Chinese New Year Celebrations

Trip Start Jul 20, 2004
Trip End Jul 20, 2020

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Happy New Year China; it is 2008, the year of the rat. Besides meeting with friends, attending a Chinese Family New Year celebration and visiting Temple Fairs, I am taking it easy and enjoying a rather quiet BJ. I don't care much for the crowded temple fairs but I enjoyed the colorful spectacle at the Temple of Heaven. After a three-year break, Beijing's Temple of Heaven is once again holding its Heaven worship ceremony during this year's Spring Festival.

The 90-minute show includes the royal procession parade, worship dance and ancient musical performances. The show, which involves 288 performers, will run daily from February 6 to 11. Ming and Qing dynasty emperors often retreated to the Temple of Heaven, built in 1420, to worship Heaven and pray for a bountiful harvest.

It's amazing what effect thousands of migrant workers have on BJ. Despite major disruptions to bus and train traffic in the south of China, the majority of migrant workers seemed to have left to visit their families. Though BJ is freezing cold, I enjoy the relative emptiness of the city; it doesn't feel like 17 million people at the moment.

I also went to see a Da Gu show which lasted 4 hours. Da Gu is different from crosstalk as performers are individual performers not pairs like in crosstalk. Dagu and gushu are terms that denote the same category of qu under the heading of quyi. They chiefly consist of jingyun dagu, xihe dagu, and meihua dagu. Jingyun dagu are stories told in Beijing dialect accompanied by a drum, with 7 or 10 words to the line.
Meihua dagu originated in Beijing and is popular in North China. In this form, the performer tells stories while beating a drum, accompanied by two or three people who play three-stringed instruments, the pipa, and the sihu.

Leting dagu, Northeast dagu, Shandong dagu, and Beijing qinshu present their narratives mainly in song form, with musical accompaniment. There are dozens of such art forms. Popular in townships and rural areas as well as in cities in North China, they are performed in this way: One person beats a drum or plays clappers, accompanied by one or more musicians. The chief instrument is the sanxian or three-stringed lute, which is indispensable. There are also the sihu, pipa, and dulcimer.
The drum beaten by the storyteller is referred to as the shugu, or story telling drum, which is oblong in shape with animal skins on both ends. It is placed on a rack, which may be high or low, as required by different kinds of quyi. The drum is beaten with a bamboo stick. The clappers (ban) are of two kinds: one is made of two pieces, usually of hardwood, and the other consists of two pieces of what are called half-moon copper or steel strips, also called "mandarin duck" clappers. The script is referred to as guci and has basically seven or 10 words per line.

I am also happy to have some time again to do some reading. I became interested in Richard Feynman and started reading his work "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!" Adventures of a curious character. The stories in this book were collected during seven years by Ralph Leighton. As he puts it "....that one person could have so many wonderfully crazy things happen to him in one life is sometimes hard to believe. That one person could invent so much innocent mischief in one life is surely an inspiration!" The book promises to be great reading; outrageous, shocking, still warm and very human. Above all, easy to read, it feels like listening to Feynman telling his stories.

Next, I finished "A concise Chinese-English dictionary for lovers" by Xiaolu Guo.
With Beijing's bookstores full of Western perceptions and observations on China and Chinese culture, it was an eye-opener to read about Western culture from a Chinese perspective. There is a surprising lack of books written by Chinese living, studying or working abroad. The author grew up in a small village in Zheijiang province and went to London in 2002 where she began a diary written in English which became the seed for this novel. She contrasts such concepts as privacy and intimacy, age, family, home and food. Food is a very important, if not the most important, aspect of Chinese life and becomes even more important when away from home. For the Chinese, food is not just something to stuff yourself with, every type of food has a meaning; when to eat hot and cold dishes, what types of vegetables and meat to eat at what times and of course the indispensable rice or noodle bowl.

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