May holiday phenomena

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  ,
Thursday, May 17, 2007

Well, I've survived the May holiday period, known as Golden Week, but now running more than the first week of May.

During that time, most of China's 1.3 billion people seem to be on the move. Around here in Lijiang, hotel room prices triple, transport is booked up, and the old town gets even more clogged with tourists from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

I managed to avoid the crowds by using my escape routes out of the old town, or heading south to the main market, rather than via the big water wheel. Though on one occassion I headed up the main street in the old town and it took me 10 minutes to head along the 200m - the wide road was packed with thousands of people - mainly tour groups with matching caps and a guide with a flag.

China has three main holiday periods: Spring Festival or Chinese New Year when most people spend time with their families; May holiday when most head out around China, and October holiday when most head out again around glorious China. Lijiang is one of the favourite holiday destinations in China, and the canal street with its bars and restaurants is legendary among Chinese for a big night out.

Figures have just come in about the extent of the holiday. Domestic travellers spent nearly $US10 billion dollars, domestic trips were up 23% from last year, spending was up 25% and Chinese made more than 130 million day trips.

Ironically, May 1st is workers day, and around here, people work up to 100 hours a week in the hospitality industry. It is very common for young men and women to work in guesthouses, cafes and restaurants to be up before 8am and not to finish work til 10pm or even 12 midnight. The pay and conditions: 350 yuan - around US$50 a month, including meals and dormitory accommodation.

Fittingly, these low-paid workers are made to work even harder around this time to celebrate a time which had its origins as a socialist and anarchist day, and before that a pagan festival of spring.

Officially Chinese only get three days of work off for the May holidays, but people work the weekends before so they can get seven days off from the 1st to the 7th of May.

This holiday, called Wu Yi - literally 5 - 1, meaning the first of the fifth month, also includes a big parade in Beijing, Youth Day on 4 May, and a large increase in alcohol consumption, gambling and bad behaviour.

Fortunately the end of the Golden Week here was marked by rain. In fact it has rained here every day for the last 10 days. On the satellite maps you can see the rain band up from the Indian ocean.  Maybe this is the early start of the rainy season? I'm off to buy some gumboots.


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