The most important holiday in the Chinese calendar is the Spring Festival, also know as the Chinese New Year. During this holiday the majority of ExPats leave China and either return to their home country or take the opportunity to visit other countries around Asia and beyond. While most of our expat friends told us to make sure we leave and go some place outside of China, we decided to stay in Suzhou to experience this major Chinese holiday for the first time.
So what do the Chinese do during this holiday? In many ways it is similar to the US Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays combined. The Chinese spend a great deal of money buying presents, decorations, fireworks and material goods, get together with family for a great meal together and exchange gifts and good luck artifacts. They also use this time to clean house so that they sweep away any bad luck and make room for good fortune to come in during the new year. The train stations and airports are a true nightmare. Millions of migrant workers travel back home to celebrate this holiday with their seldom-seen families. It is considered to be the largest human migration that brings to a sudden halt all production and commerce in this huge economy. During this time, many migrant workers decide to stay home without any notice to their employers; mostly because they just miss their families, have saved enough to live comfortably in their small towns for a few years or open a small business of their own.
Here is an excerpt of a very good article covering this huge holiday migration written by Megan K. Stack and Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times…”These precious days are the most eagerly awaited of the year: a rare chance for rest, and the coming together of families painfully split apart by economic necessity. Self-conscious spouses are reunited. Children peer shyly at parents they haven’t seen in a year. Men who are mocked and exploited in the slick cities puff out their chests and strut, get drunk on rice wine and lavish their hard-won cash on their families”. For the whole article click HERE
So what was it like in Suzhou? On Monday at zero hours (midnight) the fireworks started. Wow was it noisy and different from what the US sees in our major holidays. We could see big fireworks every where not just in one or two places. It seemed that every house and building complex had their own major display going and it went for hours (see video below). I am blessed with a deep and sound sleep, so it was not difficult for me to just shut down and go to sleep. Unfortunately for my wife, she had a hard time blocking the loud ruckus and she did not have a good night sleep at all. When we woke up on Monday morning we could still hear a few fireworks going here and there, but the most noticeable difference was the lack of cars on the road; almost none.
The streets were really empty and all of the businesses closed. Good thing we did all of our food shopping a few days before or we would have been going hungry for a few days. We just took a nice walk around the neighborhood and relaxed inside the whole day. We were thrilled to hear that one of our very best friends also stayed in Suzhou for the holidays so we did a few things together – visited TongLi, toured Suzhou old district, visited Shanghai and had dinner at each other homes. All in all a very relaxing week. Today, Saturday, most of the business’s will start to open and things will get back to normal by Monday. However, the fireworks are not done yet. This is because, while people go back to work on Monday, the Spring Festival does not end until the 30th (the spring festival starts on the first day of the traditional Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th day). At this time we are told there will be more fireworks all around us. Well, the Chinese did invent them!
To see the fireworks video we took from our apartment balcony (we felt we were under attack) click HERE. Sorry, file was too big to post in this blog.
As we approach TongLi water town in a cold winter day, breakfast is still going on with some steamed dim sums. Yum, Yum.
Everyone is in the party mood!
No different that any other festival in other parts of the world, vendor food a sure favorite.
It is tradition during the New Year to salt meets and hang them outside to dry.
My lovely wife (right) with our good friends Ali and Nastaran; they are a lot of fun to be with and as nice as friends come. Ali bought a Russian looking hat a few minutes before we took this picture. This is his comrade look.
Ali and I played a couple of the many carnival type games they had. Here we see Ali throwing his last ball in the bucket. He won a small toy he quickly gave a little toddler in a stroller.
There is no age limit for having fun in China. This young at heart is having a blast blowing bubbles!
Ali posing with his new hat. He loved it praising how warm it kept him even though it only cost him 40 RMB ($6.50). Such a deal!
There are many snacks Westerners will consider bizarre. This may be one, deep-fried crab, you eat it all..just like chips I guess. Saw many of happy customers so I had to ask this young man to pose for me.
Now this treat we just could not understand. This is a bucket of baby bats. Yes, baby bats. Not sure how they cook them or eat them, but they were on sale in several places. Told they are a tradition during New Year celebrations. Not judging, but huh? CORRECTION - THESE ARE NOT BATS AT ALL. THEY ARE A TYPE OF WATER CHESTNUTS. WAS TOLD THIS BY A SUZHOU NATIVE AFTER SHE SAW MY ORIGINAL POST. Boy, they still look like baby bats.
Show Time! Throughout the day they had several performances of traditional significance. We had no clue what they were depicting, but all seemed to enjoy it. Wish we had a guide with us to explain all of these shows. Will have to ask my Chinese co-workers about it.
Performers, not as old as they look from afar.
Large crowds assembled at the front having a great time with the performances. TongLi is one of my most favorite water towns because you see more locals in it that any other we have been to.
A different section having fun with the performance.
A proud grandfather posing his beautiful granddaughter!
All around TongLi's main square they had carnival type games; some as simple as this one. A big draw for kids, Ali and I.
As we passed an alley, we saw a line of ceramic containers that look like a good spot to take a picture. As Ali was posing, a guy told us to come into his store to have a better look at more of these containers. He took us to the back and what he showed us was the area were he ferments his rice wine. Seems like he has been doing this for several decades.
The owner showing us a fermenting vat and sharing some for us to try. We all did try it. It was very mild tasting so we think it was not ready yet, but real tasty. We were expecting a huge kick, glad it was as nice as it was. This gentleman was extremely proud of his manufacturing area and was very friendly with us.
A wide view of his operation.
Ok, if you like to buy a Mr. P brand backpack let me know.
A young couple dressed up for the holidays and posing at my request for a picture. Check his boots. They were very happy I asked them for a picture.
Find Chinese lanterns just beautiful. During this holidays they are everywhere.
After several hours having fun in TongLi we left happy and with several purchases the ladies were very happy with. Happy DRAGON Year!!!