Off she goes. I've just said goodbye to our Ayi (househelp). She is going back to the Henan province where her three children live with her parents-in-law. She is ecstatic as she hasn't seen her kids (aged 5, 7 and 18) since the beginning of October. She'll be gone for almost two weeks (needless to say our house will be a mess by the time she gets back) and I wish her a happy new year with a hong bao (red envelope) containing a month's salary. It is "standard procedure" to pay Ayi's double salary for Chinese new year but the twinkle in her eye tells me she never took it for granted.
This year, the Chinese New year's eve falls on the 15th of February (this coming Thursday) . By then, over one billion Chinese will have reached their home towns for what Forbes calls the world's largest human migration. On Thursday, the Chinese will be gathering around the table for a family feast. There will most certainly be 鱼 Yú (fish) 饺子 Jiǎozi (dumplings), 春卷 Chūnjuǎn (spring rolls) 汤圆 Tāngyuán (sweet rice balls) and other dishes that are believed to bring good luck.
Staying in Beijing: don't expect dragons
For our first Chinese new year in 2016, we decided to stay in Beijing. Although we could see and hear fireworks almost non-stop for 10 days, we were somehow disappointed. The city seemed empty (as empty as a city of 25 million people can be) and a far cry from the carnival atmosphere I had somehow expected. There was no drumming in the streets and red dragons were nowhere to be seen. It turns out that dragon dance is not really a Beijing tradition and that the silence was due to said largest human migration. The journey home has begun for most and, already last week, it became difficult to get taxis, many deliveries are postponed until after new year, many shops and restaurants are either operating with new year opening hours or closed (although most shopping malls remain open as normal).
But those who choose a staycation, are still in for a treat - because this is China and it's never boring. Many of the city's parks and temples Temple welcome Beijingers to their temple fairs and that is certainly a fun day out! During the fairs, parks are beautifully decorated and boosting with entertainment, vendors of different kinds, food stalls and also religious rituals.
I'm outta here - popular destinations
Chinese new year is (alongside the national day in October) the busiest period for travelling in China. Popular cities and sights tend to be completely overcrowded hence many foreigners prefer to travel elsewhere for Chinese new year. Admittedly also to escape from the cold weather.
I've asked around and here is where 10 of my Beijing friends are going this new year:
Amy: Sri Lanka
Rose: New Zealand
Can you see a trend? South East Asia is indeed a very popular holiday destination for CNY.
What about us?
This Chinese new year is going to be a special one for the Floris family. Partly because of a very exciting project - partly because - for the first time- we're going our separate ways (thankfully only for 10 days).
My daughter Rebecca and I are flying to Nicaragua tomorrow, Wednesday. Our family has, since 2011, supported the Charity "Carita Feliz" - a centre for Children and youngsters of very little means situated in Granada, Nicaragua. The organisation was founded by my countryman Peder Kolind who sadly passed away in 2015. This will be my third trip to Nicaragua but Rebecca was only 6 years old when she visited the country (where her dear Uncle Diego also happens to live). She is super excited about our trip and has been very active in sourcing donations (both clothes, electronics and money) for the children who are less fortunate than her. I will be posting some reflections from our trip on my website www.lisefloris.com.
As for our dad and brothers, they are off to South Korea for 4 days. They will be staying in Seoul and will also go to visit the border with North Korea.
Exciting times. We're counting our blessings again.
Happy new year and see you in the year of the Dog.