It can be a little hard to get things done during the Chinese new year holiday week. Many people leave town, and many businesses close. I find it less and less of a big deal each year, especially in a big city like Beijing. When I lived in Langfang there was a good 4-6 weeks of inconvenience. I had trouble finding transport to and from work. Restaurants we ordered staff lunches from were closed longer than we were and we had to make do with whatever was open. In the university area where I lived, the 6 week school break meant that most businesses had no patrons left and consequently closed for a long time – including every supermarket and corner store in walking distance, and almost all of the eateries.
While there is less inconvenience here and now, I still don’t expect to be able to get everything done. A friend had trouble getting his bike fixed because a week before the holiday the small mechanic stores were all shut. Black cabs were few and far between by then, too – many left Beijing early to beat the traffic on their journey home for the holiday. I’m thankful that Mr Shi, my regular black cab driver, lives only half an hour from me and therefore wasn’t gone. He was at home the day before NYE but found someone else to take me to the youth group movie night. After church on Sunday it felt like half the congregation (well, those who were actually in town – which was about 30% of normal) was at two or three restaurants that were actually open.
I wanted to get out of the house the other day but didn’t want to bother Mr Shi during the holiday. I decided to walk over to the Wumei (department store) next door and look for a black cab over there. I didn’t see any drivers, other than san lun che, which wouldn’t be willing to go as far as my favourite cafe. Then I walked past a car that looked like it was parked waiting for someone, but the driver called out and waved me over – turned out it was Mr Li, one the black cab drivers who sit outside Europlaza (a small shopping complex near the villa compounds). He not only recognised me from driving me before but remembered that I was from Australia.
Mr Li was waiting for his wife who was inside shopping but offered to take me when she was done, which was fine by me. She is a house helper working afternoons in a complex near Europlaza. It turned out she was back at work today and had wanted to buy some things but the air looked nasty so she asked her husband to drive her. (The AQI had been in the “very unhealthy” range all morning, so fair enough!)
Mr Li and I chatted while we waited for her. He asked why I didn’t go home to Australia for the holiday. I told him I had just been back for Christmas, which is the main holiday celebrated in Australia, not the lunar new year. He asked how we celebrate the lunar new year in Australia and I had to explain that we don’t really celebrate it. He told me he hadn’t gone to his home province (Henan) for the new year, but that his son had come to Beijing instead. We talked about travel and the different places in China that I’ve visited. He told me about a trip to Yunnan and Sichuan he made two year ago. He drove down their by himself, taking 2 and a half days to drive nearly 2,000km from Beijing to Chengdu, staying in motels each night.
After his wife came out we continued our conversation, chatting about rent and rising costs in Beijing, the cost of flying to Australia, and other bits and pieces. A few minutes later she asked a question that implied she didn’t know I was a foriegner. Mr Li explained I was Australian, but had lived here ten years, and she was shocked! She hadn’t looked at me as she got in the car and had assumed the whole time that I was Chinese.
We dropped her off at work and then Mr Li took me to Maan Coffee. The cafe wasn’t empty, but the street outside certainly was! The bike lane would normally be full with scores of bikes, electric bikes, and scooters – transport, I presume, for various people working in nearby housing complexes. Today there was a grand total of three bikes outside, and only a very few cars from time to time. It looked strange, almost eerie…
Getting home was a little tricky, but I knew it would be. In the end I chose to walk 15-20 mins to a main road where I was planning to get a bus part way home until a black cab pulled up so I negotiated a fare with him instead. That was an experience in its own right – not the best driver of all time, that one. But I think that’s a story for another time…