In February, I was in Beijing for my first Chinese New Year festival. Previously, I’ve tried to stay out of the country during this time because I’ve heard how hard it could be to travel during that time. However, the major cities are actually fairly empty during this time as a side effect. I was able to spend the new year’s eve with a Beijing family.
Chinese New Year marks the first day of the new lunar calendar. I was also in Beijing for the January 1st solar new year, but there were no celebrations at all, including no countdown on TV at midnight. On the moment of the new year on January 1st, the president comes on TV with his suit and tie and has a speech saying it will be a good year.
Of course there was a lot of food. This included not only eating food, but cooking food. Everyone was involved with making jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) by putting some filling into a wrapper and later they would be boiled.
The other event is the special new year’s TV entertainment, like choreographed singing and dancing, or comedy sketches (that I’ll never be able to understand). On a side note, HDTV has been rolling out quickly this year. I was able to witness one apartment block get the upgrade. On a scheduled date and time, everyone brings their old cable boxes out and swaps it with a new HD cable box. A pretty fast upgrade. HDTVs are common here and now the decoder boxes are too, but I’ve been to a number of houses and every HD box I’ve seen has been connected to the HDTV with an old composite cable reverting back to SD quality.
Fireworks are another big tradition during this festival. You can buy cakes of fireworks and strings of firecrackers here, including strings of M-80s. I witnessed a couple strings of M-80s and those were pretty scary since they were flying pretty far in every direction.
On new year’s eve, there are explosions heard almost all day, but the climax is at midnight. Sometimes there is a designated area to fire them, so maybe each family will buy a cake and bring it there and add to the chaos. I was checking my watch and I think for 15 minutes I heard the constant sound of strings of firecrackers firing. And then there are people lighting fountains and cakes at the same time. No remote firing here, just walk into the kill zone and use a lighter. As it got closer to midnight, the crowd standing in their winter coats backed away more and more.
The problem is the bursts of these fireworks is often less than the height of buildings in the cities. This creates some nice echos, but I’ve witnessed myself some sparks hitting the sides of buildings. If a window is open, that causes some problems, like in the city of Shenyang during this same night burned a building. And two years ago in Beijing, the same thing happened. You could say this makes China an exciting place. With the lack of safety, you never know what is going to happen.