The Road to China
You would think that Darth Vader had died again.
The noise went on for days. The machine-gun-like firecrackers went off incessantly until 4:00 or 5:00 AM all week long. The fireworks, all ad-hoc without any Disney-like orchestration, were visually stimulating, omnipresent, and never-ending. A Viet Nam vet would have had a seizure.
Make no mistake, the 15-day-long celebration of the Chinese New Year (also called Spring Festival) dwarfs anything in America (including Mardi Gras in Louisiana), and is in the league of Carnival in Brazil. It's a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the 4th of July. Like everything else in China, it's BIG. Most of the country shuts down during this time, and there are a ton of events, parades with dragons, and fairs to attend. Families reunite for large meals. Houses are decorated with banners. Frankly, given the size of China and the amount of fireworks going off per minute, it's amazing that there's anything left to export for America's Independence Day.
I spent a wonderful New Year's Eve in Hainan Dao, playing the Xaphoon at Tony's restaurant in Sanya, accompanying Helmy Andreas, a wonderful singer / guitar player and chef. At about 9:00 PM the entire restaurant staff and all the patrons who had heard us play headed out to the beach, where the festivities continued for several hours. Tony bought drinks for everyone. I multitasked; sharing my time between the party and running around taking pictures. Then I returned to Beijing on Jan. 23rd, where the fireworks still went on despite officially being banned for safety reasons. Some of my students took me to a few of the HUGE Spring Festival Fairs, hoping to get pictures of dragon parades at dusk that has come to iconify Chinese New Year. Alas, I was unsuccessful. Guess I'll have to come back next year to complete my mission. :-) Spring Festival ends on the 15th day, in this case February 5th, with a Lantern Festival which is said to be quite beautiful. You can bet I'll go out of my way to be there when it happens.
Let the year of the Monkey begin!!!
Few people in China take these traditions as seriously as their superstitious ancestors once did, but still many of them are practiced. And I find the parallels to orthodox Judaism pretty amazing, in that every ritual has a deeper meaning (and some of the rituals are quite similar!). Some examples:
The entire house should be cleaned before New Year's Day. On New Year's Eve, all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other cleaning equipment are put away. Sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away. After New Year's Day, the floors may be swept. Beginning at the door, the dust and trash are swept to the middle of the room, then placed in the corners and not taken or thrown out until the fifth day. At no time should the accumulated dust in the corners be trampled upon. In sweeping, there is a superstition that if you sweep the dirt out over the door threshold, you will sweep one of the family away. Also, to sweep the dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the family; it must always be swept inwards and then carried out, then no harm will follow. All dirt and trash must be taken out the back door. (And you thought cleaning the house before Passover had too many rules!)
On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, every door in the house, and even windows, have to be open to allow the old year to go out.
All debts have to paid by New Year's. Nothing should be lent (loaned? lended?) on this day, as anyone who does so will be lending all the year. Back when tinder and flint were used, no one would lend them on this day or give a light to others.
Everyone should refrain from using foul language and bad or unlucky words. Negative terms and the word "four" (Ssu), which sounds like the word for death, are not to be uttered. (This is also one of the reasons there are no 14th floors in office buildings.) Death and dying are never mentioned and ghost stories are totally taboo. References to the past year are also avoided as everything should be turned toward the New Year and a new beginning.
If you cry on New Year's day, you will cry all through the year. Therefore, children are tolerated and are not spanked, even though they are mischievous.
Do not use knives or scissors on New Year's Day as this may cut off fortune.
Just as it's impossible to do justice to the Grand Canyon by either writing or taking a picture of it, so too is it impossible to document Spring Festival. You really have to be here to understand the magnitude. So I'll just stop here and let you enjoy some of the pictures which might possibly give you a flavor of what this holiday was like.
|Another fireworks shot along the
beach in Hainan Dao.
Click here to see a video of just how intense the fireworks were. (2.7 MB .mp4) The fireworks went on for days before the new year, and continued for days afterward.
|Red lanterns and banners were EVERYWHERE!|
|One of the less crowded Spring Festival fairs.|
|Many streets were closed to make way for Spring Festival decoration vendors the week before festivities.|
|Some of the banners were painted
These banners proclaim poetic "couplets" (pairs of phrases), happy wishes written on red paper. These messages sound better than the typical fortune cookie messages. For instance, "May you enjoy continuous good health" and "May the Star of Happiness, the Star of Wealth and the Star of Longevity shine on you" are especially positive couplets.
|House fronts were beautified, too.|
|This is a
Guinness-Book-of-World-Records-long string of firecrackers.
Standing in the vicinity when they're going off is like standing
next to a machine gun without the benefit of hearing
protection. It took TWO MINUTES for this string to
finish! It was the aural equivalent of 13 rock concerts and
(Don't believe me? Click here or on the picture for the video clip! 7.8 MB .mp4 You can't really get a feel for how loud this was from the video; hence all the written metaphors and similes.) (Larger version - 55 MB .mov file)
|Now this was interesting. Combine the art of hand-blown glass figurines with the delicious taste of a sugary snack and you get this - hand-blown caramel figurines. This one's of a monkey riding on a snail.|
|I was honored to be invited to
join a large family for Spring Festival in the village of Bae Jang
This is not all of them. :-) You will see more pictures from this village in Chapter 23.
Mid-Autumn Festival by Diana
[Editor's note: Mid-Autumn festival was discussed in Chapter 4, but Spring Festival seemed like a good time to share this very touching story.]
There is one thing about my life which is a different. That’s I like Mid-Autumn Festival more than other holidays of China. In that day, the daytime is as usual. Whereas, it starts to at night and you will feel very remarkable and happy. There are all kinds of mooncakes and various drinks. The mooncakes can made all sorts of flavor and different shapes. To sum up, I’m sure you can find which kinds of you like.
In other side, when it comes to so called the Mid-Autumn Festival meanings, different people hold different opinions. Some people think it just common festival, other people argue on the other hand it is only eat mooncakes. In my opinions, I think the mid-Autumn Festival means each member of family should come back home and get together to eat or to drink. Because our family is a big group. Just like the moon is round and bright, that is means reunion. Generally speaking, we need to communication with our parents and let them know our is OK.
But the things in life do not always happen as one hopes. In some reasons, the people is difficult to get together a long time, even they can’t see or talk each other in that day. They have to work for family. They have no time to do this. Up till now, this problem still can’t be solved. However, they can call, send a fax, write the letters, e-mail or through other channels to show their bless and fortune.
Now I’ve been long time no spent the Mid-Autumn day. There are two reasons why. One is I have classes in the school and I can’t go home, the other is an important person – my grandfather. He is a spontaneous person to go anywhere anytime. If he thinks something is right, nobody can stop. He always tells me a lot of information of about the moon. Meanwhile he ever said that he would give me a piece of necklace with moon and star when I eighteen years old. But about three years ago, he can’t to do this forever because he already went to another world – heaven. As I know this is first time he breaks his words. To this day I still can remember his words “the best part of my life is when I spent mid-Autumn Festival with your, but the time flies when you are having fun. Because we all know that the future is uncertain. In fact, I already has everything I want.” After spoke this, he closed his eyes with smile ever. That day just is Mid-Autumn Festival. So watching the moon keeps alive stories from the past each time.
I can’t forget this day, it gave me many memories at the same time.
I lie on the bed and think this. Today is starry evening with Mozart in the background. Then I close my eyes and begin to make a great wish. “Mum, is my grandfather really satisfied about his life, he hasn’t seen my success yet.” I asked my mother with tear. “Of course my dear, your grandfather feels that’s enough just like he said that he has already got everything he wants. Actually, he is behind you, always.” she answered.
I will remember he always and always. In practice, he exists in my heart all the time. Just like the moon I can see it everyday. Thus I must hard to word and take my future into my own hands because I am myself – Diana.
P.S. - Oh, and don’t forget to protect our natural environment, or I can’t see the miraculous moon and stars everyday.
Until next time...
"Yours Truly, Gary Friedman"
January 29, 2004
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