The week of Chinese New Year for me was not the most exciting week in the world. I did not realize that all the small shops, including restaraunts, all close for about 7 days. The only places to eat were the more expensive places, street food and, of course, McDonalds. I wish I could have spent the day with a real family because it is really a family holiday. Everyone in the entire country goes back to their homes and spend time with the family. They eat special dinners together, play mah-jiang, visit other friends and relatives, launch fireworks and watch this special television program on CCTV1. All the children receive what are called hong bao, or red envelopes. These are simply fancy red envelopes that are filled with money. Gift giving is a little easier in China than in the US. From what I have heard, you rarely buy someone something you think they want. All you have to do is give the kids a wad of dough and forget about it. Actually doesnt sound like a bad idea.
On New Years Eve everyone watches the special New Years Eve tv program on CCTV1. I watched a little bit of it and it was very interesting. All kinds of Chinese celebreties are on it, singing songs and things like that. They have all the famous Chinese musicians as well. The show also has SNL type comedy sketches, artistic dances, etc. Its quite the show.
Another thing the Chinese are crazy about is fireworks. When I was walking around on the evening of New Years Eve, it was like a war zone. Fireworks everywhere, from big explosions way in the distance to local people in alleys shooting off all kinds of different ones. The explosions also triggered all kinds of car alarms to go off to add to the noise. One thing about China is that they have entirely different views of safety standards. Walking back to my hostel, there were these two little kids just chucking fireworks into alleys where all kinds of people are walking and exploding right next to them, I could not believe it. Then when I got back to the hostel, the staff were shooting off fireworks in the lobby right next to my room! This whole building was made of wood and there is smoke and sparks flying everywhere, it was pretty crazy.
That about sums up my Chinese New Years experience. After I left Chengdu I headed to north Xi'An, one of the ancient capitals of China. Two of the coolest things I have done here are see the teraccota warriors and the biking along the original city walls. For those of you who may not know, the Terracotta warriors are clay replicas of the army of the first emperor of a unified China, some 200o years ago. He expected to rule in death as he did in life and decided he needed some clay life size figurines to take with him to his grave. Amazingly, these statues were not uncovered until the 1970's and have been on display ever since. Its one of those things that you have to see in China and I have to admit it was pretty cool. This emperor had thousands of these warriors created and no two are alike. But when I really think about it, all it is is some pscyopathic emperor thinking he is going to need an army of clay soldiers to help him fight some sort of battle in the afterlife. When you think about it that way it is sounds a little crazy.
The other cool thing I did was bike along the original city walls of Xi'An. These walls are some 500 years old and have protected the city from outside invaders, with varying success, many times. The width of the walls was at least 20 ft. or so leavin tons of room to ride a bike and take a better look at the city. It took me a little over an hour to complete it and it was incredible. Its similar to how I felt on the Great Wall. Being on something so old and that at one time was really important is pretty cool. The only downside was that it was freezing cold and really foggy, so the view was not the best in the world. But I still had a good time.
Anyway, Im heading to Beijing tomorrow and will stay there until I meet up with my program on February 11th. Staying in Beijing for about 4 days will give me a chance to see the things that I missed the last time I was there like the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Mao's embalmed corpse. Im looking forward to it.