Spring at West Lake, Hangzhou, China

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Children and adults play in a park by West Lake

I went to West Lake in Hangzhou, China in May and saw so many colorful flowers and people.  Walk with me by the lake, on paths across stone bridges, through parks, temples, pavilions, and historic buildings with statues.  West Lake is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province.  For 2000 years it has been the source of inspiration for poets, artists, photographers, and even filmmakers.  My students told me the romantic story of the immortal White Snake who became a woman and fell in love with a mortal man.  The turtle god of the lake was jealous, so he imprisoned her under a pagoda.  However, the man still loved the White Snake Woman, and they were eventually reunited and had a son.  This story has been made into television series and films.  Emperors from many Chinese Dynasties visited West Lake and inscribed its famous “Ten Scenes” with poetic names like “Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds,” “Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon, and “Orioles Singing in the Willows.”  As far back as the 14th Century, Europeans visited West Lake, including Italian explorer Marco Polo, who wrote that Hangzhou “is the most splendid heavenly city in the world.”  Spring and romance are here in China!

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China’s Treasures

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The Empress’ throne room inside Beijing’s Summer Palace

I went to Beijing and saw some of China’s greatest treasures, royal rooms where Emperors and Empresses sat on gold and silver thrones that were surrounded by statues of cranes, lions, dragons, and the elusive phoenix.  After touring the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, we went to a fancy Chinese restaurant that recreated the Emperor’s throne room.  Here I am, sitting among China’s treasures and realizing that the greatest treasure is love, the human heart, and God sending His only Son down from Heaven’s throne for us.

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China’s Valentine’s Day

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This year, Valentine’s Day in China was on the same day as the Lantern Festival which marks the last day of Lunar New Year’s celebrations, so everywhere there were fireworks, red lanterns, and big bouquets of flowers.  Read more about how the Chinese celebrated on Digital Journal.  I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day.  Even if there was no romance in your life, perhaps you experienced true love!  See how I did in my newest book, Fire and Ice.

Spring in Turkey

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A family strolls along a hill by tulips in Seka Park, Izmit, Kocaeli

Spring has finally come to Turkey, and people enjoy walking outside in the sunshine, strolling through parks, planning weddings, and admiring tulips, an important flower for Turkey that can be found in tourism symbols, hand-made lace, and jewelry. Grown natively in Anatolia for centuries, tulips were first introduced to Europe by a German ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century. Tulips were the symbol of the Ottoman Empire, courtly romance, and love. Only the rich and refined could truly grow tulips, display them in their homes, draw paintings of them, and write them into poetry. The golden age of the Ottoman Empire, in the 18th Century, was called the Tulip Era (“Lale Devri” in Turkish).

 After a long, cold winter in northwest Turkey, spring finally arrived this April. Tulips of all colors graced parks and hillsides. People planned weddings, relaxed at open-air cafes, and gave each other bouquets of Turkish “lale.”  A duck bathed in a fountain.  I enjoyed all this with my Turkish husband as sunlight shone on his amazing country.  After two years of living inside the Turkish culture, I am hopeful for new beginnings.  I’m writing a new book about it!

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My Turkish husband Ömer and I in the park

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A duck enjoys the spring sunlight and a bath in a fountain

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Turkish tulips shine in the sunlight

Pale like Lace

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Spring is here, and women all around Turkey are planning weddings.  There is something lovely in the pale, candle-light color of lace on a wedding dress.  In Turkey, wedding gowns are amazing.  I hope you enjoy my little lacy photos.  Read about the cultural traditions for “Weddings in Turkey” on Digital Journal and see more photos if you like.  Sweet romance!

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Weddings in Turkey

In Turkey, marriage is important, so people go all-out for engagements and weddings. Dresses can range from simple frocks to fancy ball gowns, but even more interesting are the traditions and ceremonies involved.

Turkey is a land of contrasts. You can find the traditional next to the modern in architecture, food, and fashion. But weddings remain vital in this society where it is scandalous for a man and a woman to just live together. Many weddings are big, expensive events tied to old Ottoman and Arabian influences and lasting for days. Others are simpler affairs. Since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the Republic of Turkey, weddings have been, by law, secular ceremonies overseen by a marriage commissioner. However, devout Muslims often hold another service afterward to be blessed by an imam at a mosque. Almost always the bride dresses up, from a simple frock to an elaborate gown that would rival Cinderella at the Ball. Families and friends get involved, and music, dancing, and food are part of most celebrations. Perhaps the most fascinating customs are the events that lead up to the wedding day. Continue reading