaces the former Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) and the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examinations (HKALE)

Other useful links:

Click to access education.pdf



Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc.

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