February 08, 2010

Xin Nian (New Year)

It is interesting to watch the passing of New Year here as an outsider.  There are a number of reasons that we feel purely like observers and not participants.  The first reason is that it obviously has a lot of meaning for the people around us, which just makes it more obvious that it doesn't really have any meaning for us.  I am becoming familiar with some of the music that plays everywhere, but it certainly doesn't have the nostalgia that it does for our friends.  The second reason is that it is very much a family event.  It would not be uncommon to be invited to someone's house for the New Year, but for most of our friends that means riding the train for 12-20 hours. We are also a family of four which would make hosting us a much larger task.  The third reason is that without anyone to show us, we really don't know how to celebrate the New Year except to make jiaozi and set of fire crackers.

On a side note, Aiyi did ask us if she could take Ari home to Anhui province with her for two weeks.  We claimed that we would miss him too much to let him go.  This is of course true, but there are some other reasons that I wouldn't be too enthusiastic about him going.  I think that even our sociable Ari would break down after two weeks of constant attention, constant candy and eating, constant loud noise, constant people, constant Chinese (hearing and speaking), no sleep and no reassuring mother and father.

In spite of being observers, there are still many things to see as we watch people.  Such as...

It is the tradition for everyone to buy a new set of full body long underwear at New Year, so all the stores everywhere are selling fancy boxes of long underwear.  Crowds of people search through them, considering what color of long underwear they want for this year.

All of the fruits and vegetables have been soaring in price since Christmas.  Apparently this is an artificial inflation due to the New Year and it happens every year.  It was fairly subtle so I didn't really notice as it was happening.  But suddenly I became aware that I felt like I was spending outrageous amounts of money on food.  Apparently some food is three or four times more expensive than normal.  I've been told that as soon as the New Year is finished, the prices will see a dramatic drop.  Even so, lately the food stores have been packed at all times.

Riding the bus is more and more like riding a market on wheels.  Everyone is buying food and gifts.  When I rode the bus earlier today it seemed like everybody had some large awkward thing that they were trying to maneuver.  Someone pushing a baby stroller piled high with onions.  A man whose arms were bursting with celery.  Another man holding a large crate of oranges above everyone's heads for lack of space.  Two-wheeled carts blocking all of the aisle space and overflowing with vegetables.  Brilliant red packages with gold characters on them.  I have spoken about the challenges of riding a bus crowded with people, but add a few carry-ons and you're really undone.  A while ago, I was crammed into a corner of the bus with a two finger handhold and there was someone was holding a large, hard, circular object (bigger than a beach ball) behind my knees!  It was like doing a wall-sit on a crowded moving bus.

The last few nights, I have wondered over the sounds of blasting that happen randomly around the city.  Sometimes it really sounds like the city is being attacked with bombs and  gunfire (at least how I imagine it would sound).  It seems, that even though it is still five days until New Year's Eve, every night people are randomly setting off firecrackers in the neighborhood.  Last night there were some going off right next to our apartment and the whole building was shaking.  Right outside our window, there was a car alarm that just couldn't handle it and spent the better part of an hour turning on and off. The sound of the blasting reverberates through all of the high rise buildings and echos in loud waves.  There are graphic signs going up around the city to caution people about safety measures.  One sign might for example show someone blowing their eye out (apparently not uncommon).  Last year a building burned down in Beijing when someone's firecracker went amiss.  I am very grateful that we have heavy curtains in the windows.  If they get blown out, I'd rather that the curtains absorbed the glass!  We've been told to expect several hours of close range constant firecrackers on New Year's Eve.  I'm hoping Jude can handle the noise...I'm having distinct memories of how distraught he was during our downstairs neighbors' renovations!

But I do not want these things to sound negative.  I confess that I have complained to James about the inconvenience of buying milk these days and at every nerve in my body jumping when a loud firecracker unexpectedly breaks the silence.  But he has graciously pointed out that I won't be able to experience it's charm if I am so easily irritated at some of the inconveniences.  Loosen up and enjoy the fun.  Things will return to normal in a few weeks!

1 comment:

derrydown said...

Hopefully, they don't have the Cambodian custom of firing guns into the air! I came back from our holiday to find spent bullets in my classroom, which had come down through the roof and ceiling.