Thursday, February 02, 2006

Chinese New Year's!

It's Chinese New Year's right now, a week-long holiday marking the beginning of both Spring and China's spectacuarly complicated Lunar calendar. In the US, New Year's Day is mostly just a numerological reason to party rather than a proper holiday, but in China it's the most important holiday of the year.

It's the time of the year that everybody goes back to visit their family. In Shanghai, almost all the upper-middle-class locals I know came here from some less-developed region away from the coast. Also, the five million or so transitory workers who construct buildings and so forth are entirely gone, leaving the jobsites, usually busy, entirely motionless. In the lead-up to New Year's, the subways were overcrowded with lower-class Chinese citizens with large plastic suitcases, and supposedly the train stations were complete mayhem. Ticket prices were jacked up very high and still sold out, and a lot of people I know had to arrive on the Day of the New Year.

While I'm sure the villages in non-coastal China are overflowing with people and activities, Shanghai feels about 75% abandoned. It's very strange. The restaurant on the left is always busy, even late at night, but when I went there were more employees than customers! Of course, a lot of shops and restaurants just close their doors for the week.

The commercial areas of Shanghai are very busy, though. A lot of shops are offering sales on big-ticket items, such as cell-phones. The weather on the starting weekend was excellent, and the shopping street of Nanjing Lu was as packed as I've ever seen it.

The celebrations aren't as crazy as one might expect - I expect you have to go to one of the villages or Hong Kong for that. The highlight was the firecrackers going off. It doesn't nearly measure up to Honolulu around midnight on New Year's Eve, but it lasts all week. People light them off mostly from when it gets dark until ten, but really at all hours - I was woken up at 5 in the morning last night, by somebody lighting off a whole bunch of them. The most popular firecrackers in Shanghai don't have much light to them, but do have spectacularly loud booms. Car alarms go off, and I briefly wonder if the city is under some kind of attack. Also, fireworks are somewhat popular, miniature versions of what you'd see at a fireworks show. The firecrackers are sold around town, mostly from little stalls on the side of the street.

Another thing you see a lot of is gift boxes of fruit. There's about half a dozen fruit stands within five minutes of my apartment, and all are offering fruits in dolled-up packaging. Generally the boxes are oranges or kiwis, and the gift-baskets are a variety of fruits.

I mentioned before about Shanghai's XMas Decorations. For the most part, they remained up until Chinese New Year's. To my surprise, Chinese New Year's decorations were no more common, or perhaps even less common, than Christmas decorations - at least at the stores and in public places. On the other hand, people's homes will be decorated with some banners, or a hanging or two. Carrefour, had a large selection of New Year's decorations, just as a it had a large selection of XMas decorations. The main difference was that you could get New Year's decorations all around town, not just at the superstores.

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