This week, I enjoyed celebrating my first Chinese New Year. Although most Westerners have heard of it, I doubt many people understand the monumental nature of this single week. It is the Chinese equivalent of Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, and any other significant holiday, combined. Most people, myself included, get the entire week off, and it is often the only opportunity many Chinese have to go home and see their families. Many, especially the millions upon millions of migrant workers, endure a great deal of hardship in the attempt to make it home (check out the documentary “Last Train Home if you are curious…imagine waiting in line with your baggage on your back for 5 days without food or sleep to get train tickets, if you’re lucky.) It is said the Chinese New Year results in the largest human migration on earth, annually.
This also results in quite the anomaly within Shanghai (and many other large cities). Desertion. As the holiday approached, more and more businesses shut down, and fewer and fewer people could be seen on the streets (and all of my favorite bun and dumpling places closed, to my dismay.) It made for a wonderful time for exploring and running without the chaos that is normally present. On the actual night of New Year’s Eve (January 22nd), I wandered on my way to dinner without hardly seeing a soul. Barely a taxi, person, or person with a ridiculous poodle in a sweater in sight! It would have been eerie, if not for the constant barrage of light and sound of fireworks being set off on almost every street or block.
Ahhh, the fireworks, my favorite part of the holiday. Almost every day and night of this week I have seen/heard many of them. Wandering down any street or alley you cannot avoid seeing the remnants of firecrackers littering every inch of pavement and crack. Sunday night, however, takes the cake. Again, almost everywhere throughout the night I witnessed stars and sparkles lighting the sky. For those of you not familiar with how fireworks go down (or should I say, up) in China, think back to 4th of July…precisely timed shows, safety barriers, police directing people, firetrucks on standby…and throw all of that out the window. Then envision a half dozen boxes filled with a variety of full scale fireworks (many types which would probably be illegal in number of states back home) in the middle of the street, lit, and then left unattended until they burn out, with the possibility that some might suddenly go off right in front of you very likely. Yup…kind of like that.
At midnight, much like the New Years celebrations we are all familiar with, I found myself playing frisbee in a park with my dearest friends, when suddenly we were surround 360 degrees by a cacophony of deafening sound and pulsing light, which went on for what felt like hours. It is by far the most magical memory I have thus far in China. Fireworks around the city continued into the wee hours of the morning, and much to my dismay, I even heard quite a few while still sleeping in bed the next morning. But it proved to be a wonderful week, and I am grateful to be here and have such wonderful people to spend the holiday with. Happy Year of the Dragon!