Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gongxi Facai -- Happy New Year

Chinese New year is getting under way now. The official new year is next week. I’m not sure which day, but it basically goes on to some extent all of this week and next. Next week virtually everything shuts down-- restaurants, grocery stores, schools, banks. Traditionally, people go hui jia (home to their village, town, whatever). You are supposed to give your employees an extra month’s salary in a red envelope, so we have been gathering up as much cash as possible. Before we leave for Phuket Thursday night, we need to dispense an awful lot of yuan.

There are just hundreds of millions of people on the move throughout the country. It’s pretty wild. You go out on to the main streets and see people with big suitcases waiting at bus stops and walking up and down the roads. I’m sure many people come to Beijing for the holiday but many more leave because so many people have migrated here. My Chinese teacher told me this morning that there are four-billion people on trains over the next two weeks, since so many people take multiple journeys. I don’t believe that but it gives you a sense of the mass migration going on.

Ding Ayi and Mr. Li are from Beijing so they are not traveling but both said they will be “very busy.” I’m not quite sure what they do, but I guess they have a lot of family around, big dinners, etc. Yoo Ying is from Anhui and she and her daughter are heading down there. Eric R. described Anhui as being “exactly like West Virginia – a really poor backward place for no good reason, close to much more wealthy areas.” It is just West of Shanghai and many, probably most, of the ayis, are from there. Yoo Ying said today that she could not get an express ticket and the trip will take about 20 hours and she probably will not have a seat for most of that. Her husband is staying here. She asked for two instead of one week off so we said sure. It is the only trip home for most people, certainly including her. We will survive with one ayi for a week.

I spoke to her for a while much more in depth than usual than Wang Loashi (my Chinese teacher) as a translator. She said she wasn’t going to go home this year but needs to because her daughter needs to take an exam, which as far as I can understand is what she needs to do to finish high school and go to college. Because she is registered as a citizen of a Anhui not Beijing, she must take it there. That’s why she wants the extra week off; she of course can’t take the exam during the holiday week.

Ding arrived Monday morning with four big red Chinese good luck characters: one for us, one for Mr. Li one for yoo Ying and one for herself. She said it was bad luck not to have one in your home for the New Year. I thought that was sweet. It is now hanging on the door to the playroom so the kids should be covered.


The traditional New Years greeting is “gongxi facai,” which roughly translated means, “congratulations on getting rich.” I think that sheds a lot of light on the true nature of society and the depth of socialist feelings.

Chinese New Year is unmistakable around here. There are red lanterns hanging everywhere. The compound looks quite beautiful. I have tried to capture that in pictures but so far failed. Christmas was just over the top tacky. This decorating really looks quite nice. There are also fireworks stands popping up all over the place near here. And, boy, do they like their fireworks. They started going off regularly last week and there are more and more every day.

Nothing is set off in the compound as far as I can tell, but there is a road right outside the back entrance that divides us from Qang Fa, a mostly Chinese compound. Just past that is the little village I wrote about. That street seems to be some sort of fireworks central. You hear explosions all day but they start going off in earnest around 9:30 pm and continue for a few hours. I can sit here at my desk looking out the window to my left with a great view. These are real fireworks, not just big firecrackers. Big things that shoot in the air and explode in beautiful colors.

Someone told me that on New Year’s Eve the show on that street is as a good as a 4th of July celebration in most cities and I believe it. And remember this is just people buying and setting off fireworks, not any kind of official display. It has been pretty intense and getting more so every night. It is one reason that a lot of people like to get out of here next week… well that and the fact that there is no school or ayis, many others are gone so playdates are hard and most stores are closed to boot.