Sunday, January 27, 2008
Chinese New Year, known as Spring Festival, is coming up next week. Spring Festival is the equivalent of our Christmas, just as "chun jie hao" is the equivalent of our saying Merry Christmas, meaning in Mandarin "happy spring festival." Families travel hundreds of miles across the country to be together, gifts are given, and the night before is spent making dumplings. A lot of small shops close so the owners can go home for the holidays. China Daily always gave staff three days off, and put out smaller newspapers with a skeleton staff the rest of the week.
I lived in Beijing during two Spring Festivals, in 1995 and 1997.
Though the temperatures were freezing, it didn't stop people from enjoying the festivities. Parks have temple fairs, with games, food, entertainment and a gazillion people. The first year I went to the temple fair at Ditan Park, a major park in northcentral Beijing which was only a short bus ride away from China Daily, where I lived and worked. I was able to only see a few things before people swarmed the park, making it impossible for a short person like myself to see anything, let alone move about. I know now what sardines feel like!
I learned well from that experience: don't go in the middle of the day. Two years later, I left early for the temple fair at Da Guan Yuan, a smaller park in southwestern Beijing. This time the bus ride took an hour, instead of just a few minutes, but it got me there for the start of a very colorful parade with dragon dancers and musicians. Some even rode toy ponies like children ride.
After the parade, I entered the park. It was still early, so crowds were minimal. I enjoyed watching people play games, the entertainment which included singers, and, most amazing, men wearing high stilts doing somersaults, always managing to land upright on the stilts. Talk about coordination! I marveled at the delicious looking snacks for sale, but the crowds were starting to swell, and I wanted more than snacks to eat, so I left, and had lunch at a noodle stand just outside the park walls.
I also made a few trips to Beijing Zhan (train station) to photograph the crowds coming and going. It's very hard to get train tickets during this time, so when a co-worker and I made a day trip to Tianjin that week, we took a bus. Firecrackers and fire works weren't allowed in Beijing, but they were in Tianjin, on the coast, and the streets were littered with red paper remnants. We walked through the shops on Ancient Culture Street, buying some tiny souvenirs. We met a man from Hong Kong who, like us, was working in Beijing. The three of us had lunch at a dumpling restaurant, and then caught the train back to Beijing. Because everyone had already arrived at their destination, few people were traveling that day, and we had the car to ourselves.