Friday, February 6, 2009
Chinese New Year: Long, Big, Loud!
The Chinese New Year celebration has been longer, bigger and louder than we expected. Students began exiting campus in early January. By mid-January every day brought hundreds of people out in the streets wheeling suitcases. It provided a visual clue of the numbers: something like 200 million Chinese travel for the Spring Festival/New Year’s celebration. To put these numbers and distances in perspective, imagine everyone from east of the Mississippi moving west for a 2 week period.
As the lunar New Year’s Eve (Jan. 26th) approached the campus became almost a ghost town. All the small stores on campus were closed. The residents, mostly retired faculty and administrators who live in the older housing in the center of campus, appeared busy with cooking and arrangements for the New Year. So we decided to splurge and go to a hotel closer to the downtown for 2 nights. We spent one night at the Great Wall Sheraton and New Year's Eve at the Westin. By showing up at the front desk of the Westin at mid-day on New Year’s Eve, we were able to negotiate a great rate and an upgrade.
Since New Year’s Eve is a family time, we decided to do it in style. We had made a trip to our favorite market, Jin Wo Xing, and purchased Chinese jackets, so we had festive attire for our New Year’s Eve dinner. We splurged on a rare fancy dinner and had our first Peking duck. (This may be the only one for Judy and Elizabeth. It’s that problem of your food looking at you….) We returned to our room on the 32d floor of the Westin, which offered terrific views. As midnight approached the fireworks began. They erupted at midnight and continued for over 2 hours, spontaneously, all over the city. It was like the city was bubbling pot. It is somewhat ironic that China, with its strong centralized government, allows the people to control fireworks, while in the US it is primarily the government that controls the display. Firework stands are scattered around the city and anyone – young, old, mature or immature – appear to be able to buy them. Apparently the emergency rooms are also very busy during the spring festival.
On New Year's Day we went to the Temple Fair at Ditan Park. Like so many public celebrations in China, it was very crowded but very orderly. People were in good cheer, with smiles everywhere.
The fireworks have continued nightly, sometimes quite late and amazingly loud. The goal is to keep the evil spirits away, so we should be well protected by now! Apparently this continues until the Lantern Festival at Day 15.