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.