Note: Unless otherwise stated, all prices (Y) are Chinese Yuan RMB. In Early 2002 the exchange rate was Y5 for $1 (Canadian).
Note 2: Clicking your mouse on highlighted words will take you to related pictures.
In the winter of 2000 I had gone to Shanghai, China but had had to return in early January, before their New year's festivities. In 2002 I spent the entire month of February in Shanghai and witnessed their `week-long' event.
Unlike Western cultures that celebrate the coming of the new year with a night of drunken debauchery on New year's Eve, followed by a day of family gatherings, Eastern cultures spend an entire week, preparing for the coming year by: shopping, joining with families; musical and dramatic displays; and nightly fireworks.
Though the Chinese government, for the past few years, has limited families to one child, Chinese families tend to be large, and though, until recently, travel was restricted, families tend to be scattered over large distances.
Consequently, travel arrangements for; before, and during, the Chinese New Year; to, from, and within, China need to be booked well in advance.
As, in 2001, I had sufficient funds, and the knowledge of my itinerary, for 2002, I was able to apply for my visa , and book my airline tickets well in advance. I had told my family I would arrive on February 3rd, but, I had actually booked my flight to arrive on Feb. 1st.
January 1, at YVR, (Vancouver International Airport) was hectic to say the least. Air Canada was boarding five major flights at the same time. It took me an hour and forty minutes to get checked in. During check-in I was told to go straight to the boarding area as there was also a long line-up there.
In lieu of the breakfast I had planned to sit and enjoy, I grabbed a Whopper from Burger King, then joined the line-up. I waited nearly forty minutes to get to the inspection area, ten minutes after the last call for boarding.
During inspection I was required to take my computer and electric razor out of my pack and turn them on. Unfortunately I didn't turn the computer off properly when I put it back in my pack.
Take off was delayed as we had too many passengers on board. Apparently they had overbooked the flight. After the seating arrangements were straightened out, take off was delayed another thirty minutes while they arranged for a new flight plan as we were too late to use the original one.
After we reached altitude I took out my computer to do some work. The computer was very hot. It had been running since inspection in the airless bag. The battery was now used up and I was worried that the heat may have caused some damage but I was unable to check it until we landed and I could find a place to plug it in. On the Shanghai run, Air Canada has only two planes that have plug-ins for computers and you have to be in first class for that convenience.
Near dusk, sixteen hours ahead of Vancouver time, we arrived in Shanghai, at the end of a sunny day. Over the next month I would only see two or three cloudy days and one or two evenings of light rain. Shanghai's climate is very similar to that of Vancouver's.
Having watched the routes the cab drivers took from the new airport in Pudong to Bin's home, and armed with a good street map of Shanghai, I had no qualms about finding a taxi upon arrival, despite the lack of speaking, or understanding, Chinese. What threw me was, there were no taxis at the airport and there was a line-up of passengers waiting for the first taxi to appear.
Looking, obviously, like a tourist who needed a ride, I was a approached by a man who indicated that he had a taxi. I opened my street map and showed him where I wanted to go. On a piece of paper he wrote Y200. I wrote Y100, which was actually higher than I had planned to pay but as there were no taxis, a line-up waiting, and I was cold and tired, I settled on a price of Y180, which is higher than a regular taxi would have charged using a meter.
The driver took me back into the airport; up an elevator, which allowed us to pass above the street, to another elevator, down, into the car park, to a taxi, hidden out of sight.
Actually off duty, the driver: didn't turn on his meter; didn't report the trip to his dispatcher; and complained that the parking attendant was trying to over charge him.
We zoomed along the, nearly, deserted freeway, flying around a taxi which nearly collided with a divider as he didn't seem to be able to decide which of two directions he wanted to go. My driver and I shared a chuckle over that.
My driver pointed out huge aerial bursts of fireworks in the distance. People gearing up for the forth coming New Year's festivities.
Upon arrival at Bin's I paid the driver an extra Y20 for giving me such a speedy and enjoyable ride. (Normally cab drivers in Shanghai are not allowed to accept tips.)
Some people were coming out of Bin's apartment building so I was able to sneak into the lobby without having to knock on Bin's window. (The building doesn't have an intercom system.) Before I could knock on Bin's door, Jing Fu (Bin's younger brother) opened the door to see what all the commotion was about and spotted me. Pulling his head back inside he announced my arrival and sprang my surprise.
Quickly, I was surrounded by relatives. Bin said she had just talked to Yi Ming, her son, in Vancouver, on the phone. He hadn't mentioned that I was on the way.
After a bowl of hot noodles we headed for bed. I had arrived at their bedtime. This was good for me as I was tired, and sick. I knew, however, that in the future this would not be good as there is no way I would be able to sleep from eight PM to seven AM every night, which is Bin's sleeping schedule.
Early Sunday, we caught a bus downtown, Y5. We went to do some shopping as I had only taken one light jacket and the weather was expected to turn cooler.
After looking in many stores I found a nice down filled jacket for Y300. Later I found a nice washable wool sweater (I don't normally wear sweaters but I needed something to keep me warm in the house over the next month.) for Y158, and in another store I bought a down filled parka for Y250.
As well as for giving as New Year's gifts, particularly to children, Chinese like to buy new clothing for themselves. Consequently, close to, and during, the New Year, prices are higher and the selection is poorer.
I had a much broader selection and more bargaining powered the previous year when I was there at Christmas time.
While sitting on the couch, writing this, the others, sitting around me, watching TV, I was wearing: lined slippers; a t-shirt; a shirt; a wool sweater; a cotton vest; and a down filled jacket. The others were dressed about the same.
The nephews sat on one side of me in a big chair, and on the floor, playing on `Game Boys' that were hooked together. The women sat , with Jing Fu, on the other side of me, watching a movie on TV. In China VCD is more common than DVD and though my computer says it can play VCD I couldn't get it to do so.
In a computer store I had found the cables I needed to connect my notebook computer so I could play DVDs and games on the TV. The two separate cables cost me Y24. For the same combination at Radio Shack in Canada I had paid $40.
After lunch one of the boys took me to the other side of the residential complex to a small strip mall where there was a barber. Only Y5. It would have cost me $15 to get my haircut in Canada.
In 2002, New Year's Eve was Feb. 11. Little New Year's Eve was Feb. 10.
Little New Year's Eve is spent preparing for New YearĢs week, buying foods and fireworks, I bought a game for my computer, and is celebrated by fireworks after supper.
Little New year's Eve, fireworks are set out in the sun, to dry.
Bin's apartment is in a building, part of a complex of similar buildings that range from 5 to 7 stories. The fireworks echo back and forth between the buildings and along the streets between them creating a cacophony that is thankfully reduced by the walls and windows of her apartment. Unless of course one is outside, watching. In Bin's apartment complex, each night, at nine PM, one of the security guards rides through the complex on his bicycle. His bicycle carries a sound system that plays musical chimes. The music is to remind residents that they should check to see that the gas is turned off and that there are no fires burning, before they retire for the evening.
During the week of New Year's, the guard's music was barely noticeable above the cacophony of fireworks
On New Years Eve the house is cleaned from top to bottom.
The table is set and the house made ready.
JING FU, (LEFT) AND JING MEI CLEAN HOUSE FOR THE NEW YEAR
THE TABLE IS SET, CANDLES AND CIGARETTE ARE LIT, & THE WINE IS POURED
THE ROOM IS LEFT SO THAT THE SPIRT’S OF THE DEPARTED MAY DINE.
HUANG BIN BURNS XI BO IN THE DINNIG ROOM
TO INVITE THE DEPARTED ANCESTORS
JING FU BURNS XI BO ON THE LAWN
At supper, each child is given some money and each member of the family receives a gift, usually some money, in a red envelope. Money must be brand new bills, unused.
After supper and before bed time, each person must bathe to wash away all of last years bad things.
Just before midnight people who are not downtown joining in the big festivities will get up and go outside to set off fireworks.
At midnight the city is a roar of fireworks, many of them starting well before midnight and some still going at 5 AM.
The fireworks are to scare off evil spirits, bad luck, and any evils that might have befallen you during the previous year.
Though we never went out for the large fireworks displays or the celebration activities in the heart of the city we would watch them on TV. Also we would watch the news the next day.
In Canada fire crackers have been outlawed for many years, except with special permit in large Chinese communities, and fireworks are controlled. The large ones may only be set off by qualified personnel and in designated areas.
There are no such rules in China and very few people are aware of the hazards of fireworks. Each day the news would tell of people, and homes, being burned because of improper precautions. In my own household I witnessed the boys using sparklers to burn their initials into the dry grass, in front of the building.
Fireworks were shot high into the air within the close confines of the complex, no regard given for the fact that the sparks and fire balls would land on the roofs of the buildings.
The streets were blackened with the scars of the explosions.
Feb. 12 is New Year's Day, the year of the Horse. (If you were born in: `54; `66; `78; `90; or`02, you would be a horse.) When people wake up they will set off more fire works to welcome the new year.
Each morning the cleaning crews sweep up the spent fire crackers. In down town the remains were swept into huge piles.
For the rest of the New Year week, most families, if they aren't joining in with a large group, will set off a few fireworks near their house each night before retiring.
A NEIGHBOUR DRAPES A STRING OF FIRECRACKERS
ACROSS THE HANDLES OF A GARBAGE CART
JING FU LAYS OUT A STRING OF FIRECRACKERS
FIREWORKS CREATE A BALL OF FLAME
IN FRONT OF AN APARTMENT
Also, during the rest of the week, each household visits, or is visited by, friends, or family, for a meal.
If a visitor, friend, or family member, such as myself, doesn't have a convenient, or large enough house, to host a meal, they invite the family, and friends, to a restaurant.
During New YearĢs Week, if we werenĢt traveling, we were either having family, or friends, or we were visiting family, or friends, for dinner.
Huang Jing Xian, (Bin's older sister) and her family, live in the oldest residential complex in Shanghai.
As Jing Xian's home is very small, 1 room, we went there for tea in the afternoon.
INTERIOR OF ENTRANCE
MAIN STREET THROUGH THE COMPLEX
AT NIGHT, ONE MUST NEGOTIATE THIS HALLWAY SLOWLY
IT HAS NO LIGHTS
EACH FAMILY HAS THEIR OWN SINK
IN THE PREPERATION ROOM
EACH FAMILY HAS THEIR OWN STOVE,
IN THE COOKING ROOM
THE DOUBLE BED IS TO THE LEFT
AND THE SINGLE BED, FOR THEIR SON,
IS UP ABOVE WITH A SWING-DOWN SET OF STAIRS FOR ACCESS
REN YONG QING & HUANG JING XIAN
After some shopping, she and her husband took us to the HKL restaurant.
STATUE NEAR ENTRANCE TO HKL RESTAURANT
STATUES ARE VERY COMMON THROUGHOUT CHINA
THEY ARE MOSTLY OF CAUCASIANS, RATHER THAN ORIENTALS
THE MAIN DINNING AREA,
AS SEEN FROM THE LOBBY.
BEAR (Left) AND HUANG JING DI
ONE OF THE LARGER PRIVATE ROOMS
THE TAIPEI ROOM
NOTICE THE BOY POURING TEA,
WITH THE LONG SPOUT
HE CAN REACH THE FAR SIDE OF THE TABLE
On the second floor are private dinning rooms of various sizes, named after cities. We didn't eat in the `Vancouver` Room but had a most splendiferous meal in the `Taipei' Room.
Another evening saw us enjoying a lovely home cooked meal at the apartment of Jing Fu.
A special treat for the New Year.
FISH MARKET IN PU DONG
THE HIDE IS VERY TOUGH AND HARD TO CUT
AN OLD DOOR SERVES AS A WORK BENCH
AT HOME, IT IS SPICED, SALTED,
AND HUNG TO DRY FOR SEVERAL DAYS
As I don't have a residence in Shanghai, on our final night, I took all the family, and some friends to Bei Chai, a district within PuDong to a restaurant
I'm not sure what I bought as I let Bin do the ordering. There was a dish of beef slices with hot green peppers and a tray of small birds, pigeons, complete with heads. That was the end of my appetite. I didn't ask what was in any of the other dishes.
Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin), Gung Hey Far Choy (Cantonese) (May your family be happy and prosperous in the forth coming year.).
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