The last time that I spent Chinese New Year in Asia was 15 years ago, so I was awaiting CNY in Shanghai with much anticipation. I’ve always heard about the Great Migration that happens over the holiday. Starting on February 1st, I began to witness an exodus out of Shanghai. The city began to clear. By New Year’s Eve, my local dumpling, noodle, flower, shops were all closed. Though the chain stores and the mega-malls remained open to satisfied the insatiable shopping appetite of the Chinese consumers.
Even though I kept hearing how the whole city will “clear out”, I would say the population density of the city simply dialed back to that of any normal mid-size US city. I would say that even during the emptiest point of the city, the population density was still twice that of St. Louis. And in busy areas like People Square or other touristy destinations, it was busy as usual. It was, however, refreshing to have a little more space, and to not have as many people walking into my face the minute I decide to exit the subway.
I was invited to join a friend to a Chinese family’s household who came from Shan-Dong (山东), which is the North of China. In many ways, the entire experience reminded me so much of my Chinese family in Cameroon, who also came from the North of China. We cooked a feast completed fish, shrimp, chicken, etc. and made homemade dumplings. The making of dumplings appears to very much be a Northern tradition. My friend and I contributed some Western flair to the meal – we made lamb chop marinated in mustard and desserts consisted of chocolate covered strawberries and chewy chocolate chip cookies!
Post dinner, we watched the New Year’s Eve programming by CCTV. Traditionally, this is THE show of the year. I have heard that some older Chinese consider that New Year’s Eve is not complete without the show. These days, local televisions in each major city also have its own NYE production, so the programming from CCTV is held with less esteem. Nevertheless, the show was very much China – elaborate and magnificently done. Remember the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics? Think that, but adapted to the Year of Snake theme, et voilà.
My first CNY back in Asia was lovely, with even some culture exchanges! As I wander the world, celebrating holidays, be it Christmas, Thanksgiving or Chinese New Year, be it in New York, St. Louis, Cameroon or Taiwan, the one central theme remains – holidays is about being with people, whether family or friends new and old, and sharing human commonalities.