Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Week 16 - Chinese New Year

The last week in Shanghai has been one of the best since we arrived. As many of you probably know, Chinese New Year began February 3, 2011, and the Spring Festival goes through the 15th night of the lunar calendar (February 17th) when the Lantern Festival is held. It has been so much fun seeing the city and interacting with the people during this time, since so much of the Chinese culture is on display.

There are roughly 25 million people living in Shanghai. Just before every Chinese New Year begins, it is estimated that between 5-10 million people leave the city to go back home to celebrate with their families. This mass exodus of people from the city is known as Chunyun, and it is the largest annual migration of people on earth. The hardships that people go through to get home can be overwhelming. It is extremely difficult for people to arrange for transportation because bus and train tickets are hard to come by, and plane tickets are out of financial reach for many people. Making matters worse, even if someone is able to get a bus or train ticket, there is a good chance it will not be a seated ticket. My assistant told me that her train ride home took 30 hours, in addition to a 3-hour bus ride from the train station. She was lucky to get a seat for most of the train ride, but had to stand all three hours on the bus. Our plane ride from Los Angeles to Shanghai was about 18 hours, and if I had to stand up for the duration of that flight, I think I would have gone crazy. The hardships people go through during Chunyun go to show how important it is to be with family for the Chinese New Year.
2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, and it should bring good fortune because the Rabbit is a symbol of luck. Because the Year of the Rabbit comes between the Year of the Tiger (2010) and the Year of the Dragon (2012), it is supposed to be a mellow year and a great time for compromise and negotiation. This is also Tiffany's year, since she was born in the Year of the Rabbit. So this should be a great year for her!

Perhaps the main reason that people light fireworks during Spring Festival is because there is a belief that they help ward off evil spirits and dispel any bad luck or misfortune prior to the new year. Before we came to China, one of the things I was looking forward to most was seeing the amazing display of fireworks throughout the Spring Festival. So far, the first and fifth nights rank as the best, they were spectacular and going off everywhere. At one point, when we were down at the Bund, you could do a 360-degree turn and see fireworks in every direction around the city. Unfortunately, we will be in Japan for the Lantern Festival on the 15th day, which might be the best day for seeing fireworks. We have already seen our fair share, however, and many of them have been so close to our apartment that debris from the blast hits the windows. It's not the most ideal situation, considering how many fires are caused by people who light firecrackers right next to large apartment complexes. Having said that, I don't believe there is a place on earth I would have rather been for the last week of my life. 

To celebrate the new year, we decided to join some friends on a two-day mini-vacation last weekend. We hopped on a bus early Saturday morning and headed for a hot spring resort. Tiffany was really excited about this part of our trip: 

This week was a very exciting time for us, spending our first Chinese New Year in Shanghai. We tried to get out and participate in as many of the festivities of the holiday as possible. One of my favorite things
that we did during our week-long break was visit a Chinese Hot Spring. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to go to a hot spring in Costa Rica and Colorado.  I absolutely love the hot spring experience and was so excited to see what it would be like in China! Apparently, Chinese New Year is a very popular time to soak in the hot springs here. It was extremely crowded and it appeared that almost all of China was there during their vacation from work.  The weather was chilly but not cold and it was a perfect, sunny day for soaking in some warm water. When we arrived, I noticed, this hot springs was very different than any other I’ve ever been to. It appeared to be more like a water park with slides, a lazy river (which wasn’t working when we went), a wave pool, and even an in-water bar.  We had a wonderful time, soaking, swimming, and just having a relaxing day at the hot springs. It was a great way to spend part of Chinese New Year!

After spending the day at the hot spring, we went back to a small town nearby -- it took us about an hour to get there by bus. There wasn't much for restaurants in this town, so we had a fantastic meal at a street vendor. Though it isn't for everyone, street food is one place that you will find some of the most authentic Chinese food.

The next morning we were very excited about our next destination: the Zhuge Village in Zhejiang Province. The buildings of this village are at least 500-600 years old, and most of the people who live here are descendants of Zhuge Liange (181-234a.d.), a Chinese hero from the Three Kingdoms Period. A couple of interesting points about this place. First, during the Sino-Japanese Wars, this village was not harmed or damaged in any way. For that reason, it's buildings and living spaces remain largely in tact. Second, you will see in the videos that there are many decorative artworks and calligraphic depictions on the walls. During the Cultural Revolution, mud and debris was deliberately put over a lot of these areas to hide them and make sure they were not destroyed along with the other Chinese Art that was erased during that period. Probably the most interesting thing about this place is the village's layout. If you were to see this place from a bird's eye, you would see that the entire village is laid out around a Yin-Yang symbol, in which one half of the Yin-Yang is water, and the other half is land. All other houses and buildings sprawl from it's circular center, making this village a model of perfect Feng-Shui. Zhuge Village is, by far, the most fascinating place we've been while in China.

We are now in the Year of the Rabbit, which is my year and therefore, I am supposed to have good luck and fortune this year!  Mike was born in the Year of the Monkey and Chinese astrology says that this year will a good one for moving forward with plans and goals.  So it sounds like we're going to have a pretty good year this year! We will be in Japan next week so we may have trouble posting our next blog entry. But if you don't hear from us next Wednesday, please keep checking back! Until then, Xin Yi Kuai Le (Happy New Year)!

Things To Do in Shanghai

Antique Shop at Dongtai Road
Into antiquing? History? Or maybe just window shopping? Dongtai Road is the perfect place for you to go.  Dongtai Road offers tourist and locals a great place to shop for Chinese memorabilia, antiques, and souvenirs.  Many of the items in this area are replicas and kitschy souvenirs, but every once in a while a true gem can be found. However come well prepared with your bargaining skills.

Maybe It's Just Me

After the great weekend we had, it was hard to imagine that it could get even better, but it did. Normally, Super Bowl Sunday includes BBQ, a few beers, and a bunch of friends. This year, I had to wake up at 6am and hustle down to the Big Bamboo (a local bar that was showing the game and serving all-you-can-eat American breakfast) because I would have gone crazy watching the game on my 14" laptop screen. Before we went, I thought there would be a good chance I'd be one of the few die-hard fans that would sacrifice my vacation-sleep for the game. But, when we arrived 30 minutes before kick-off and got the last two seats in the whole bar, I realized it wasn't just me. It was a great game, and it was awesome to watch with other expats and enjoy a slice of American culture in Shanghai.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for your blogs, you and Tif are truly good will ambassadors for the America. Keep up the good work. Aunt Bea