Happy (Chinese) New Year!

My wishes come about a week late, but that is okay because the party is still going strong here in China. I’ve been moving around pretty quickly during the New Year (the Chinese call it Spring Festival) and it has been interesting to see the regional differences and how each place rings in the “year of the pig.” The celebration is quite an event wherever you are, but you can pretty much count on bright neon lights and lots of the noise. Spring Festival is one of the few opportunities the Chinese get to travel and travel they do. There are said to be 4.5 million people taking trains per day during the New Year. I’ve joined in the fun (and chaos) visiting four cities in the past 10 days.

My first experience with the New Year was in Lijiang, a city in the Yunnan province of Southwest China. It is a beautiful old town with cobbled streets and historic architecture. The town is in the process of gentrification and seems to be losing some of its charm to cheesy tourist shops, but it is still a wonderful place to spend a few days especially with the excellent accomodations to be had in the town. I stayed at Mama Naxi’s guesthouse run by none other than Mama Naxi herself. It is organized chaos as Mama runs around referring to herself in the the third person while cooking, booking train tickets, and entertaining the guests. For dinner, the guests of the hostel sit around large tables as Mama brings plate after plate of delicious food. It was great to have other people to share the food with because in China people usually go out to dinner with large groups of people. I was actually denied entrance at a restaurant in Kunming because I was by myself! On the 18th, a special dinner was prepared with traditional foods for the New Year.

Though I appreciated the food at Mama Naxi’s, the noise was another matter. Even the fireworks seem to be louder here. At least they are colorful and fun to look at which is more than I can say for the firecrackers. Turn a corner in broad daylight and BAM! See a couple of innocent looking schoolchildren playing in the street and then BAM! The night of the 18th I felt like I was in a war zone. The firecrackers honestly did not stop; they are said to ward off all of the evil spirits for the upcoming year. I think Lijiang will be safe…

From Lijiang I took my first flight in China to the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan province. Sichuan is known for it’s spicy food, and I was actually introduced to this on my flight. Instead of peanuts, I got fiery hot dried tofu. Interesting was the word that came to mind. The flight was standard enough, but when we hit a little turbulence, the two girls sitting beside me put their head to their knees, closed their eyes, and blocked their ears as hard as they could. I think it was their first flight.

Anyway, Chengdu continued the party, mostly in terms of food. The “civilized tour block–a designated area for ‘good manners’ such as no spitting” had well over 300 food stall vendors selling everything imaginable from the 23 different provinces of China. Some highlights were spicy meat on a stick, a special noodle dish, rice cooked in bamboo, and an ice cream bar in the shape of a Panda. Speaking of Pandas, I saw them in the flesh at the breeding reserve just outside of the city. They are quite cute.

I would’ve liked to spend more time in Chengdu, if only for the hostel. For $3, you get a bed, free internet, free laundry, ping pong, and a movie room with hundreds of DVDs. If you ever make it to Chengdu, stay at Sim’s hostel. He is from Singapore and has a wealth of information about Chengdu and China.

From Chengdu, I boarded another flight to X’ian, a city many of the former dynasties called their capital. X’ian is a huge bustling metropolis. McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut are all here in addition to Louis Vuitton, Versace, and Prada. X’ian’s most famous site is the Terracotta wariors which I found quite impressive. The warriors were discovered in the 70’s by peasants drilling a well, some 2000 years after they were built. X’ian is also noteworthy for its Muslim quarter where food is cheap and delicious. I ate everything, and think my stomach has finally built up an immunity to street food. There is also a mosque which was very interesting. No minarets here; like most things in China, it has been adapted in a decidedly Chinese way.

I now write from Pingyao after a 12 hour train ride. Pingyao is a good stop in the X’ian to Beijing journey and I plan on spending a couple of days here. It is an old city from the Ming Dynasty with all of its walls still intact. It’s more low key than X’ian and I’m looking forward to a day or two of relaxation before starting the big city tour going from Beijing to Hong Kong.


One Response to “Happy (Chinese) New Year!”

  1. Adam Kacamburas Says:

    Just got caught up. happy new year pal.

    Going back to a previous post, you should read Thomas Friedman’s “The world is flat”. Part of it is dedicated to the globalization and supply chaining that wal-mart uses. Your comments were very reflective of that.

    In other news, Schilling is on the hill tonight against the Twins down in Fort Meyers. The world is right again my friend….it’s baseball season!


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