It is strangely quiet outside my flat now that the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival has finally come to an end. Officially it lasts 15 days, from new moon to full moon, but it seemed to go on and on. Firstly there were the preparations. The Grand Spring Clean is taken seriously. Not only are peoples’ homes thoroughly cleaned but so are their work places. In our office we hired a cleaning lady for a whole day who scrubbed and polished and disinfected and even removed and washed the windows. Someone then tried to walk through one of the big glass doors. This is not usually a hazard because the windows are so dirty. We had to make sure that no rubbish was left in our bins as it might bring bad luck in the New Year. Clear out the old before bringing in the new. Red is the theme colour and there were red lanterns, dragons and canopies of light everywhere. The Chinese are masters of decoration. Then, the day before New Year’s Eve, it snowed. The scene was set for the biggest festival in the Chinese calendar.
Xi’an ground to a halt. There was a mass migration as millions of people made their way back to their home towns. The “village” where I have lunch and buy my vegetables closed down as the migrant workers returned home. Students also evacuated and they are still on holiday. The government gives both of these groups reduced fares on buses and trains. I was pleased to be invited to my translator’s grandparents’ home for New Year’s Eve. Not only was it an insight into Chinese family life but everything else was closed. Beijing and Shanghai have large public events but else where it’s a family affair.
Ting had been cleaning the flat all day and it looked lovely. She was pleased with the “hongbao” or red envelope that I gave her, with some money inside. This traditional gift for children and unmarried friends or relatives is a way of showing respect and thoughtfulness. Not giving is a sign of disapproval, something I didn’t want to elicit from my trusty companion! In modern China, the tradition is being corrupted and many now give it in return for preferential treatment. So what’s new?
Luckily my Welsh slate key rings, with a red Welsh dragon on them, were perfect gifts for the rest of the family especially as 2012 is Year of the Dragon. Her grandfather showed me the Almanac which is still consulted by the older generation. It gives auspicious advice for the year such as the best time to venture forth on New Year’s Day and which direction to take. He also told me that at the 5th “watch” after midnight (Shakespearean?), his old body would leave him and his new year’s body would appear. We had a splendid meal in their communal restaurant with many delicacies – lily roots in oil, lightly battered mushrooms and lotus roots with chillies. Immediately after the meal, we were making jiaozi for New Year’s Day breakfast. I am getting a little better at it (see post on Rainbow Night). We rounded off the evening with a modest box of fireworks – one lit fuse and the whole thing exploded. Ting is environmentally sensitive, unlike much of the rest of the population.
I have to confess that I was unaware of when my old body left and the new one appeared. I was in bed by 10.30, having sealed all doors and windows, with ear plugs firmly in place, whilst World War 3 raged outside. I am a little worried however, as the Chinese open all doors and windows at midnight to let out the old year. Maybe that’s why I find it difficult to live in the present.