New Year, Spring Festival, and other things

Happy New Year!

Chinese New Year in Dalian – Photo by +graemetric on Flickr

February 18 marked the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, which falls on the day of the second new moon after the day on which the winter solstice occurs. It’s now the year 4075, the Year of the Golden Pig.

BOOM! Boom! Boom! Those have been the sounds in my ears for several weeks now. What began as a slow crescendo of fireworks escalated to absolute pandemonium at midnight on February 17-18. The amount of money spent on fireworks must be unbelievable. The “show” begins at about 9 or 10 pm, and often there has been a display almost outside my window, explosions of color and sound that sometimes made me jump from fright.

To complicate things, this is also Spring Festival, the biggest holiday celebration of the year. The official holiday lasts 7 days, when many businesses close and people return to their families, but the festival actually goes on for 15 days.

The two most popular greetings during the Chinese New Year celebration season are (in Chinese): “Gong Xi Fa Cai”, and “Xin Nian Kuai Le”. These roughly mean “Congratulations and be prosperous (financially),” and “Happy New Year”.

Like everything else in my China sojourn so far, Spring Festival was a surprise. The sight of flowering trees and green buds on bushes in mid-February came as a shock – in my native Midwestern U.S. these things wouldn’t happen for about another 4 to 6 weeks. I was also surprised by how short the Chengdu winter has been – the cold weather started in late November, and by mid-February we had some warm days again.

Some of the more shocking things I’ve seen: right in front of a fireworks stand, a man lit his lighter and started setting off firecrackers. I hurried quickly away, anticipating a huge explosion. Although fireworks are only allowed in designated areas of Chengdu, the UESTC area seems to be one of these areas. You must be very careful walking down sidewalks and across streets, as you might get blown up. I saw a big fireworks display in the middle of an intersection, with traffic waiting until the explosions had stopped. Even then, people were throwing large firecrackers in the street, where some of them exploded under moving taxis or cars. Again, I walked away quickly.

Aidao Temple, one of my favorite places in Chengdu, where I went on the afternoon of Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Food, food, and…well, more food

I spent much of the Spring Festival in Chengdu with my best friend. We made some short trips, to Tazishan Park, Baoguang Temple, and Luodai Ancient Town. Since the most important thing in my life is food, I’ll tell you some of the eating experiences we shared. We visited one restaurant twice, eating Gong Bao chicken (in the U.S. we call it Kung Pao), delicious “mashed” potatoes mixed with vegetables and oil, twice-fried pork with vegetables (a Chengdu specialty), and tomato-egg soup. We also ate cucumber soup and sautéed eggplants slices. A small dog ran back and forth, being fed by the customers under the table.

One night I was adventurous and concocted spaghetti with meat sauce at home. I managed to find most of the essential ingredients here: olive oil, canned Italian plum tomatoes, bay leaves (oregano), onions, garlic, and red peppers. I have a confession to make: in order to find Italian spaghetti I went to the evil Wal-Mart. Before you say anything, I swear it’s the only time I’ll go there, and besides I only bought one item. On another evening I made an egg omelet with butter and milk, with the leftover Italian meat sauce on top. Delizioso!

We went to a wonderful Japanese restaurant, sampling ramen, udon noodles, salmon sushi, delicious fried dumplings, and grilled skewers of chicken, snails, and squid. During the holiday we also managed to negotiate a transfer from my Bank of China account to my Citibank branch in Los Angeles. Now my creditors can be paid!

One word of advice: think very carefully before moving to another country when you still have large amounts of credit card debt at home. It can be risky.

I never promised you a rose garden

I should have warned you that this post would be long, since I’ve only written in my blog twice so far in 2007.

In the excitement of Spring Festival, I missed Groundhog Day, that quintessential American holiday involving a small animal, its shadow, and predicting the coming of spring. One of my friends in Los Angeles, however, sent me this reminder:

This year, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union address occur on the same day. “It is an ironic juxtaposition of events: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication while the other involves a groundhog.”

I love jokes at the expense of George W.

The other February holiday was, of course, Valentine’s Day. The event was celebrated in a very special way in Beijing:

A group of gays and lesbians in Beijing have held the country’s first public appeal for the support of same sex marriage in China.

During a busy lunch hour on Valentine’s Day in Beijing’s central business district, around half a dozen lesbians and gays handed out 200 red carnations wrapped in leaflets calling for the acceptance of gay love and marriage.“Love has no boundaries; it is nothing to do with gender,” the flyer read. “We are homosexuals. We also want a life together with our loved one… please support all kinds of partnerships and all kinds of love. Please support same sex marriage.”

This kind of action is very unusual in China; unauthorised public protests are usually broken up the police. In 2005 a gay and lesbian culture festival was broken up by the police on the grounds the organisers had not sought permission to hold the event.

You can read more here:

A gay man handing out red carnations wrapped in leaflets calling for the acceptance of gay love and marriage in Beijing’s central business district on Feb. 14 (Photo by Dinah Gardner)

In other news, my friend Arturo in Los Angeles sent me the link to this hilarious video, in which Former Star Trek star and gay activist George Takei takes on former NBA player Tim Hardaway’s homophobic statement that “I Hate Gay People:”

Back to School!

Classes start again next Monday. I’m starting to look forward to working again. I’m also going to try some creative things, and to get away from the normal “academic” stuff like writing essays and preparing for exams. I want to do more creative writing, study some American poetry, and perhaps include some drama. For the group oral presentations, I think I’ll adapt the idea of students “creating” their own country, with its own culture, language, and traditions. It should allow them to build on the high degree of creativity that they expressed in their travel presentations last semester.

The new semester also means updating and adding to my Yahoo Group, and becoming more creative with my PowerPoint presentations (we call them “PPT” here).

If you don’t hear from me again for awhile, it just means I’m having too much fun, or at least keeping busy with my teaching.

Wooden temple doors, Wenshu Monastery


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