So this week I wanted to talk about my experience of Chinese New Year. Something that in the West i think is seen as an amazing Chinese Holiday and for some people a must see event. And for me this was definitely the case before I ever came out to China. I remember saying many times to friends and family “I can’t wait to see what Chinese New Year is like, it’s going to be awesome!” And I would say that my experiences have been a bit of a mixed bag.
So I have been over here now for 2 Chinese New Years, and it’s fair for me to say that at least one of them was immensely underwhelming! The first year I just stayed in Huizhou figuring that there would be some good things to do. Once again…how wrong was I! Everything was closed, most eating establishments were closed and all supermarkets were closed. Not surprising really considering that it is the Chinese equivalent to Christmas in many ways.
My second and most recent experience of Chinese New Year was spent with my girlfriend and her family in a city called Meizhou, she had told her family that I was just her student. Even going as far to assure them that I really was just a student and not a boyfriend… unfortunately forgetting however that she had in fact shown them a picture of me many months previous. Well needless to say that the second her father laid eyes on my mane of beautiful ginger hair he knew exactly who I was, and was not best pleased. But as long as we maintained the illusion to everyone else he tolerated my presence there. This second Chinese New Year was a mixed affair, some really good memories and experiences with some pretty long periods of boredom, but I will explain that later.
So from what I have seen I would say that Chinese New Year is about 2 things; family and money. We all know in the west about the red envelopes that Chinese people give around. But until I spent time with my girlfriends family I had never really been witness to the handing over of the packages! Well the moment a guest entered the family home, my girlfriend and her siblings would fall on the person like sailors to a brothel, begging for their lucky money. I even managed to get one or two envelopes myself which was a very nice little surprise!
So one big tradition over Chinese New Year is that people stick these signs on either side of their doorway and above the doorway. In the cities they tend to be these tasteless red and gold, over the top decorations. But in the smaller cities and towns like where I was staying, they were all hand written and looked utterly beautiful. This one in the picture above was the previous years and stuck outside of my girlfriends old family home that they have now knocked down and are rebuilding. They leave these signs around the doorway all year long and they are supposed to bring the family good luck and good fortune.
As with Christmas in the UK, a corner stone of the festive period is FOOD. And my girlfriends mum was a fantastic cook. Unfortunately for the animals though, this time of year is hell on earth. The Chinese aren’t really like Westerner’s; who like to buy their meat in plastic containers. The Chinese like it fresh! Something i am not necessarily against, though i do feel a little sorry for the animals. Take this water buffalo above for example, this photo was taken on my first day in the town. We were talking to get the food for lunch and down this street there were already a few dead beasts on the road, and this guy was tied up next to his best mate who was on the floor being cut up and sold. Not 10 minutes later on the return journey he had gone the same way. I asked how they killed it, because I hadn’t really heard any commotion and I was pretty curious…apparently they just take a bloody big heavy hammer and clobber it over the head as hard as possible. Needless to say this wasn’t really was I was expecting to hear.
So on the morning of Chinese New Year day itself all the families had tables set out in the front doorways covered in all sorts of foods (mainly fruit and meat) and some beautiful candles and these incense sticks that you can see. These were all left to burn all morning, The idea behind it is to give food to the ancestors and spirits in the hope that they will in return bring them good luck and fortune. They also had piles and piles of fake money which was all burned inside the house, the idea being that the powerful spirits/ancestors will be able to use the money and thus grant the giver good luck. Everyone in the family then went through the house to a number of different mini shines making prayers and burning the incense.
In the early evening the whole town covered their houses in these red bangers and one by one each house would set them off. I have honestly never heard anything like it in my life, thousands of bangers all going off at the same time, house after house. It was amazing and an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. The whole street was thick with smoke and debris, and I remember thinking to myself that you could almost mistake yourself for being in some sort of war-zone. This was truly amazing!
Over the course of the next few days we got in to a bit of a routine of getting the raw ingredients for lunch, cook lunch, eating, drinking tea and then eating more before bed. But then one day my girlfriends Dad; who after a week or so seemed to have softened to me a little bit after a lot of heavy drinking, came to find me and indicated for me to go to the front door with my camera and wait. Looking down the street i could see this big green…thing going from house to house doing some crazy dance with lots of drums and cymbals banging away. So i waited in position for it to come to our house and snapped a few shots. It was pretty cool, he comes in to ward off evil spirits, again like many of the rituals that went on.
So it seems that every little bit of space that is available to people here is used for one thing or another. Either people build on it, grow on it, or throw on it. As I said we would go out every day to pick the fresh vegetables for lunch and dinner. I have to mention, my girlfriends mother is a superb cook, and she spends a lot of time tending to her vegetable gardens.
Unfortunately you can see here in the picture above that like i said, people either build, grow or throw. This little town would have been so beautiful with its little stream that runs through it, if the local populace didn’t just throw their rubbish EVERYWHERE.
This is what I mean, a beautiful stream but for the crap that can be found in it, a big big shame and made me feel very sad every time I either looked at it, or saw a local throw their rubbish in the river without a second thought.
So I said that this second time around was a bit of a mixed affair, well let me try and explain…
I saw some cool things over the holiday, and ate some really nice local food that I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience had I not been there. However it would be like if I took my girlfriend back to my hometown for Christmas for her to experience. She would be able to eat the good food, enjoy the company and have a nice time, but I don’t think she would be able to experience that amazing Christmas feeling, that festive warmth that you feel when you are preparing the turkey or goose, or when you are going out to get all the beer and wine from the local brewery. So I think for me, it was a good experience but unfortunately I was just unable to feel it in the same was as the locals. Combined with the fact that they all watched Chinese TV 90% of the time and my Chinese is very poor, this resulted in 90% of the time me being bored out of my skull.
I don’t think I shall spend another Chinese New Year in China, if I am still here for Chinese New Year 2015, I will be making sure that i go away for the holiday. I have experienced it twice, and that is enough for me!
Thank you for reading this weeks entry,
Please tune in next week.