Wednesday, February 14, 2007

out with the dog, in with the pig

Big class at Richland, last day of class
No fear, this is not about a recent meal. Rather, it's about the holiday season that has descended upon China. It is just about that time for the Chinese New Year. This year it falls on February 18th and on that day The Year of the Pig will officially begin. For those of you born mid-Feb 1983-early Feb 1984, this is your year. Congratulations. It only comes around once every 12 years. My year, the dog, is coming to its end.

Holidays in China are a strange thing. Western holidays are really starting to take over. Christmas is a big one, of course. New Year's (as we all know it) is also celebrated. Valentine's Day was yesterday, and that's increasing in popularity. But the Chinese seem to celebrate these holidays in a half-assed way. They don't really know the meaning behind them (but then again, sometimes I'm not sure if we do either), but do it because it's interesting. The Chinese New Year, however, is much more sacred. This is one monster of a holiday. This is my first time in China during the Chinese New Year and it's a very odd feeling being here.

In a country with 1.3 billion people, there are always people about. But where I live, it's starting to feel like a bit of a ghost town. I can compare it to Christmas or Thanksgiving Day, or a Sunday afternoon in Wisconsin when the Packers are having a great season (I've almost forgotten what that was like). Everyone is at home. Stores are empty, if they are even open. There's not a lot of traffic. This is what it feels like.

This is my last week teaching and the children are in the "it's-almost-time-for-holiday" mode in which they are hyper and don't want to do much of anything. A lot of the children aren't even in class because their parent's have taken them back home for the holidays. It seems that most people that live in Beijing aren't actually from Beijing. Almost all of my Chinese co-workers are from different cities and this is one of few times during the year that everyone can go to their hometowns to be with their families. The lines at train ticket offices are ridiculously long. Most trains have standing room only, if that. Buses heading out of town are jam-packed. Everyone in the country is either migrating back to where they came from or going on vacation.

But I am here, alone, stuck in Beijing until Monday. The day after the New Year. Ming left this morning to go back to Chengde to be with his mom. I'll have to experience this holiday alone, which is a little depressing since it is a family holiday. It's kinda like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the 4th of July all wrapped up into one. Children get gifts, mostly red envelopes with 100 RMB ($12) from all their relatives. There's tons of food. And finally, as I've already begun to notice, there are LOTS of fireworks. For such an important holiday, there are few decorations to be seen, mostly pigs, pigs, and more pigs.

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