Friday, January 14, 2022

The History of the Chinese Lantern Festival

Held annually on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Agricultural calendar, the Lantern Festival, a.k.a. ”The First Full Moon Festival,” is the day the full moon first reveals itself in a year. Many people may think that the Chinese Lantern Festival simply continues the Spring Festival. But there is more significance to this festival. 

The festival originated in the Han Dynasty (more than 2,000 years ago) as a religious festival that honors the “God of Origin” - Taiyi. As the years passed, the festival became a tribute to the “Heavenly God” of Taoism, a god whose duty is to bring blessings to people, especially at the beginning of the new year. After Buddhism arrived in China, the festival also became a day for Buddhists to worship the Buddha.

The traditional customs of this festival, other than going to temples to burn incents and attend religious rituals, include lighting up all sorts of lights, candles, and lanterns to cast off bad luck and crossing bridges while praying for better health in the year that has just arrived. People also make stuffed rice ball soup desserts, known as “tangyuan” in the southern parts of China and “yuanxiao” in the northern part of China. The dish’s names symbolize reunion. Also, in ancient times, the Lantern Festival served the romantic purpose of Valentine’s Day because it was a perfect day for a couple to go out on a date amongst a sea of bright lights on the streets. 

Japan and Korea have their versions of the festival, too. In 2022, the Lantern Festival will be taking place on the 15th of February.

Blog written by ICSC Member Ruowen Wang

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Tea, Chai, or All the Same?

In my home country, Kazakhstan, we drink tea three times a day – with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Tea is not considered as an energy drink there and probably it has become an essential part of our culture. Family gatherings, hanging out with friends, even business meetings – they are often accompanied by a cup of tea, although we don’t have specific traditions about it like, for example, famous tea ceremonies in Japan. Interestingly enough, tea in Kazakh is “shai” and in Russian is “chai”.

When I came to the US, I was not surprised to see that the population in general doesn’t consume much tea and prefers water or, if needed to wake up, coffee. What surprised me is to see the word “chai” in many places in their menus and to find out that it is considered here different from tea. However, after I did some more digging into that, it turned out still to be tea!

Chai is usually attributed to Indian culture and is usually spiced black tea with milk – hence, probably, a different name here. But then I asked some friends from India – for them tea and chai are also same! Here, I also want to add that tea with milk is also very popular in Kazakhstan, but yet – it is still called tea there! And it is also mostly black tea (other types such as green, white, etc., were not common until recently), but we do not usually use spices.

There is the whole article on Wikipedia about etymology of the word “tea” and from there you can actually get to know that “tea” is very much connected to “chai”. Moreover, you can find there how many derivatives just a single syllable (either “tea” or “chai”) produced across the nations since tea’s worldwide spread.

Despite any challenges or exams, keep calm and have some tea!

Blog post by ICSC member Alisher Duspayev

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Takeaways from the Daodejing - One of China's Most Influential Ancient Philosophy Classics

Taoism is one of the most influential Chinese schools of philosophy and religion. It was initially founded as a school of philosophical thinking by Lao Tzu, a philosopher from ancient China's Spring and Autumn period who was later worshiped as a deity in the later-developed religious Taoism. The classic foundational text of philosophical and religious Taoism is the Daodejing, traditionally credited to Lao Tzu. 

One of the critical ideas that Daodejing preaches is a duality of two binaries embodied in all objects of existence: Things that are tough and rigid (like metal) are often brittle and weak. On the other hand, things that are soft and flexible (like water) are usually strong. Moreover, something that shows off excessively and flamboyantly (like fire) is often hollow. But something that appears humble and modest (like minerals hidden underground) is often content. Therefore, people should avoid possessing attributes that are along the lines of "tough," "excessive," and "aggressive" and instead embrace qualities that are "soft" and "modest." For example, we shouldn't put too much pressure on ourselves, boast about ourselves, show aggression to others, or abuse any power we have. Rather, we should communicate with others, help others, and remain humble, modest, curious, and open-minded.

Written by ICSC Member Ruowen Wang

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Cooking: Authentic Chinese Brown Sugar Glutinous Rice Cake

I was born and raised in a small city in Sichuan, China. In Sichuan, the brown sugar glutinous rice cake is very popular. Everybody loves it. When I was young, I still remember an older man with a white beard selling glutinous rice cakes at the gate of my primary school. I can not help but want to buy it every time after school. But my mother would not let me buy it because she thought the cakes selling on the street had too much sugar in them, and the sugar would cause my tooth decay. But during the summer vacation, my mom will make me some brown sugar glutinous rice cakes at home as a reward for completing a semester's study. But after I came to the United States, I cannot find any restaurant in Ann Arbor that has rice cakes on its menu. So, I asked for a recipe from my mom and cooked it myself. The recipe here is the one my mom gave me, and it is pretty simple, but the cake is delicious!

Ingredients ( for 1-2 people):

  • 150g Glutinous rice flour

  • 120g Hot water

  • 40g Brown sugar

  • 200g Pure water

  • 100g Soybean

  • 30g White sugar

  • 0.5 cup of vegetable oil

The very first step is to make some soybean powder. After washing the soybeans, let them air dry or wipe them dry with kitchen paper towels. Put them in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.

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After taking them out from the oven, put them in your blender and add the 30g white sugar. Grind them into powder. The soybean powder is done!

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The second part is to make the cake dough: Pour the 120g hot water into the bowl with 150g glutinous rice flour. After stirring with chopsticks, knead it with your hands to form a smooth dough.

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Divide this dough into fifteen small doughs of almost the same size and then knead each small dough into a strip.

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Pour the oil into the pan and fry these strips of dough in the pan over medium heat until the surface is crispy and turns slightly yellow. 

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Brown sugar and water are boiled together into a syrup.

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The last part is to add flavor to the cake: Sprinkle soybean powder on the surface of the rice cake, then pour the brown sugar syrup evenly on the cake. 

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All done and enjoy the cake!

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  • The amount of white sugar in the soybean powder and brown sugar syrup can be varied according to your personal taste.

  • It’s best to eat the cake when it’s just made.

  • Store any uneaten cake in the fridge.  

Written by Yaoqi Liao

Summer Orientation Peer Advisor

Graduate Student


Tips for Leveraging the Michigan Advantage

It was a cloudy day in the month of March 2020. I was staying with my grandparents in my native place - a small town near the tip of South India. It seemed like it was going to be just like any other day during that time, with the gloomy news of Covid-19 cases being on the rise and extensions of lockdowns all over the newspapers. Little did I know that it’d actually turn out to be one of the best days I’d ever have. At 6:30 pm, I got an email from U-M. I opened it with bated breath and the moment I saw the word “Congratulations!”, my heart skipped a beat. Studying at U-M has been a dream of mine ever since I started thinking about higher studies, and it was a surreal feeling to know I’d made it. I was super excited when I got my acceptance letter, and I’m sure you are pumped about being here too. Out of the many things which make studying at U-M special, here are a few reasons which stand out to me personally and some key takeaways for you.

Academic resources

U-M is one of the best ranked universities in the world, and not without good reason. The university boasts one of the highest research expenditures in the United States, with $1.62 billion spent in 2020 alone! The academic infrastructure is simply splendid, and you have some of the most equipped labs and resources at your disposal. Fun fact: The U-M library system ranks as the third largest research library system in the United States with all the campus libraries together being home to more than 15 million volumes! 

→ So, while you’re here, do your best to utilize all the resources you have access to.

Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is the best college town in America. It looks very beautiful almost all through the year and there's a natural charm and positive vibe to the place. There are TONS of fun activities to take part in, and whether you love shopping, you're a foodie or you’re a fitness enthusiast, you have so many places to go to and many many things to do. In addition to all of this, I think the best asset is the people here. Everybody is just super nice, inclusive and welcoming! Ever since I've stepped on campus, I've only seen friendly faces. It definitely feels like a second home, and this stands true at all levels of the university and Ann Arbor in general. Be it the staff, faculty, research assistants, peers and even shop vendors, everybody is just so nice and willing to go above and beyond to help out. 

→ So, keep exploring and don’t be shy to ask for help.

Holistic development 

While the academic standard here speaks for itself, opportunities to learn and grow don’t just stop with that. There is a huge emphasis on co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, and the 1600+ student-run clubs and organizations on campus stand testament to that. The sports and athletics scene at Michigan is also worth mentioning here. There is so much passion and unity when it comes to supporting U-M’s sports teams, and as is the case for most sports, the craze for American football is unreal. Did you know that the Big House - U-M’s football stadium is the largest in America and one of the largest in the world?! 

Education is best when it's holistic because it makes you not just an expert in your field of study, but also a better, more complete individual. Having the best of both worlds in terms of academics and otherwise here, you should be sure to make the most of it.

→ So, work-hard, but also play-hard, or in other words, maintain a good balance.


U-M has one of the most diverse student bodies in the world, with representation from 122 countries which is, needless to say, mind-blowing. Apart from the fact that you get to meet interesting people and get to know other customs and traditions, the impact that this exposure will have on you cannot be overstated. The diversity is not limited just to a geographical standpoint though. Even in terms of disciplines, U-M has 19 schools and colleges, and 275+ degree programs, and is highly regarded in most fields. Not only do you get to mingle with students from all over the world, you will also be working with students from multiple disciplines, which gives you chances of expanding your skills and knowledge. Fun fact: I'm majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering with a focus on Embedded Systems, but am also a working member of the U-M Arts Initiative

→ So, learning doesn’t have to be linear. Widen your scope!

Alumni network

U-M arguably has one of the largest and most notable alumni networks in the world. This personally was one of my biggest motivations behind applying to Michigan and now that I’m here, I know the stats aren’t lying. As part of alumni outreach efforts at U-M, I got the opportunity to speak to so many alumni members across different schools and colleges, and irrespective of all their unique backgrounds, every one of them sounded equally passionate about their love for the university and the memories they made here. Many of them also spoke about how having the Michigan degree tag on their resume helped open doors for interviews leading to where they are at the moment, which I think is super exciting! Michigan alums are very willing to help, and can always be reached out to for professional advice and mentorship. In fact, the university has an exclusive networking platform meant to help current students connect with alumni directly in the form of UCAN.

→ So, boldly reach out to alumni members and build strong connections.

Written by Ashwin Soorya Prakash

Summer Orientation Peer Advisor

Graduate Student


Things to do on Central Campus

The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor has three major campuses: Central, North, and South Campus. Central Campus is the busiest and the most compact campus because part of it is located in downtown Ann Arbor with all the main streets such as State Street and E. Liberty Street. The other part includes many academic buildings and residential halls. There are a lot of “hidden gems” on Central Campus and I am going to introduce some of my favourite places to go to whether by myself or with friends. 


The Kerrytown market and shops are only 5-10 minutes away from North Quad residence hall. It is a distinctive neighborhood with local produce and vintage shops. If you live off-campus on Central Campus and want to get groceries from local farms and businesses, the Kerrytown market is definitely one of your first choices. It offers international food and great personal service to satisfy all your needs about food. Also, if you are an art person, Kerrytown is also known for its art exhibits and special designs from local artists. It is a wonderful place to hang out with your friends.

University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA)

You should always be proud as a University of Michigan student because it has one of the finest university art museums in the country - UMMA. The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) holds collections representing 150 years of art collecting. It is a distinctive building on South State Street and located right next to the Diag. The UMMA is free and open for walk-in visits. A lot of its galleries and collections have limited durations so you should definitely check it out with your friends a couple times a year for new art themes.

Nichols Arboretum (Arb)

On Central Campus, you will always hear University of Michigan students referring to a special place called the “Arb”. The Arb has a lot of special things for you to discover, including a 3.5 mile hiking trail, a garden with exotic plants and flowers, and the Huron River that flows across Ann Arbor. It offers free admission and opens every day from sunrise to sunset to the public. Since the Arb is one of the only natural landscapes on Central Campus, it is very popular among students. I highly recommend you to visit the Arb if you want to take a walk outside or simply enjoy the blooming flowers!

Written by Jasmine Jia

Summer Orientation Peer Advisor

Undergraduate Student


How To Make Small Talk

You are attending a school event, and all around you is an unfamiliar crowd. The official activities have not yet begun, but folks in the crowd are sharing smiles, small laughter, slightly exaggerated gestures, and subtle nods. What do you do? You could bury your head in your phone, but you do not want to come off as aloof, disconnected, or rude. All of a sudden, a vaguely familiar face starts to walk towards you with a smile. You suddenly recognize them. You had shared a short conversation during orientation week. “Hi there!”, they say. And with those words, you realize it’s time to make small talk, but how do you do it?  “Small talk” is an immensely cultural activity, but you do not need to know a million cultural references to engage in small talk in the US. Here are a few general tips. 

  1. Quickly find commonalities: 

The easiest way to do this is to draw up the experience you are sharing with your conversation partner in that moment. For example, in the scenario I describe above, after exchanging pleasantries, you could easily comment on the size of the crowd, the beauty (or lack thereof) of the decorations, the theme of the night, or something interesting that is happening or has happened in that room. 

  1. Be engaged: 

While you may be a good listener, small talk requires you not to be a passive listener; show that you care about what your partner is saying by the movements of your body. So, nod, smile, cackle if warranted, and reasonably mirror the non-verbal cues your partner is sending. 

  1. Be complimentary: 

Try not to do this excessively, or overly flatter. But compliments that show that you are noticing the other person are typically warmly received. For example, “oh my, your shoes match your dress so well,” or, “that is such a nice jacket,” are polite but powerful examples of compliments. In my experience, compliments are often most effective in the middle of a conversation. Passing compliments at this time signals that you have taken the time to notice and aren’t passing a routine and obligatory flatter at the beginning of a conversation. 

  1. Be confident: 

It is possible that your English language skills aren’t perfect – this does not matter. If you make a grammar error, laugh it off, or simply correct it and move on. Your physical posture is important too. Always have a firm handshake, stand up straight, and try to relax. A timid vibe is easily communicated, but confidence shores up interest in what you have to say.

In conclusion, think of conversation as a ladder. Before you climb to the top, wherein you have deep, thoughtful, perhaps philosophical conversations, first you may need to talk about soft topics, and everyday things – this is small talk. So do not approach small talk with dread, but consider it as an avenue to deepen friendship, and ultimately expand your knowledge of the world and those around you. 

Written by Alfred Momodu

Summer Orientation Peer Advisor

Graduate Student