The holiday season may be long past in the west, but here it’s just beginning.
Spring Festival – or Chinese New Year, as it’s known in the West – is the lunar new year and the celebration of the beginning of spring here in this country where seasons start a good month and a half to two months before they do in the (north) western hemisphere. It’s the holiday that everyone wants to spend with their families, when China’s trains are jam packed with people riding sometimes for 30+ hours to get home from work and school (remember the snow disaster from the news last year when many people couldn’t get home?), when everything shuts down except transportation, police, and hospitals, when children are given red envelops of “lucky money” and toy sellers line the streets, and fireworks go off 24/7 for days. It is often compared with Christmas, because it is “the big holiday” here.
In fact, I get the feeling it’s the ONLY holiday for a lot of common working people. For instance, my favorite snack/meal to buy on the street is “bai ji mo,” a little meat sandwich sold at a small stall set into an only-slightly-larger noodle restaurant between my apartment and my school. I see the same woman there, usually with the same man but sometimes with another woman instead, every time I go past. She’s there from lunch time until 9 or 10 in the evening, 7 days a week. Over Spring Festival the shops shut down, and last year I was sad for my taste buds – but happy for her – that the bai ji mo stand didn’t re-open for a solid 2 weeks.
So, survival here depends on stocking up on the necessities and having some idea of where and when to get what you need. I’ve used my little Chinese skills to discover that the mail room and the drinking water delivery service (both, in my opinion, necessities, though water definitely more so!) will be open only in the mornings, the mail room on odd-numbered days from 8:30-11:30, and the water delivery service only on Monday-Wednesday-Friday (hours unknown, just “morning”). Beyond that, I’m pretty sure the large grocery stores will remain open or at least re-open within a couple days of the holiday, so I can get what I need there for a while – it’s cheaper at the local stalls and small shops, but I certainly don’t grudge them a vacation. A week before New Year’s Day – yesterday, that is – I noticed several small shops were already closed.
So, mark your calendars, and if fireworks are legal, set off a few on the night of January 24, Spring Festival Eve, and eat some dumplings with your family!
“Holiday Hours” also applies to my lifestyle right now: enjoying the opportunity to read/knit/surf the web until late at night and then sleep half the morning away, I’m having my first intense break since my first summer here.
Of course, I don’t just sit around. Yesterday is a good example of the value of this free time. Pam arranged for me to take her new intern to the morning group with me, and Julia and I ended up spending the whole day together – Wei San Lu for me to get foreign food, the yarn market to find some yarn that matched her scarf so she could make herself some mittens, The Pizza Company for late lunch or early supper, back to Swallows Nest 2 to pick up her things and play with the kids a bit, then over to my place so she could have some peace and quiet to catch up on her journaling for her school project, and then we watched a movie and had a snack before hitting the sack. This morning I escorted her to another place to meet Pam so they could take the early express to Beijing. It’s not only wonderful to make a new friend who likes knitting and musicals and is “Family,” but also to have the freedom to spend the entire day with her without having to worry about last-minute plans or resting up for school Monday – and to be able to go back to bed when I got back from dropping her off!
Another highlight of the holiday schedule is taking part in a book discussion on Monday mornings (the others are in the US, so it’s Sunday evening for them, before the work week starts). It’s been fun to read “Emma” as a free audiobook thanks to LibriVox.org (I don’t have a paper copy of it) and to discuss it with friends in a large Skype chat. I miss book discussions, debates, lectures, lots of stuff from college/US, so it’s good to get in a little during the short season when the times zones work for me!