Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chinese New Year: my first firework and moving

I moved from my first apartment to my second during the week of Spring Festival (aka: Chinese New Year, sort of). I spent a few days in my old apartment watching neighbors set off fireworks and packing my things. It was a slightly lonely time, as my son was in the U.S. and I was leaving the 2 kids I'd been tutoring, moving to a new area with a new job, etc.
I was "in between"... nowhere.
Not even sure if I should stay in China or not.
All around me Chinese people were talking about family, and excited about going back to their hometowns to see their parents or brothers & sisters. One girl at work came in so excited about getting a train ticket after sleeping out for 2 days even though it was a "standing only" ticket for a 26 hour trip. Wow.
It made me miss my family and friends probably more so than at Christmas or other holidays of ours. I didn't hear any buildup or excitement about "our" holidays, but as Spring Festival approached, things got more & more sentimental. But it felt lonely because it wasn't "my holiday". It was a holiday I didn't grow up with, and I didn't fully understand. I felt the excitement and the love for family, but as an outsider I felt left out.

So here I was, all alone, putting my things into a taxi and moving across the big wide city. Within a few days I had all my things moved and was all alone in my tiny new 18th story Chinese apartment (as opposed to my larger, nicer, "western" one).
I looked out the window at night, hearing people yelling happily and laughing, and I got very sad. I may have even shed a tear. I went outside. I wanted to be a part of the festivities that were still going on about halfway through Spring Festival, and even though I was alone I figured I'd at least physically put myself out there in it and see if it would make me feel better or worse.

There was a middle aged man hanging an ENORMOUS string of fireworks from a tree. It was at least 3 feet long and a foot wide; ALL fireworks. I couldn't imagine the sound it would make, and I stood around to watch. I felt awkward standing among my new neighbors, whom I had only seen now for a minute in the dark of night, and wondered if they could even tell I was a foreigner. I had some leftover loneliness in me, but decided to stick around....
... the man made sure the huge firework was secure, and as he turned my way I saw a big grin on his face. Little children were nearby, anxiously waiting for him to light it off, as well as plenty of adults, too. I don't know what made him do it, but he walked over to me, smiling, and handed me the lighter.
He had no idea how warm that made me feel.
He probably also didn't know I had never set off even a tiny American firework before, let alone something that could blow my fingers off.
I almost declined due to inexperience and the feeling that it wasn't "my holiday", but I decided to go for it. I mean, he did give me the lighter. I smiled and walked over and lit it and ran to the radius everyone else was standing at, figuring anything more would make me look like an inexperienced chicken foreigner.
That thing was LOUD.

That was one of the nicest moments of my life.
I felt welcomed, like I belonged there, like that was now my neighborhood, and it was my neighborhood for a year and a half later. I walked it and rode my bike around it with groceries in my basket like I belonged there, partly thanks to that man who handed me the lighter, not having a clue it was my first night there and how lonely I felt and how warm and included that would make me feel.

The following New Year I set off fireworks from the roof of that building, as I was the only one who had access (by climbing out my window). Chinese New Year and Spring Festival were now my holidays too.
I was invited.
And if I went back to visit I'd still walk around that neighborhood like it's mine; it still is, and I miss it like it's mine.

Chinese New Year

Fifteen days of "anything goes". In Beijing, when I was there, the law was that fireworks were not allowed within the 2nd Ring Road, which means the most populated part of the city (or maybe it was the 3rd?) Either way.... HA! What a laugh!

If you look at my Picasa Photo Albums (top right of the blog) there's a folder called Chinese New Year. The first few pictures were taken at the Drum and Bell Towers, which are pretty much in the dead center of the city (so much for that law), and from where various events were sounded out from the towers way back when. We were able to go up into the Drum Tower (for a fee, it's a mild tourist attraction now) and get a view of the whole city. Fireworks in every direction, popping up here & there, dotted along the horizon as far as the eye could see. I had the awesome feeling that all over China, in every city, the same thing was happening at that moment. Over a billion people all celebrating the same thing at the same time. I wondered what it would look like flying over in a plane. You could see fireworks below for hours, covering this huge land mass, for 2 weeks. Awesome.
The streets are covered in red paper from any ol' people setting off any ol' fireworks they could get their hands on or afford. I regret not taking a picture of the 5yr old boy I passed on the street stuffing firecrackers into an empty soda can, surely with the intent of watching the whole thing explode. I decided I'd rather just keep walking and not hang around to see if he burns his little hands; as much as I'd have loved that picture, I'd rather not be any part of it when he actually lights the fuse.

At that time of year, I was actually among the most knowledgeable in the city as far as getting around on public transportation. Beijingers went to their hometowns for the vacation, and outsiders came into the city for fun. They didn't know where the buses went, but I rode them like an old hand, finding the newbies even slightly annoying in their giddy ignorance of which side of the subway tracks to stand on.
It felt good.

More another time...