It’s all happening here in China at the moment, so I’d like to wish all of my amazing readers the best of luck for 2016. I’m making some great friends here on WordPress these days >> May all your hard work and dreams come into fruition.
Xinian Kuai le
Four ways to say ‘Happy New Year’ in Mandarin:
Xinian Kuai le (Happy New Year), Chunjie Kuai le (Happy Spring Festival), Xinian Hao (Have a good New Year), Guonian Hao (Pass the year well)
I love Chinese New Year I really do. However, fireworks and red lanterns aside the real reason is that for one time only every year Beijing becomes blissfully quiet. Yes yes yes, I admit that there are regular detonations of oversized air bombs and other pyrotechnics going off but with almost half of Beijing’s residents going home to visit their families, really there’s an awesome stillness that prevails over this vast area. Because the city’s so empty those same detonations resonate and carry for miles reminding you that the masses have vacated the premises.
Chinese festivals happen according to the lunar calendar with the main event normally landing on the full moon. Here’s a quick countdown of the run in and the main event itself.
5: Sunday January 17th: The wheels slowly grind into motion with the Laba Porridge Day. Porridge is considered a health food in China and there are porridge restaurants all over. It’s not really the porridge we are used to though as it’s cooked with rice and not oats. Laba’s known for being made from nuts, dried fruit red beans and pickled garlic which turns green in the vinegar. From this day, people start to make plans for the Spring Festival.
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4: Saturday January 23rd: Chinese college students finish their winter tests and have the luxury to be the first ones to pack their bags early. If you have to leave town then the earlier the better is the ticket. Avoid the last minute rush at all costs. Middle school and high school kids also have tests in January.
During the next week you’ll often see people loaded with shopping bags and boxes of food and red gift bags to take home and give to relatives.
3: Saturday January 30th: After this there is only one weekend remaining before Chinese New Year. The next week sees all train stations maxed out with thousands trying to get a ticket all at the same time.
“Last year my son and I went to the Beijing West Station, my friend Meng Xiang told me. “We had already bought our tickets but when we got there, there were so many people we couldn’t get in. Finally we left, got a taxi to the airport and went home that way. I’ll never go to the train station again for the Spring Festival”
2: Saturday 6th/Sunday 7th: If you work in an office this year is potentially a real bind with the main event falling on a Monday. This means that your company may well close on the Friday before leaving you to hit the road with a million or so other last minute unfortunates. Admittedly, many owners will shut up shop early allowing their own early escape.
On Sunday families will clean their household from top to bottom for the New Year.
Friday 5th January: You know you’re on your way to one of the big train stations when the subway starts to fill up. Line 2 is packed to the rafters with people and their luggage. Some have carrier bags of food for the long journey ahead. You don’t want to go near the food served up on the train believe me! Trolley bags have packages and other essentials tightly strapped to them.
I can feel the anticipation building up inside. I’ve always wanted to witness the phenomena that is Beijing Central Train Station before Chinese New Year.
Out of the subway and across the main overpass I’m greeted with an astonishing sight. A sea of thousands fills up every space outside the station. It’s like a huge open air concert but with no stage.
To one side people sit on their cases waiting for friends or family and passing the time smoking or coordinating their trip on their mobile phones. There are extra ticket booths to reduce the pressure on the main office though this isn’t helping much. Two towers with armed guards in camo’ have been placed either side of front of the station. A family run past at top speed looking definitely late. A woman in high heels leans back to keep her super-heavy bag from dragging on the floor. How can she possibly endure lugging that around all day? A wave of hundreds suddenly cuts across exiting the building having just arrived on an incoming train adding to the confusion.
Inside the cacophony is overwhelming. I love travelling around China but today I feel lucky not to be one of the many here as I know what lies ahead for them; hours of standing room only down the aisles crammed in overnight that’s what.
Sunday Night/New Year’s Eve: And Then There Were Fireworks. Oh Yes!
More madness of the extreme variety. The age old tradition of setting off fireworks to scare of the legendary ‘Nian’ or sea monster that would come inland once a year to eat the villagers. If you go out on New Year’s Eve in China just be mindful and steer clear of any areas where you may get boxed in by groups of people letting off fireworks at the same time. I hold my hands up and admit I’m scared to go out in it these days having been hit square in the leg by a rocket last time. It flew down the road, ricochetted off of me and exploded against a restaurant window a second later.
Due to the government’s bid to ease pollution levels, it’s slightly harder to find firework vendors this year than in the past, going down to a measly little 942 stalls down from 1,178 last year. Apparently, more people are buying environmentally friendly fireworks, which contain no sulphur, produce less smoke.
1: Monday 8th February
Well there you have it. Having survived Armageddon it’s time to sit back in your fluffy slippers, settle in and watch the Spring Festival Gala TV for the day and evening. People eat ‘jiaozi’ (savoury dumplings made from pork) up in the North and ‘tangyuan’ (sweet dumplings made from sticky rice) in Southern China. You can get a seat on the subway and fireworks continue to be let off until the 22nd (grrrrrrrr).
Best Wishes once again.
Lets go out with a bang shall we?