For­eign roost­ers

Shang­hai ex­pats de­bate stay­ing in or for­sak­ing the empty city dur­ing Chi­nese New Year

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Qi Xi­jia

For ex­pats in China, Chi­nese New Year is quite pos­si­bly the best time of the year due to the sud­den va­cancy of en­tire cities as mil­lions of mi­grant work­ers re­turn to their dis­tant home­towns for ex­tended an­nual re­unions. SpringFes­ti­val season can also get rather chaotic due tothe mas­sive crowds at train sta­tions and air­ports and the scarcity of daily ser­vices (do­mes­tic helpers, food, etc.). With the Year of the Rooster fast ap­proach­ing, the Global Times spoke with sev­eral for­eign­ers in Shang­hai about their plans, or lack thereof, to cel­e­brate CNY.

Tur­gay Ishakoglu, Tur­key

I have been liv­ing in China since 2012. I spent most of my Chi­nese New Years in Shang­hai. I was once told that “Shang­hai’s nights are brighter than her days dur­ing Chi­nese New Year” as a re­sult of fire­works. The first year was a tremen­dous ex­pe­ri­ence for me, but there was some­thing more sig­nif­i­cant than the bright lights, which ob­vi­ously was sound; I would pre­fer to say noise. It was al­most im­pos­si­ble to sleep. The fol­low­ing year I wanted to be a part of th­ese cel­e­bra­tions so I pur­chased my own fire­works, but I should have been much more cau­tious. A piece of fire­work went into my eye and it was ex­tremely painful for many days; that’s the last time! I also used to travel dur­ing CNY, but that might not be the best op­tion. Ticket prices are higher and touris­tic places are filled up with peo­ple. Also, vis­it­ing Chi­nese friends dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val can be a bit awk­ward be­cause this is their only fam­ily time to­gether. As a re­sult of all th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences, now my fa­vorite CNY ac­tiv­ity is just to stay in Shang­hai and ex­plore her. The city has the low­est pop­u­la­tion dur­ing those days, a great op­por­tu­nity to wan­der freely around the city.

Tim Darby, the UK

I have been in China since Jan­uary 2011, so this year will be my sixth CNY. Usu­ally my wife and I spend some time with her fam­ily in Hangzhou; en­joy­ing co­pi­ous amounts of home-cooked food, di­gested with equal quan­ti­ties of tele­vi­sual en­ter­tain­ment. But some­times I en­joy the de­serted Shang­hai streets. I also used to en­joy the fire­work may­hem, which ex­isted nowhere else in the world. What I am not so par­tic­u­larly fond of dur­ing this ex­tended hol­i­day period is the very high prices charged by air­lines and travel com­pa­nies. Be­sides, many shops and restau­rants are closed this time of year.

Eve­lyn Engesser, Ger­many

I’ve lived in Shang­hai since 2012, and each year, there’s the same ques­tion prior to CNY: should I stay or should I go? If you go, you go with mil­lions of oth­ers and ex­pe­ri­ence “peo­ple moun­tain peo­ple sea” at jam­packed tourist attractions. Or if you want to leave the coun­try you must pay hor­ren­dous air fare prices. But if you stay, you will get to know a to­tally dif­fer­ent Shang­hai. I’m from a small vil­lage in the Ger­man Black Forest, where one traf­fic light is suf­fi­cient to reg­u­late all traf­fic. Shang­hai dur­ing CNY is as close to that as it can get. There’s rarely a car, it’s all peace­ful and quiet; you can even hear the birds sing. But then, all of a sud­den, this idyll is ru­ined. For days you will be star­tled by the fire­works. It’s not vis­ual beauty that counts as much as the acous­tic power. A friend of mine flew from Shang­hai to Bei­jing dur­ing the first night of CNY fire­works; he could see the lights from all over China from high above, but with­out the noise. Must have been a mag­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence! Now, with more peo­ple be­ing con­cerned about air qual­ity, fire­crack­ers and other ex­plo­sives are banned down­town. There­fore, apart from the om­nipresent decorations, CNY cel­e­bra­tions in Shang­hai will be­come largely in­vis­i­ble.

Marine Vitré, France

Dur­ing CNY, China’s pop­u­la­tion mi­grates from city to coun­try­side, where their home­towns are. The best way to cel­e­brate CNY, then, is to fol­low this flow, get out of the city for a while and par­tic­i­pate in the coun­try­side fes­tiv­i­ties to see how Chi­nese peo­ple are linked to their home­town. Once in Yun­nan and four times in Guangxi – al­ways mi­nor­ity ar­eas – I’ve spent CNY like this. It is also a time for wed­dings and tra­di­tional lo­cal fes­ti­vals. If you have Chi­nese friends go­ing back home, it is the best op­por­tu­nity for you to un­der­stand China from its roots and spend time with lo­cals; eat­ing, drink­ing and cel­e­brat­ing. I can­not imag­ine cel­e­brat­ing CNY in an empty city.

Mar­lyn, In­done­sia

In In­done­sia we don’t make dumplings or even stay awake to mid­night for CNY, but we like to have meals with rel­a­tives. And even if you’re get­ting older but are still

un­mar­ried you will still get a hong­bao (red en­velopes stuffed with cash)! I don’t re­ally cel­e­brate CNY, as I am liv­ing in Shang­hai and don’t have that much of a hol­i­day ex­cept that I can have a week off; that’s re­ally rare. The sound of the fire­crack­ers used to be too noisy for me. They can have a for­mal event at mid­night but not ev­ery minute of the day (Shang­hai fi­nally banned fire­crack­ers so it’ll be bet­ter).

Miguel, Spain

I will re­visit Xi­a­men this CNY. I have lived in Xi­a­men for one year and I think the hol­i­day would be a good chance to visit friends there. Then I will go hik­ing since there are many parks and beaches and, if the weather is good, also do pad­dle board­ing. There will also be par­ties or I can play mahjong with friends. It was easy to buy a train ticket to Xi­a­men. In­stead of stand­ing in line, a for­eign friend told me about an app where I can up­load my pass­port and book ev­ery­thing in just 30 min­utes. Tick­ets be­fore Jan­uary 27 are im­pos­si­ble to buy, but after Jan­uary 27 the trains are all quite empty!

Alex, Switzer­land

This is go­ing to be my sec­ond year cel­e­brat­ing CNY. I will be cel­e­brat­ing it to­gether with some friends in Ji­nan. What I like most about the fes­ti­val is the food, be­cause I love eat­ing. I can eat hot pot and ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing that’s on the ta­ble, ha ha.

Photo: IC

For­eign­ers browse red lanterns at Shang­hai City God Tem­ple Whole­sale Mar­ket dur­ing 2015 Spring Fes­ti­val.

Pho­tos: IC and CFP

Ex­pats in Shang­hai are en­gaged in var­i­ous fes­tive cel­e­bra­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val.

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