Time flies when you’re having fun. Hard to believe that it is already my third time celebrating the Spring Festival in Xizhou – dancing with the dragon, feasting on new year’s day noodles, sharing 汤圆 (tang yuan), and taking in the village fireworks show on the terrace. This time has been easily the most enjoyable 春节 (chun1 jie2) with such a phenomenal group of guests to share in the start of the new (lunar) year. A few highlights…
Chinese new year’s eve started out with a jaunt to the market where we saw some incredible hustle and bustle. The market would not be open on new year’s day, so everyone needed to get in their shopping for the next couple days that morning. We made sure we picked up the right paper for our afternoon activity where we would beautify the Linden Centre with special new year couplets or 春联 (chun1 lian2), a special kind of 对联 (dui4 lian2), which would express our hopes and dreams for the year. These chun lian are typically written with ink on red paper, red being a lucky color for Chinese as it frightens away Nian, the monster that arrives during this time of the year to destroy crops and homes. Last year our colleague, Juan, wrote about Nian here. But in short, Nian has three weaknesses – its fear of noise, sunshine, and the color red. As a cultural relic, we can’t quite burn a fire in our home, but we do our best with the red couplets and fireworks not far away from the Centre. You also all probably know that red represents good fortune, fame, and riches.
Folks who live in Northern China know a thing or two about dumplings or 饺子 (jiao3 zi1) and there are some families in the South who incorporate this tradition into their celebration of the new year. Our newest colleague Zhang Zhuo helped to show guests how they do jiaozi making up in Beijing (her Mother sure knows how to make some great noodle-based dishes!) and our colleague Xiaotang (who grew up in Kunming) taught a very special twist on dumplings (do the special braided dumplings in the picture below look like the all-powerful rat?).
After a feast full of rich food, with much more meat than usual, Bai people have a habit of eating a specially prepared bowl of vegetarian noodles for their first main meal of the year. Why, you ask? Well there’s a special spirit that comes through the village on the first of the year to 体察民情 (ti3 cha2 min2 qing2) or see what all the people are up to. This (anonymous) spirit happens to be a vegetarian. Accented with pink, green, and yellow crisps made from rice, the vegetarian noodles or 素面条 (su1mian4tiao2) are also mixed with a fresh assortment of mushrooms, bean sprouts, asparagus lettuce, tofu, and taro in a broth of soy milk. I wish we could have these noodles a bit more often.
After lunch a crew headed off to a nearby temple to see a number of the local ladies chant or recite Buddhist scripture. Typically this will be seen on the first and fifteenth of each (lunar) month at temples throughout the area.
We have started to develop a Linden Centre tradition on the second day of the year inviting the exceptional all-female dragon dance team from one of our neighboring villages. Aside from super powers of flying in the air, swimming in the sea, and walking on land, dragons are helpful and friendly creatures in China. These creatures, linked to good luck, long life, and wisdom are also associated with storm clouds and life-giving rain. They dance during the new year to scare away evil spirits.
Speaking of dancing, after seeing the dragon get down earlier in the day, the evening of 初四 (chu1 si4), the fourth day of the new year, we had a full house dancing to some traditional Bai songs, after a brief Gangnam Style warm-up. Who knew so many kids (and their parents) knew how to dance like a Korean pop star?
From food to new friends and fun, what a welcome to the year of the snake! With the excitement for all that is coming next, we’ve gotten to thinking back to and reflecting on what exactly happened last year. Stay tuned for a look back and a look forward next week just around the time we celebrate the lantern festival and our last chance to eat those glutinous rice balls we call 汤圆 (tang1 yuan2) or 元宵 (yuan2 xiao1) for awhile.