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Postcard from China: Celebrating the new year

By Michelle Chin
Published: March 2010

I woke up to the sounds of war on February 14, 2010. The crackling of explosives shouts and screams, and sirens all rang out in unison. The color of blood flooded the streets. While that morning began as a bright and sunny day with blue sky it quickly filled with fire and gunpowder.

February 14 was a day of happiness, a start of a new year in the Chinese calendar, yet, to an outsider like me, it was seen as complete chaos that lasted an entire two weeks.

Yes, there was plenty of laughter and families were united, but the fireworks became outdated and extremely boring, as they were blasted 24/7 into the open sky, to only hit my window of the 22nd floor apartment that I am currently residing in, during its process of falling down on the people below.

Oh, the headaches the fireworks caused.

At night, something once seen as beautiful in my eyes lost all meaning and became a form of danger that I had to be weary of as I stepped outside. Before coming to Beijing and experiencing the Spring Festival, I had only seen fireworks on Independence Day or at Disney World (or Disney Land) at night over an open field or water form.

Beijing, on the other hand, does not care if you can see the fireworks or if they are shot between buildings, in an alleyway, or in the middle of the street.

Bystanders even love having flakes of explosives fall on them as even more scatter the ground. People in China just know how to take things to a completely new level.

On the other hand, the first few days of excitement did grow on me. I learned how to make jiao zi (dumplings), I met a few members of my extended host family, and ended up trying a bunch of different foods including stinky tofu, which I suggest you never try.

I did have a chance to play with sparklers and small fireworks on the first day and that ended up being enough to last me through the entire festival. Through those days of new beginnings I got to witness a loving family squeezed around a tiny table as they shared their first dinner of the New Year together.

As there was some peace within families during the holiday, the sounds of laughter and explosions brought together strangers and old friends. Superstition lined up to be played with while old traditions were dug up again and looked at in awe.

Chinese New Year lasted for two weeks. With only a week off from school, you could see how anxious students were to get home afterwards. They left to either send off more fireworks into the sky or to just be with their family, who traveled both far and near to be with them. But all of this soon came to a complete halt when February 28 flew by.

The day of the lantern festival would mark the last day of fireworks, as they were finally all sold out at stands in the middle of the street, and there was no reason to shoot them off.

There were no more tales that told them that lighting fireworks during the months after New Years would bring them luck and happiness, or make their business prosperous. Instead, adults went back to work if they didn’t already start the week before, and students began to stay after school to get help in areas they struggled in or to just study more as school became more serious.

Before I started high school at Jing-shan I was experiencing a vacation that involved more video and picture opportunities than I could possibly imagine. Now, I just sit in the back of a newly renovated classroom filled with loud ninth graders, shadowing my host sister with three other “foreigners, as they call us, silently reading a different book each day as the week drags on.

At times I put down my book to stare at the teacher speaking but find it impossible to understand an entire sentence that he or she says. Only able to understand single words, I look back to my book hoping that it will teach me some secret to decipher the Mandarin language.

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