Happy Christmas, Mouse

Trip Start Aug 30, 2006
Trip End Feb 03, 2008

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Flag of China  ,
Monday, January 14, 2008

It's now halfway through January, but Christmas hasn't ended yet.

In a lucky chromatic coincidence, the red and green (though less green here) decorations for Christmas that went up in the first weeks in January are slowly being modified to include the mostly-red decorations for Chinese Spring Festival, the two-week period following the New Year according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
Every Western holiday we've experienced in China has had such rich contradictions and melding. Last year I was surprised by the shop fronts we passed that put little fake Christmas trees outside the doors, right next to the altar for burning incense to Buddha.  Valentine's Day means nothing here, but somehow the heart-shaped boxes of candies get sold, and somehow the flower sellers know to stock roses. Who buys these things, other than me, is anyone's guess.

There's a market in Guangzhou we call the "souvenir market" though it isn't really. It stocks a huge assortment of holiday things, like Halloween masks, Santa cut-outs, Easter basket materials, plastic cornucopia for Thanksgiving. These decorations are all made in China of course, and some of it does disseminate to the domestic market here.
Everything makes it here, St. Patrick's Day pins, Easter and Christmas cards, Halloween candy in upscale stores, but it seems like the two-month season of Christmas-Spring Festival is really the one that people pay attention to here.

The oddest thing, possibly, of this grand mix-merchandising of Christmas lights, Santa hats, fake Christmas trees and red decorations are the door decals that most businesses and homes put up. A lot of them seem to combine the two holidays by putting the animal of the Chinese zodiac that personifies the new year, beside a sleigh or a Christmas tree and wearing a Santa hat. These little cartoon signs sometimes say "Merry Christmas" on them, or sometimes "Happy New Year."
This coming new year is the year of the Rat.  But in Chinese, it seems, there is no difference between the word for "rat" and the word for "mouse." So, this year Disney intellectual property lawyers must be tearing their hair out, because who's the world's most famous mouse?

Mickey Mouse cups, bags, shirts...all in the name of holiday.

Dan and I had the opportunity to spend Christmas Eve in Guiyang, Guizhou province, where we had flown for a short trip to visit the site of our new job, in Zunyi, Guizhou province. We start there after the Spring Festival holiday.

Last Christmas, we had been in Xi'an, and had seen groups of people on the street that evening, waving pinwheels and helium-filled balloons and wearing Santa hats, crazy clown wigs and Mardi Gras masks. Down in Guizhou, it seems, they liven up this foreign holiday even more.

The streets of Guiyang were flooded with families and young people, most dressed up somewhat-I guess they're combining in the feeling of Halloween?-and most carrying aerosol bottles of the kind of fake snow foam that is used to write holiday greetings on the inside of windows. But there wasn't any window-writing going on, these bottles were being used to tag their friends, cars, trees, passers-by. Because I was the only visible foreigner walking around, I was a little worried I'd be a good-natured target of this 'snowing' but we mostly avoided being hit. Some ingenious girls were writing messages (in English, even) on the sidewalks with this snow stuff and then setting it on fire.

We explored this nighttime carnival for awhile, but after the relative balmy weather in Guangdong we were feeling a little bit cold, so we took refuge in a western-style coffee house to have a drink. The waiter was a man wearing a full-on Santa costume, complete with wimpy cotton-batting beard and a set of felt stick-on black boots.

After this public celebration of a non-holiday in Guizhou, with all the riotous good cheer of a western New Year's celebration, it was hard not to feel a little let down when it came time for New Year's Eve, and, while we did enjoy a party at Sarah's apartment in Foshan, there wasn't any fake snow, masks, or even sparklers.

After Christmas and New Years, the western world settles down for a while to pay bills. But in China they're just getting started. The two-week Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival, starts in early February this year.

Literally millions of people travel around the country at that time, making a mad rush to go home to visit their families for the two weeks of holiday that has roughly the same sentimental value to it as do our Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day.

This year, my mother and father will join us for the Lunar New Year festivities, and help Dan and I move to start a new phase in our life, working at Interlingua School in Zunyi, Guizhou province.i

Xin Nian Kuai Le!
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katie_martin on

Happy Belated New Year!
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. I really enjoy hearing all of your stories. Keep em comin'!
Love from Rhode Island.......

Jonno on

Hi Beth and Dan,

I really liked this entry - which I can across totally by accident when searching
for something else. Sorry to read your New Year in Foshan wasn't up to much
- so next time let me know, as Foshan is a great city ... well, I have lived there
for 6 years now.

I do like the way you write and wondered if you would care to write something
about your adventures in China on my own website: http://www.china-
expats.com. No probs if this is not your thingymagig, but you are pretty good
at this.

best wishes

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