Chinese new year 2013: Exit the dragon

I’ve taken a shed-load of photos recently, and could do a batch on just about any topic, but it makes sense to share a few of the whole chinese new year period and tell people a little about it. It’s going to be picture-book intro.

The local name for chinese new year is the spring festival, which better captures the scale of the thing. It’s not just one night. It’s by far the biggest holiday of the year here. A significant of chunk of the country are migrant workers who’ve gone from small towns and cities to the likes of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu (Sichuan), and Chongqing, hundreds or even thousands of miles from home. The wealthy ones go home a couple of times a year, but the poorer ones only go once. Much of the big cities shut down as a couple of hundred million people get on a train or bus to go home for the first time in a year. Brits might sometimes not see their family at christmas. We see them often, so its not a massive deal. Can you imagine how big a thing it is if you only see them once a year? Nobody, not one single person, fails to go home for new year.

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Pretty soon the sky is lit up with fireworks. They don’t wait until midnight on new year’s eve. You hear and see them every night. The firecrackers they have here would need a firearm certificate in Britain.

ImageThis was a kid firing mini rockets, bless him.

ImagePretty soon you can’t move for bits of exploded fire crackers in the towns. It’s a bit like confetti and kinda beautiful.

And the countryside is no different.

ImageEvery (occupied) house has couplets either side of the door. I told my chinese pal that I couldn’t read them and he said he couldn’t either. It’s old skool chinese.

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Indoors the main thing that’s going on is eating. People are just stuffing their faces all day, to the point where I need to get out and climb a frickin mountain or go round taking photos at midnight to burn some calories. From the from the left here we have pickled ginger, pork skin, tofu stuffed with minced pork, goose, a local sweet thing, made from corn flour and fried, fish balls in soup (made from fresh meat straight off the carp). I think there was also something like fried trout, and some veggies, too. This is one of the simpler meals. Everybody wants to cook loads of food without wasting, so the ones that aren’t finished get reheated and more are added. A dozen or more dishes at one meal is common.

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This one was particularly interesting. It’s mulled wine, people! Except it’s rice wine, heated up with chopped ginger, goji berries, and red dates. Gotta love it. The world is THIS [pea sized] small.

ImageThere are all sorts of traditions about what people are meant to do, and they’re still going strong. One way or another if you go back you’re meant to visit everyone. That’s the basis. There’s also a lot of people giving money in red envelopes. It’s pocket money for the kids, or if it goes to your parents or older relatives it’s considerably more. I was warned to get enough cash for the whole period (and withdrew 500 quid)  because the ATMs empty. People are giving their parents a couple of grand, their grandparents a couple of hundred… …the list goes on. If you ever wondered why Chinese people are such good business people, that’s why. The financial pressures to earn are big. Couple that with the lack of a welfare state and it’s a wonder anyone doesn’t go mental.

ImageThere’s local tradition of flower markets at new year. I don’t know the details, but buying plants at new year makes sense however you look at it. Goldfish and terrapins are also hot commodities, for some reason.

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Other traditions include taking care of your ancestors. At certain times people are meant to go tomb sweeping. You can see at this little shrine that they have thermos flasks and oranges on the table. I guess they pour tea for their ancestors. This was inside a hakka minority roundhouse. We were invited in, no charge, and I’ll post more photos of it later. It’s essentially a whole clan or village living in one house. Every new son builds rooms for his relatives and the house gets bigger and bigger. I think this one was a couple of hundred years old.

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One thing to remember is that the spring festival is more or less the start of spring here. People have daffodil bulbs in pots inside their houses right now, flowering, and they seem to symbolise spring in much the same way as they do in Britain, only a month or more earlier. This is peach blossom.

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It’s not hard to see that spring is on its way.

But pretty soon everybody has to go back to the city to work again, and not many of them want to. Many cleaners and manual workers in Guangzhou are independent home owners in their home village, with a large network of friends. They don’t really want to be back on the bus going five hundred miles away to work. Maybe they have something in common with some of the foreigners out here, who got laid off and then came over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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