Happy New Year!
Or 新年好. For China, Spring Festival (or Lunar New Year) is the biggest holiday of the year. Right now millions of people have travelled back to their hometowns to visit with family and friends as they have for thousands of years. This festival celebrates the impending end of Winter (end soon dammit!) and the coming birth of Spring. So important for farmers.
Many of my friends have wandered to warmer climes, and for a number of reasons I opted to remain local in my tiny little town of Binhai. So while some friends bask in the heat of Thailand, I ended up spending Spring Festival Eve with Mr. Sun. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as his last small family luncheon turned out to be much larger than I anticipated.
Mr. Sun continues to be a very good friend to me, and I wanted to take him some sort of traditional gift. I ended up deciding upon a box of oranges (each one individually wrapped in red cellophane) and a bottle of the baijiu (the local firewater.) Because Mr. Sun helps me out as much as he does I wanted to make an effort to give him some suitable gifts. I wanted to spend a whopping 100 Yuan on him. I only managed 70.
I debated making a trip into the downtown core of Binhai, but it was cold and this was a bit last minute (invitation to dinner at 6 happened at 10am), instead a went to my local convenience store in Shin Fu Shar Tru where I enjoy a bit of banter with the couple that owns it and their probably 11 year old son. He speaks the most English of the three. As I try to explain what I want and how much I want to spend with a lot of gesticulation and looking at my phrase book… after a few minutes what started as a comfortable four (me, mom, dad and son) swells to eight or nine. One woman trying to buy some last minute Spring Festival gift, and then some of the local men. Curious about the foreigner.
This happens a lot. When I stop for any length of time, crowds gather. I know they mean well but it can be off-putting. I collect my two gifts and head for home.
Mr. Sun picks me up on his scooter. I don’t really fit on his scooter and I can feel the thing struggle to keep moving forward because apparently I’m hefty for China.
At his new place, they’ve only lived there 3 1/2 months, it turns out that it is going to be a small family dinner, just me, Mr. Sun, his wife and his son. I’ve met them all before. I played ping pong with this son (I lost badly) after the family lunch. Now it will just be us four.
It’s casual but one thing I do not like about the Chinese dining process is how things come out in stages. I understand the reason for this, but I find it really disconcerting to be tucking in for a meal while one person (in this case Mr. Sun’s wife) putters in the kitchen preparing the next dish.
This subdued (by Chinese standards) meal offers up a good variety, although I would have enjoyed more vegetables. There were two types of fish (a soup and a baked dish), some pork meatballs, spiced shrimp, a dried, salty pork sausage, 1000 year old eggs, an odd creamy yellow disk shaped food that I never figured out, and some liver stew (not a fan). In the soup, stew and liver dish there were vegetables. I attacked the cabbage and bok choy because China loves its protein so when I see some greenery I’m all over it!
The Chinese eat communally, which I love. I’m learning how to eat shrimp like a Mandarin, and they do no peel the shellfish, just bite off the head and then use their teeth to squeeze the succulent meat from the shell. It’s amazingly effective.
We tuck in and enjoy our feast. As today is a special day we enough drink one bottle of baiju, At the end, after all of our food they inquire I’m still hungry. I don’t know what to say. YesNoMaybe? What is the correct answer? I think I guessed wrong because they bring me a bowl of white rice.
After dinner we sit around and it’s only 8:30, we watch Chinese version of the New Year’s Countdown and… okay… is this part of the Canada-China Nexen deal? Nothing says Chinese Lunar New Year of the Snake 2013 more than Celine Dion singing the Theme from Titanic. She doesn’t even feign or deign a xiexie or a nihao, just collects her cheque and jets. Stay classy Celine.
I watch a bit and it’s all very hokey as all New Year’s Eve Countdown shows are, be it Dick Clark, Ryan Seacrest or whomever is on the Chinese show it’s four hours of mediocrity in a language I don’t understand.
Seeing the taikonauts was pretty cool. China’s first female astronaut!
Mr. Sun, “Maybe in the world?” Me, “Uh, no.”
Around 10:30 I opt to head for home, Mr. Sun offers to drive me but he lives just on the other side of the school grounds so I’m confident of my route home, plus watching that show is a tradition and they should keep that intact as long as possible. A quick stroll sees me home and I’m curled up in bed well before midnight strikes.
Midnight doesn’t really strike as it does in much of the world, it more explodes. At midnight it sounds like someone detonated the town of Binhai. Either that or local rivals Funing launched a pre-emptive strike because for the rest of the night I’m lucky to grab a half hour of sleep before another string of firecrackers rat-a-tats outside my window, or a bottle rocket screeches and bangs. I know the history behind this, traditionally it was to scare away a bad luck monster, now it is to promote prosperity. (Or scare it inside?) There are a few traditions like this in China, I might go into them later.
After a few fitful hours of near sleep I wake up and stagger downstairs in the pre-dawn dark and see that apparently the best way to celebrate the new year is to light off a roll of firecrackers in the entrance of every building.
Maybe to trap good luck in the house?
I’m not sure, with Feb 11 drawing to a close and the explosions being downgraded to sporadic, I’m hoping midnight doesn’t instigate the last of the New Year’s merrymaking. I really need a good night’s sleep.
Xin Nian Hao and Gong Xi Fa Cai!