Chinese new year in Beijing is something quite difficult to relate second-hand. It’s something I recommend experiencing in person! Yes, there are plenty of annoying things about it, but I enjoy it anyway. I arrived in China just after Chinese new year 2004 and I was out of the country for the start of 2005, but I have spent the last 7 new year’s eves in Beijing. Each has been really different. I really love being here for it.
I love the chaos of the fireworks on new year’s eve. I love the flood of Chinese language texts that pile in around midnight. I love the clear skies that come from a lack of car and factory exhaust as the entire country goes on holiday. I smile when I see the white marks on my puffy coat when firework fallout melted the fabric.
I love the extraordinary sights of large scale fireworks in a totally urban environment. I have to laugh at the piles of wreckage (often literally flaming) piled up all over the streets, and the orange powder of spent fireworks that is visible on street surfaces for weeks. In a way I even enjoy the weeks of constant booming reports echoing off tall apartment buildings – it’s part of the atmosphere of CNY.
Okay, I’ll be honest, the constant booming does get old. Mostly on 5th and 15th night (of the new year). Today is Lantern Festival, the 15th night of the new year, and the last night that fireworks are permitted in the city. So it’s sort of a last-chance-set-off-everything-you-have sort of thing. The building next to us is currently glowing alternately pink and green.
On the night of Chinese New Year itself, Bec generously offered me the use of her electric bike – a great help on a night where taxis are not in abundance. A very generous offer indeed, seeing as the last time I rode it I crashed it. The brakes worked better this time. I wasn’t worried, but I was careful!
I was invited to have new year’s eve dinner with the staff at Peters (a fav restaurant). My friend Lily manages the place, and her husband and son were there. I couldn’t believe how big her “little” boy is now! There was a host of Chinese delicacies (chicken feet, 1000 year eggs) and especially Sichuan-style foods (ma po dou fu and other super spicy things) since that’s where several staff members come from, and also two big Sichuan-style hotpots. The CNY TV spectacular was playing on a projector, and I even enjoyed several items I watched. I brought my nail polish collection and did manicures for most of the waitresses. Their little girl delight at choosing colours and fighting over who was next in line was really fun – I was glad to provide a little sparkle for them. One of them had brought her husband – he had this wide-eyed look on his face talking to me (in Mandarin), and then explained that he’d never spoken with a foreigner before. Then at the end there were some fireworks and everyone rushed off to countdown to midnight at home. I went to my friends’ 22nd floor apartment, where the view of fireworks-in-several-directions is fantastic. The company and home-made brownies weren’t bad either ;)
Sometime after 1am April and I braved the warzone to go home. I gave her a lift on the bike, which was a good thing since we didn’t see a taxi the whole way there. I had to dodge many piles of spent fireworks boxes and cylinders, some smoking, others flaming. There were still fireworks going off; a few times I had to wait for them to finish before continuing on my way. At one point I was treated to a wonderful view – a wall of colourful fire erupting across my vision as big boxes were lit up in the middle of a large intersection. But I managed to get myself and the bike home safely. The booming noises began to dissipate at 2am and I risked an attempt at sleep.
Then I spent the week watching TV and reading books. It was awesome.