Spring Festival 2019 which landed on February 5th, has been an interesting, engaging, and mostly reflective time. Though the display of fireworks has been banned in our city and province, the explosion has been nonstop for days before and after the 5th. It's felt like a war zone in a way, with the noise and the non-stop rat-a-tat-tat, if honest more like a freakin' k-a-a-a-freakin-booooo followed by a rat-a-tat-tat and if at night the colorful explosion of color in red, blue, purple, and white! It's a wow moment…at first. And then it becomes an invasion in my sleep and in my thoughts. It's an overwhelming cacophony of explosion nearly 24x7 these days.
Here in China, all of us, expat and locals alike, have two opportunities to begin the new year right and on track. If one doesn't seem to choose the ‘right' resolutions (if any at all) or if one isn't on track in the ‘keeping' of these resolutions, here in China, we have two chances to get ‘it' right! The lunar new year that we celebrate in China is also celebrated in most Asian countries - Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore and many Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year as national holidays.
Here in China, I have found that smaller cities tend to ‘shut down' where most businesses are closed for many days. Sometimes it's difficult to find even a single shop that is open for water or smokes. My first Spring Festival here in China was spent in a small village called Nanyang in Henan province. I lived in the provincial city of the province, Zhengzhou (population of 15 million people), at the time. Nanyan, a 5-hour bus ride away from Zhengzhou, was virtually shut down during the holiday with shops and the like being closed. I spent the holiday with a local family and had such fun! All shopping for food and beverages and gifts for hostesses and family were bought prior to the holiday. It wasn't but maybe 3 or so days following the holiday, that things and places opened once again, even the historical sites were closed.
I had such a great time visiting the home, or farm, of ZhuGe Liang (renowned adviser during the Three Dynasty conflict and period) and also visiting the Art Museum of Stone Portrait and Carvings of Han Dynasty (incredibly educational and beautiful). I also visited a perfectly preserved enclosed community of the Communist party (pre-National People's Republic of China). Nanyang, this smaller community in Henan province, had an incredible farmer market replete with literally everything! The family I celebrated with not only purchased all our vegetables for the holiday meals, but we chose the meat that we would eat as well which was freshly butchered for the holiday meal.
This was my opportunity to spend the holiday with ‘family' back in a ‘hometown' which is where most Chinese return to for this significant holiday. There would be 30 or more aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters, and friends in company this holiday. The hosts of this event lived in a spacious two room apartment with a living and dining room combo and a typically small Chinese kitchen. Guests arrived with gifts of fruit and nuts, cooking oil, boxes of oranges and apples, or even milk. We sat around, not unlike back home in the USA, and nibbled on nuts and dried fruits, while the hostess and aunts and uncles prepared dish after dish in this tiny kitchen. We sat and stood around, the 20 - 30 of us at any given meal over 3-4 days, and ate the most delicious food, reaching through with poised chopsticks through those of us seated at the 8-person table, filling rice bowls with yummy food stuffs. To this day, I enjoyed the single most delicious chicken and pork dish that was made in a special clay pot from the hostesses (mother of my friend) home town in Yunnan province. A simple layered casserole of roughly chopped pork and then chicken alternated with sliced ginger, star anise, and garlic, then cooked and steamed over heat for several hours - in a couple words: freakin' yummy!
My second Spring Festival here in China was in 2018. I spent it with friends in their home in Taizhou, with elderly parents and children. It was a modest celebration by comparison to my first new year here in China, though equally sweet in memory making. We enjoyed good food and pleasant company. This night, I made my way home amid families on the streets with children holding sparklers making circles and giggling to no end. The sky on this night too, was ablaze with color and the noise of endless fireworks was deafening. As I walked myself a few short blocks back to my flat, I caught the most amazing glimpses of families with children celebrating and a night sky dancing with the most brilliant array of colors.
I've been in China now for 3 Spring Festivals. Each one has been unique, fun, and fulfilling in its own way. This year, I had invitation to travel to Xiamen from Taizhou, but I have a new baby, a Mr. Mao cat joining my family of Ms. MaoMao cat and Penny dog, and they have needed me home this holiday to help our newest member, settle into our home. As my Chinese friends say, ‘It doesn't matter”, I've learned that it really doesn't. Hmmm, it doesn't escape me that it would seem I am settling in to life here in this home-away-from-home as I enjoy saying. I am choosing now what I do on these holidays, as if I belong here in a way! How ironic on many levels as an expat. Awe, I don't know, really, but it is the same anywhere with holidays… we can spend them in good company with many or a few, or even solo as it is for me this holiday in 2019.
Essentially, this February 2019 it is my second new year celebration, a gift in a way. A chance to ‘begin again' with those pesky resolutions or to set new ones, or to just be with the pets, enjoy some later mornings, watching some long awaited film viewing, finishing up some certifications I have procrastinated far too long in completing, and well, just enjoying some quiet time alone, here in my humble flat in in my home-away-from-home with my four legged companions here in Taizhou, in the southeast corner of China - Happy Chinese New Year 2019 to you and yours, the Year of the Pig, wishing you all health and happiness, and great prosperity!