Shanghai expats debate staying in or forsaking the empty city during Chinese New Year
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.
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).
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!
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.
Foreigners browse red lanterns at Shanghai City God Temple Wholesale Market during 2015 Spring Festival.
Expats in Shanghai are engaged in various festive celebrations and activities during Spring Festival.