Sunday, March 4, 2012

Chinese New Year Vacation (aka "Spring Festival" ) Part 1

I have been putting this entry off and off and off. I think pieces of me were all scattered between - being stuck in that hazy post-vacation fogginess, not wanting to admit that vacation was over, and just being overwhelmed jumping back on the "hamster wheel" of reality and dealing with "work stuff". ( like teaching SO MANY make-up classes for a few kids who missed class before the Spring Festival break)

BUT I'm HERE now and I'm ready to write a little. I'm gonna start writing about Chinese New Year, aka "Spring Festival".

So, to start. In China, usually between late January and early February, the "Spring Festival"  holiday is celebrated. Most people here call it "Spring Festival", even though it is the celebration of the Lunar New Year."Xin Nian Hao" - is a pretty common "Happy New Year" greeting. When I lived in New York, Chinese New Year meant "dragon dances" and "different animal years".  That's all that I associated with it. But being here, I realize that it is the BIGGEST holiday on the Chinese calendar. Most people get anywhere between one week to a month of vacation time. It reminds me a lot of "Christmas" ( without the "Jesus" or "Santa Claus" emphasis). Families, who, if they don't live in the same city/town often have not seen each other at any other time during the year- due to busy work schedules, will get together and share meals and quality time. Every year is represented by a DIFFERENT ANIMAL and a DIFFERENT ELEMENT. 2012 is the YEAR OF THE WATER DRAGON. Dragon years in general are considered especially lucky and powerful. The Dragon is the only animal in the astrological chart that is a mythical creature. All the other animals in the chart are "real" ones. Typically, during Spring Festival kids will receive "red envelopes" filled with money ( some of my students got a lot of envelopes from their family members - adding up to almost the amount of my monthly salary!). My boss gave each of the employees a red envelope filled with 100 RMB. I also received red envelopes ( with about 20 rmb in each) from two of my students, Alex and Vivian's, mother's. There are "New Year's Specials" broadcast on the television and each city/town has their own local traditions. I was invited to attend a taping of a New Year's tv special that was broadcast at a television studio in Foshan with Jenny ( 5 yr old that I tutor) and her family. Her family is really so good to me, so sweet and so interested in life both locally and also just the world, everything going on outside of China ,and so helpful. Her father actually picked me up at 9am the morning I was leaving to go to Thailand and drove me to the bus station where I took the shuttle bus to Guangzhou Airport.

As far as traditions, wearing red is considered to be lucky and to bring you "luck" in the New Year. ( I got a dark red mani/pedi before leaving China to ensure that I carried some luck with me to Thailand). If it is your animal year - (say, if you were born in the year of the Dragon and this year being celebrated is the year of the Dragon), it is considered lucky to wear a little red every day. ALSO it is important to clean your house before the new year- to "clean out" the "old bad energy of last year". I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom. It was the biggest cleaning I'd given it in months and it felt great .... and was still SO clean after I returned from Thailand.

As far as some "local" Spring Festival Traditions to bring luck and money, in Foshan, one tradition is to walk across "Tongxi Bridge". There are about 9 steps up and over the bridge on one side and then twelve steps down on the other side. Crossing over is supposed to symbolize that you will complete the new year with more money than you started out with. ( "12" is greater than "9" , i know your math skills are better than mine, you know this). I took part in this tradition after I returned from Thailand. It was a little bit of CROWDED craziness. It reminded me why I shake my head at the crazy tourists on tv every year in NYC - why I will never take part in "New Year's Eve Ball Drop" in Times Square.  It wasn't as bad as Times Square, but, as a foreigner  there was definitely a little "where am I and where is my apartment in relation to where I am now?" going on. Everyone was carrying these beautiful bright spinning pinwheels with little bells on them and it was definitely a festive atmosphere. Another "local tradition" in Foshan is to throw lettuce at the big ceramic lettuce statue. Don't quote me on this, I'm not sure if that's the official name of this tradition, but that's pretty much what happens. I forget what street it was on, but everyone is given a head of lettuce with some incense sticks wrapped around it and you throw the lettuce at the statue. I posted a picture of this in my "Foshan Album" on my FB page, so any friends can see what I mean there. The street looked like a SALAD. I'm not sure where this tradition came from, but I know there was talk of getting rid of it because some people felt it was ( and it is ... unless you're giving the lettuce to animals or something afterwards) a waste of food.

I said "yes" to everything - every tradition- to bring me LUCK, MONEY, HAPPINESS. Wearing Red. Cleaning My Apartment. Crossing Bridges. Throwing Lettuce. Putting up lucky New Year's decorations - I went to my supermarket and bought two copies - one for my apartment door, one for the Academic Department door at school- of this cute picture of two dragons carrying two different scrolls, one with the word "Happiness" and one with the word "Money" both written in Chinese characters on them.

... and I have to say, I think there might be something to these New Year's traditions because not only did I have a wonderful vacation in Thailand... since the New Year, I was also approached to tutor adults in ESL two nights per week ( making a little more $$) and I've been doing that, about 3 times so far now. I ALSO just found out that I will be getting a $1,110 tax return and I don't have to pay the state or federal ANYTHING! (luck! money!) This is seriously my best tax return news in a LONG time. In the past I always owed money and I never got that big of a return. I'm looking forward to paying off my credit card and then we'll see what I do with the rest. I might take my Mom & Dad on a Hot Air Balloon ride once I get back to NY. I know there's a company based out of Baird Park, not too far from their house. They've ( and I've ) never been and I know it's something that my dad mentioned that he would really like to do .... and I like surprises/surprising people... so maybe.

Anyway, that's it. Spring Festival reminds me a lot of Christmas - very family oriented. However, I also received a sweet message from Lisa while I was in Thailand, wishing me a Happy New Year and telling me that she would rather be with me there than with her family and friends. I am very proud of her. 2012 has been very lucky for her too. She's found a job that she loves and feels respected at, and she also just moved into her own apartment in Guangzhou. She's so focused and hard working and strong. I don't know what this will be. Right now I feel like we're creating the best versions of ourselves, doing what we want to do to better our lives ( Me: learning Mandarin, paying off debt. Her: making more money and eventually taking English classes). However the story ends, that's a good path for both of us to be on.

ok, that's it for now waiguorens.
My next entry will talk about the "THAILAND" part of my Chinese New Year.
Xin Nian Hao to you and yours!

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