Kind of glad it's over...
02.02.2011 - 19.02.2011
Over the last two weeks we have been celebrating the very long Spring Festival. The celebration began on February 2nd and has finally ended on February 17th. At the beginning of the festival, I was very excited for what was going to happen. Our friend named Harrick, an adult student at Aston, invited us over to his house with his family for Chinese New Year's Eve. Upon our arrival we met Harrick and his wife, both of his parents, and his niece and nephew as well. The Chinese celebrate New Year's Eve by getting the family together and making homemade dumplings as well as many other dishes. At their house we had fish, beef head, beef with noodles, lamb on the bone, beef tongue, mushrooms, and my personal favorite, the mutton dumplings. The dinner we so great and definitely unique. We were also introduced to Bijou, the local liquor that can be very cheap and tough to drink or very expensive and quite smooth. At their house they had a bottle that was over 1,000 kwai (about $200 American) that they continually kept pouring us shots of. To say the least we were so grateful to this family.
After dinner was finished we sat and watched a television program with the family. The program is done live in Beijing and broadcast over every major station in China. It included the top Chinese comedians, actors and other celebrities, as well as what I consider to be circus/carnival acts. Though we had no idea what was being said by anyone the show was still somewhat entertaining. The real crazy part began at Midnight. At midnight the Chinese go outside of their house and shoot off firecrackers. I know, it sounds like America, but rest assured this was nothing like the American New Year's. A standard strand of firecrackers in China is 1,000 firecrackers long. Combine this with the fact that EVERYONE lets them off and you have what sounds like a war zone. There are still your standard fireworks from home such as Roman Candles and other fireworks that you could find at any stand in America, but the amount of them here is unbelievable. Not to mention the cost. For $2 American I purchased 10 M-80 fireworks. There are also fireworks that would compare to those shot at baseball games or festivals in America. To sum it up, fireworks were simply everywhere for approximately 2 hours.
Chinese New Year and Spring Festival is like a combination of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and American New Year's rolled into one huge festival. On top of all of the fireworks, the vendors also sell fake money. This money (which oddly enough is usually depicted as American $100 bills) is burned in piles to remember their ancestors. The superstition is that the ancestors still need money in the afterlife and the family can give them this gift by burning it. It's not only money that is burned though. On top of all of the fireworks, there were also burning chairs, paper of all kind, and even a sofa that one family put on the side of the street and lit up. It was quite the scene.
Since this is their longest holiday, they try to make the most of it. All government offices close for a week. The post office takes off a week and a half. Most store owners also go a travel to see relatives throughout China as this is their one chance all year to do it. Due to this fact, most of my favorite places to eat were closed and I therefore had to eat way too much KFC this week. The bars were still open at night however and there were still plenty of things to do. Several nights were spent hanging out with our fellow teachers Kai and Anne at the bars.
The day after Chinese New year it was quite warm. This was the first time since I have been here that I could go outside with a t-shirt and not feel cold. Liz and I walked through the park to go play basketball at the gym and were overwhelmed by the amount of people there. The park had all of the amusement park type rides going and the lake (still frozen over) was also crowded with people riding different types of sleds and bikes all over it. There was even one part of the lake where there were bumper boats.... on ice. That was entertaining to watch.
We have played basketball at the local gym several times now. The gym costs approximately $1 American to play for each hour per person. The Chinese stare and giggle when we walk into the place. Whichever court we wind up warming up on we never have an issue finding people who want to play with us. They all want to play with me obviously to try their luck. Anyone who has ever played basketball with me knows that I am simply not good at it, and the Chinese have exploited this. The competition is honestly quite good compared to what I expected. Liz on the other hand is quite good at basketball. Here in China, girls do not play. The girlfriends or wives come to the gym to watch their boyfriend or husband play, but that is as close as they get to the court. Due to the fact whenever a game starts, they refuse to guard Liz. It's not until she has scored 7 straight points that someone finally puts a hand in her face. Only once so far has a Chinese player attempted to push her around. It is really quite comical to watch.
By Wednesday, February 9th we had finally returned to school. The week off was nice but it was simply impossible to sleep. Since the Spring Festival goes for 15 days, the Chinese continually shoot off their firecrackers every day. The superstition states that there is a mythological monster that used to come and eat the Chinese people. Somewhere along the way the people began shooting fireworks and it scared the monster away. Ever since everyone has to shoot fireworks. Each day of the 15 day festival has it's own sub-holiday. Anyone familiar with the Mardi Gras traditions will understand how it works. Since each day is a new holiday, the fireworks never end. They go until 3 am and start by 7 am. I cannot tell you how many times I have woken up to firecrackers.
On February 12th I went with my manager Phil from school and our friend Anne to a rock climbing wall here where he also works at. The wall is located in the Yinchuan Convention center. The building itself is absolutely massive. I was told that it is the largest center in all of Asia, holding approximately 1.3 million people. We stayed for approximately 1 hour to do some rock climbing which I have not done for years, and then left the building. As we left we saw thousands of people gathered on the street for a show of some sort that was happening in 5 minutes. The building across the street was the headquarters for the power company here and they sponsored a huge (big surprise here) fireworks show. As if I wasn't totally burnt out on fireworks before I came here having seen them every night for the last 7 summers, now I was thoroughly bored. The show at the power company was a good show though. It was definitely of the quality of a Rozzi's show in Cincinnati on Labor Day. It lasted for a half an hour and I left somewhat impressed with fireworks for once.
February 17th had finally come. The lantern festival. The end of Spring Holiday. Each of us got tickets to go to a huge festival at a large park near the convention center. At the lantern festival the Chinese light huge lanterns and let them fly into the air. Thousands of them were going up and it was really quite neat to see. On top of this there was also, get this, a 2 hour fireworks show. Big shock there huh. The festival itself was quite boring. There were several lighted inflatable balloons and many games and food stands. Nothing of interest for anyone so we all left soon after arriving. The funniest part occurred when we had left the park. There were many people lighting lanterns just outside of the park gate when a police officer with a megaphone began yelling at people for lighting them. The officer went to the lanterns, pulled them out of the air, and stomped them out. He continued his yelling into the megaphone as he was doing this. At one point there was a lantern approximately 10 feet in the air and he ran, jumped approximately 3 feet into the air, grabbed it, and stomped it out. It was at this time when all of the teachers could not stop laughing at this guy. His continued rampage against the lanterns, at the lantern festival, was extremely amusing.
Outside of all of these fun events there have also been some situations of bad luck as well. One day while at the gym playing basketball we went outside to discover that our bikes had been stolen. We had just purchased the bikes 2 days prior and the locks which we used had been picked. It was very frustrating, but we now have 2 new bikes with motorcycle locks that should not be able to be picked. We are hoping that these will hold up. Another scary situation occurred yesterday. I was about to start cooking lunch and turned on the vent over the stove. It came on for a second, and then burst into flames. I quickly went to get water as there were no fire extinguishers in the apartment and managed to eventually get the fire out. I unfortunately did not get to it quick enough to prevent it from melting the plastic ceiling tiles above it so now the kitchen smells like burnt plastic. Everyone loves that smell. The repairmen for the school is coming by today however to fix it up for us. Chinese electrics absolutely suck here. I have been told several times to be careful of them. They apparently do not understand the importance of a ground wire and therefore fires and electric shocks happen frequently. I find it mostly idiotic.
Outside of those issues everything is good. Tomorrow we are leaving for Hong Kong to obtain our work visas. I plan on taking many pictures and videos of the trip for everyone to see. I am really looking forward to the trip. Stay tuned for an update in reference to this trip. I hope all is well back home. Take care everyone.