Welcome to the Year of the Rat

Xin Nian Kuai Le – Happy Chinese New Year.

Last night was one of those rare opportunities to watch Chinese tradition at its best. Celebrating the end and beginning of a new lunar year is every holiday was have at home birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. It is huge. It is the time when families come together from all over China, families that may not have seen each other for 50 weeks or 2 years or 3 years make the long journey to be with family. Some people travel on trains for 48 hours, sitting on a hard wooded bench (hard seater) bringing their own food and water so that they can spend a couple of weeks with their families.

This is the time when there is more migration in China than at any other time of the year. There are approximately 1.4 billion people living in China. I live in a city with a registered population of 16 million though it is probably pushing 20 million with unregistered and migrant workers. Approximately 300 million people are on the move before Chinese New year. That is almost equal to the population of the United States all traveling at the same time to get home to family.

The frantic rushing and pushing on the streets and in the grocery stores reached an incredible level. Escalators are jammed with people shoulder to shoulder buying everything they need for the holiday. It is good to avoid shopping at this time of year but if the shopping bug catches you then your patience must be the huge. It is fun to be part of it but overwhelming. Stand on an escalator and have everyone stare at you because you are different. Cell phones are suddenly raised away from peoples mouths so they can take a picture. I know that I will be a topic of conversation soon as for many showing their families a western person is special. It moves along.

Then Chinese New Year’s Eve arrives and the celebration begins in earnest. Yesterday morning I woke up when two huge firecracker bombs were exploded outside my building. I live in a huge complex with 800 apartment about 45 buildings and the fireworks are set off in the middle of the compound. Firecrackers continued on and off all day and then about 6:30 last night they started in earnest and went non-stop until 2:20 this morning.

I stood on the balcony of my 11th floor apartment and was standing in the middle of a fireworks show. Rather than me going to see the show it was literally right outside my window in the courtyard right below my balcony. I worry about buildings or trees catching on fire from the sparks but the young guards all stand around with orange fire extinguishers ready to solve any problems before they become large. I learned this last night as I was walking around and a firecracker that was so supposed to go straight up in the air and explode actually went up and then started back down before exploded in towards the people and not up. No one was hurt but a few people were scared. Then I realized that one of the sparks had hit one of our big bushes by the fountain and it was totally on fire. People started yelling and then the guards came running and within seconds the bush blaze was put out. Only in China!!! 🙂

Every hour they noise got louder and the fireworks became bigger. It was exciting. I finally put on my warm clothes and went and stood on my balcony at 11:30 pm and watched and took videos of everything around me. I can’t begin to describe the colour or the noise or the excitement. The crescendo rose and rose the closer it came to midnight. I didn’t think it could get any louder and then it was like the entire sky exploded around me. Each direction I looked there were fireworks bursting in the sky. Firecracker bombs were going off everywhere and the sound reverberated around the huge complexes we live in. Strings of 1000 little red firecrackers were set off continually. Building lit up a bright glowing white for a few seconds and then faded into darkness.

Earlier in the evening I had walked around my complex to see what was happening and off in the distance I could here the big bombs going off but the sound was muffled as it was kilometres away. I wondered if that was what a war zone sounds like as bombs go off in the distance. Later the sounds were no longer off in the distance but I was surrounded by them, engulfed in the sound. There was no place to go to get away from the noise and roar and the lights. I was totally encompassed by the celebration.

In Canada we have good celebrations but you have to make an effort go to them. On New Year’s Eve we chose how we are going to celebrate. We can celebrate in public or privately but it is up to us. In China, no one is given a choice because it is a country celebration. No one thinks that you may not want to celebrate and hear the noise because you are celebrating the arrival of the new Lunar Year and it is a time to rejoice and look forward. Therefore, you celebrate because you certainly can’t sleep.

As I am writing this it is 5:05 Pm and the big firecracker bombs are starting again. It will be another late night for sleep. We will continue like this for 2 weeks and then on the 15th day, which is the last day of the Chinese New Year Celebration, the fireworks will start all over again.

Do I hate it? No, I actually love it because it is part of this incredible country I am lucky enough to live in.

To all may this Year of the Rat be the best one yet.

Xin Nian Kuai Le

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