Sunday was the Chinese New Year, or since China now follows the Roman calendar, Spring Festival (Chunjie). Chunjie in China is like the American holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s all rolled into one. Life in Beijing stops as the migrant labor force (about half the population) returns home to other provinces. We had Monday through Wednesday off of classes this week to enjoy the festivities. Here’s how I enjoyed my Chunjie:
Saturday- New Year’s Eve is the big day, where we have a huge meal. Some other kids from my program came over to my homestay and our housekeeper actually said that she wanted us to eat so much that we would explode (I think we came pretty close!). Then we watched the traditional New Year’s Eve “talent competition” television event. It involves singing, dancing, and skits. Celine Dion even made an appearance. No, I don’t understand that one either. It would have been better if we could have understood what was being said and sung! Another key feature of Chunjie is fireworks. Not just your average driveway fireworks, but the big ones that could be used in an actual fireworks show. Here they can be bought by anyone off the street. Starting around 5 o’clock they were going off all around the city just about non-stop, culminating in an earth shaking racket at midnight that went on until about three. Thankfully, I’m a night owl!
Sunday- A friend of my homestay family invited me and a friend to go with them to a temple fair, which is the traditional gathering at Chunjie. There were a LOT of people, and stalls to buy souvenirs and street food, as well as sedan chair rides and other carnival games. We walked around the Old Summer Palace (where this temple fair was being held). It was awesome to meet a Chinese family and spend part of the traditional Chinese holiday with them. Their daughter is 14 and speaks English- love for Taylor Swift is universal!
Monday- I went with my host dad to visit his brother and his family. It was so much fun! His sister in law and her daughter were also there and they even have a dog. The girls were practicing their English with me and I got to practice my Chinese with the parents. The warmth of a welcoming and hospitable home is universal. The family sat around the table and laughed and even though I wish I could understand what was being said, I could understand that the family loves each other’s company. For dinner, I met up with a group from my program and we went out to an American restaurant that was way too expensive, but I had a quesadilla and it was magnificent. Cheese is not easily found in China at all. As much as I love Chinese food, its good to have something different every once in awhile. Trust me, no matter where you go, you will miss the tastes of home eventually!
Tuesday- I hung out with the same family that I did on Sunday and had lunch at their house. They heard from my host family about a dish that I really like called tangyuan (rice flower balls filled with red bean paste), and made some just for me! I ended up watching The Hunger Games with their daughter, and it was really interesting to explain the premise behind the story to someone with limited English, and the themes about government to someone who lives in a country with a very different government than ours, and enjoyed a relaxed evening of great conversation with my friends. Every day is something new!
Wednesday- Today I went to another temple fair with some kids from my program. More masses of humanity, more overpriced food, more ridiculous items for sale. I also went shopping with a friend. I must also add that the fireworks have carried on every night so far. I never thought I could be bored of fireworks, but there’s a first time for everything!
I’m so glad that I got to be in China for Chunjie, to see something that is such an important part of their culture, and to experience the family aspect that the holiday brings. I’m thankful for the families that have graciously invited me into their homes and filled me to bursting with delicious food, for the time spent getting to know friends better, and for God’s provision in bringing me here!