"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China

A second new year
February 15, 2011, 2:41 am
Filed under: Chinese culture, daily life in china, holidays | Tags:

When I was a kid, I remember feeling sad that fireworks were outlawed in New York (except for at official events, of course). My dad used to take me to the roof on New Year’s to watch them; but with the new law, that tradition ended early.

But after experiencing Spring Festival (otherwise known as Chinese New Year) here in China, I get it now! Whenever we heard the sky rumble, my first thought was “We’re being bombed!” Whenever I heard a loud crack behind me, the New Yorker in my screamed, “Gunshot!! Where??”

People here use fireworks and firecrackers to stretch out the New Year for as long as possible; it starts a week before the holiday, and usually ends a week after. And they go off everywhere. In the sky. On the ground. Even walking down the street is an exercise in caution; a firecracker could go off mere inches away from you at any time. At any time–morning, afternoon, night. There have been many mornings when, after a late night, I wake up at 7am to a barrage of firecrackers right outside my window; I usually end up screaming “SHUT UP!!” before I’m even fully awake.

Given that I am the kind of person who jumps when the phone rings, you can imagine how much I love Spring Festival.

But that really isn’t a fair assessment of this holiday, which is so important to Chinese people. It’s really just a minor inconvenience compared to the other ways in which China shifts during this time of year. Everyone has been so much happier. My co-workers looked forward to their long holiday with their family. My students have all been a little more crazed than usual, and say goodbye and “Happy New Year!” to me with a little bounce in their voice. Red lanterns adorned the streets; gaudy flashing lights hung on the trees. Aside from the fact that it felt as though we were living in a warzone, Spring Festival managed to break the gloom of winter.

It depresses me a little that, like Thanksgiving, I spent Spring Festival in a bar. But it happened to be a bar in a really cool district of Beijing (Sanlitun) with other awesome expats. Here is a photo of the fireworks we saw at midnight:

View from The Stumble Inn bar (Sanlitun, Beijing)

In Beijing, I stayed with a friend, who tirelessly showed me a good time. We were even invited to her Chinese co-worker’s home to bao jiaozi (wrap dumplings) in honor of the New Year. I have never been good at wrapping Christmas presents; apparently I’m not cut out for wrapping dumplings, either. But it was good fun struggling with the other expats there while my friend’s co-worker, and her elderly parents, patiently helped us. Here we all are, trying to be Chinese:

Me, Amy (purple shirt) and her friends/co-workers boaing jiaozi

Wrapping dumplings is a bit of an art in Chinese culture. Some people even wrap them in the shape of flowers. Ours looked more like lumps. But these were, hands down, the best tasting lumps I have ever eaten. If only a Chinese mom would adopt me…


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