I haven't seen that much of it, but I am amazed by what I find, and at times, amused by my amazement.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chinese New Year, 2003

This was an email from Jan 9, 2003.  All of the photos can be viewed original size by clicking on the photo.

Well, it has been another week in Beijing. Actually, my last day off was Friday. Today is Wednesday, and I'm only now getting around to writing about it.

My original plan had been to go to the Great Wall last Friday. The weather had turned cold and windy and I decided to postpone that trip and do something closer to home.

One of the first items on my agenda was to locate some good hand lotion. Between the cold weather and all the concrete drilling I had been doing making holes for new conduit runs in the embassy buildings, my hands were starting to crack and bleed. I found a well stocked drug store in one of the mega-hotel/shopping mall combos popular in the tourist section of Beijing. I bought three bottles. I am glad to report that after a few days my hands are much improved.

The next trip I took was to Silk Alley. I had been there before, but the intensity of the place had overwhelmed me, with hundreds of little shops, crowds of tourists and locals, and vendors trying their best to separate people from their money.
Scenes from the entrance to the Silk Market

This time I went, resolved to go toe to toe with them and bargain my way into some good deals. I ended up buying a backpack for 60 Yuan (US$7.20) that started out at 180 Yuan, a pair of ski gloves for 50 Yuan (US$6.00) that started out at 120 Yuan, etc.
One of the many Northface jacket sellers

Many tourists pay the asking price. The guys I work with have told me what things have actually gone for, and I see how close I can get to that target. It takes determination, a lot of haggling and flat walking away to get there. In some ways, it is difficult to argue about 50 cents or a dollar with someone who makes in a day what I make in an hour. The seller however isn't the owner in most cases, but works for the owner. I'm actually working my way up to a big buy right before I leave Beijing. I hope I'm ready.

By noon, I was on the subway headed back to Tiananmen Square. The week before, I had gone with "John" (the Chinese law student who wanted to practice his English) from Tiananmen Square south into some of the older parts of Beijing. This time, I wanted to head north around the west side of the Forbidden City.

Entrance to Beihai Park.  The White Dagoba can be seen in the background.

One of the main places I visited is the Beihai Gongyuan. It is a large, beautiful park just northwest of the Forbidden City known for the Jade Islet, a island in the middle of a lake that was made by laborers with the material dug out when they made the lake. In the center of the islet is the White Dagoba, a temple built for a visit by the Dalai Lama in 1651. Unfortunately, it had closed for the day (4:30 pm) by the time I got there. I did cruise around the outside, though. In the summer there are boats to rent. In the winter, it is ice skating. I didn't see anyone actually skating but I have included a picture of what I did see.
Skating, Beihai style

Another picture is a small grocery store across the street from the backside of the Forbidden City. The lanterns and hangings beside the door (everything red) are just for Chinese New Year.
Dressed up for New Years

Chinese New Year is actually the first lunar day of the first lunar month. In 2003 it falls on Saturday, February 1st. It ended the year of the horse and issues in the year of the ram. The entire festival lasts for 15 days. The decorating has gotten intense, now. Every shop has something up. On the walk home the other night I saw several people taping stuff up in windows - banners, cut paper designs and the usual printed cardboard holiday things - just like we tape up printed cardboard ghosts on Halloween, turkeys, and snowmen in their time.

A poster in the elevator of my apartment building.  Click on the photo to read the "unfortunate" translation

The war outside my window is still going on. I'm not sure who is winning, but the cannon fire started up again as soon as the sun went down. I am told the Chinese New Year festivities continue for 15 days. Surely they will run out of fireworks by then. I was awakened at 3:30 the other morning by a blast that I was sure must have penetrated the apartment, it was so loud. I wonder what it would be like if Beijing didn't have a ban on fireworks!

One of the signs of the season are the little children. Their parents dress them up in beautiful, colorful silk jackets and pants. They really are pretty and the parents take obvious pride in dressing them up. Some of the kids have had enough of it though, you can tell. One little boy, getting off the subway in embroidered coat and pants, staged a sit-down strike at the bottom of the stairway. Mom and Dad had to suspend him by his arms and between them hauled him up the stairs. His shoes and the cuffs of his pants were caked with dried mud. He must have had a great time! Whatever festivities he had been to, he was done with the whole thing!

The embassy staff all had Monday through Wednesday off and the Chinese construction crews have all left for at least a couple of weeks for New Year holiday. The place seems deserted. It's when we get to do our noisiest, messiest work inside the embassy. Many of the shops are closed and all government offices and banks are closed. The subway has been practically empty and the crowds are gone from the streets. Many people travel home to visit relatives and bring gifts. If it wasn't for the constant booming of fireworks after the sun goes down, I might wonder if everyone wasn't leaving town.

Friday I am finally going to the Great Wall. John will be my guide again and he will get to practice his English some more. I believe it is about an hour by bus to get there.

Gongxi facai! (Wish you good luck! -a traditional New Year greeting)


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