Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spring Festival

Looks like the fifteen days or so of mad partying around Beijing have just about come to a close. Spring Festival truly was a sight to behold: half the city was completely shut down, as the out-of-towners that keep Beijing alive surged home to spend the holiday with their family. The other half, however, was a vibrant, loud, and upbeat scene that kept us entertained for weeks.

The highlight of these last two weeks was spending New Years Eve and the following day at Nai Nai's (grandma's) house with the rest of the family. There was eating, drinking, wrapping dumplings, and watching the terribly cheesy CCTV-1 'New Year's Party' (which featured comedy acts, magic tricks, and dancing minorities... eh...)

Really though, the way the Chinese celebrate their New Year is great. You spend all of New Years Eve preparing dinner for that night, then you stuff yourself with as much hotpot, century eggs, sausage, eggplant, fruit, and shrimp as you can. You proceed to roll yourself over to the couch, and just hang out with the family, watch television and chew the fat with the old folks. That evening, I got to know Shushu's family even better, and I've taken a real shine to all of them, particularly Grandma and Shushu's younger brother.

As it nears midnight, the fireworks and firecrackers that have been going off since 9am start to increase in intensity. Shushu and I headed outside to watch the action, and it was absolutely unbelievable. Each city block had a fireworks show that would have rivaled a small American town on Independence Day. Our housing block was particularly fortunate; our well-off neighbor busted 20,000 kuai (yeah, that's almost $3,000 American) on fireworks alone. At any one time, they had three large cases of fireworks going off at a time, sending sparks raining down onto parked cars and the foreheads of awe-struck passersby. It was absolutely incredible. I took video, but so far my ability to upload it onto Facebook has been met with little success. We'll see how it goes.

Around 1:00am, Shushu and I headed back to Nai Nai's house and spent the night there. We made a lazy day of it when we woke up the next morning, mostly wrapping dumplings, boiling dumplings, and then eating said dumplings. Still stuffed from the night before, I did my best and managed to pack away fifteen of them. Seeing this, Shushu said (as any good Chinese father would) "Zhong Shu! You didn't eat very much. Have some more." When I protested politely, saying I was already stuffed, he jokingly scoffed: "Fifteen?! I need to have at least thirty before I'm full!" That man's a champ, he is.

The whole family came back for dinner again that night, where we tucked into a big vat of hot-pot. For those who haven't had it, 'hot-pot' is where you throw lamb meat and myriad vegetables into a pot of boiling broth, then take it out and eat when it's just cooked through. I got some great pictures from this dinner, including one with me and Nai Nai shoulder-in-shoulder toasting the table.

Outside of family events, Beijing has a lot to offer during this season. The weather's just started to warm up a bit, so people flood out en masse to enjoy the festivities of the Temple Fairs scattered around the city. I ended up going twice; once with my classmates and once alone. We got to sample Beijing snacks, which included enormous sticks of roasted mutton, sweetened soybean juice, imitation fried tripe, and all sorts of sweets. It was also an excellent people-watching opportunity; I only wish I could have counted the number of normally expressionless Chinese businessmen now sporting ridiculous hats and other Temple Fair kitsch. The pictures on Facebook will mostly speak for themselves, with the exception of the following story:

I've always wanted to see the Chinese traditional puppet acts, in which very thin, colorful cloth puppets are pressed against a thin white screen from behind the stage. The light from behind the stage (either natural or from a lantern), illuminates the colorful puppets as they traipse around. At one of the Temple Fairs I visited, I happened across one such performance. But, admittedly, it wasn't totally what I expected. Sure, it had the dancing Ming dynasty warrior and well-coiffed beauty, but halfway through the act, a puppetized Michael Jackson appears on stage, hip-thrusting from one end to the other. It was incredible. Add to this the fact that the background music is "Nobody", a bouncy pop song from some South Korean girl band, and you're in for a hilarious event. Moving on from the stage to walk around a bit, I got the feeling that people were really letting their hair down and un-self-consciously having a good time. Not something you see everyday in Beijing.

Pictures from these last couple weeks are already up. If you have a chance, check 'em out here.

As for my plans in the immediate future, I'm headed out with my class to the southern cities of Hangzhou and Nanjing on an extended field trip. We'll be gone until Monday, checking out major museums and factories to get a feel for this area of China a bit. Although I already have been to Nanjing and seen some of the sites we're planning to visit, I'm looking forward to getting back and seeing them once more; Nanjing is a really vibrant, culturally-rich city that warrants more than one visit. Hangzhou (where we're headed to first, by train) is totally new to me. It's even farther south than Nanjing, so the weather looks like it's going to be very nice. As in, highs in the 70's. Can't say no to that.

As always, I'm bringing my camera, and I'll try to get pictures up when I return. Best wishes to all back home and abroad!

1 comment:

  1. Oooh wow sounds like you have festivities that rival that of what's going on here for the Olympics! I'm looking forward to that video! I doubt anyone will ever beat China at fireworks. If only one could upload dumplings... Miss you dear, hope we can talk sometime! Much love~

    P.S. I bet that song was Nobody by the Wonder Girls. Can't believe I know that...