Posts Tagged ‘Spring Festival’

A China away from China.

February 14, 2010

So from today begins the year of Metal Tiger, and here’s hoping that some of that monetary luck is coming my way. We went into Box Hill which was thriving with masses of Chinese – Box Hill being home to a massive Chinese population. While Melbourne has its own Chinatown, which is effectively just a very Chinesey street, Box Hill in many ways is close to the real deal. So many Chinese have made this particular suburb of Melbourne (and surrounding areas) their home that it is starting to reflect the culture they have come from.

Last night was no different. The spring festival had begun, the first day of the new Chinese lunar year ticked over. While the weather was patchy, with a few brief (and thankfully light) showers, it didn’t deter the multitude of Chinese who headed into the town centre to do what Chinese do best; eat and shop.

Unlike many western festivals – and I noticed lots of this in China, the rows of tents were not so much novelty, but commercial. While there was the occasional face painting, calligraphy and various others selling holiday related goods – most were promotional offerings from banks, religious groups and pirate DVD sellers – the latter having DVD’s playing at such high volume that I was positive I actually was back in China.

Part of the main road had been closed down and a long row of food tents were set up. We set out searching for particular Chinese treats – and found them. We have spoken many times of the fabled skewered meat which we ate across China which involved pieces of random beef skewered and dusted in chilli powder – absolutely delicious. There were no shortage of these and we bee-lined for the store, ordering 7 – 4 for me, 3 for Courtney. Handing over a $20 we got a mere $2.50 change!
“How much are they each?” Courtney asked the girl.

“$2.50,” she replied, looking somewhat bored.

$2.50 each! In China, you would pick them up for 1 rmb a pop. For $17.50 (or 106 Chinese Yuan) we get 7 – back in China, we could have gotten around 80+!! Likewise, the old strawberries on a stick – which I have since found out are called tang hu lu – $5.00 each! While there are things I definitely don’t miss, the cheap street food is definite in my top 5 of things I do miss.

We walked around for a while, enjoying the atmosphere, while the Chinese excitedly looking at displays of pillows for sale, bought masks, and generally ate the whole time. We decided to go home for an hour or two and return to catch the fireworks/firecrackers/dancing lions/dragons etc – and while we did this, were horribly disappointed to find that beyond a very small set of crackers and a brief dragon dance show, the night didn’t eventuate into much else.

It was an enjoyable night, and one we’re glad we made the effort to participate in. There was a casual, family atmosphere which underpinned everything, which is largely due to the fact that the majority of people present were Chinese. Had you replaced everyone with your typical Australian’s, then it would have been infested with bogan’s and drunks.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Tang hu lu, hao chi!

Festival related goodies for sale

A plethora of people and things to see

Seeing the dragon over the wall of onlookers was a feat

Spring festival 2010 – Year of the Metal Tiger

February 11, 2010

This coming Sunday marks Chinese New Year, or spring festival for 2010, which will last for 15 days until the next full moon arrives and the Lantern Festival begins. In addition to all the celebrations, fire-works, dancing dragons and delicious food, every Chinese person will age by one year, in what is the world’s biggest (and possibly most unknown) birthday party.

My current town of Box Hill has a huge Chinese population – which I have mentioned numerous times before as being one of the main reasons we chose to live there. Some of the main streets will be closed and the town centre promises to be full of interesting things to explore. While there will be masses of people, I expect copious amounts of fireworks, dragons and food – and basically cant wait to get up there and to take some photos.

Come midnight, the noise will be extreme as the locals make every effort to scare away the evil spirits and herald in the coming of the year of the Tiger – which in fact happens to be my year.

This year actually happens to be the year of the Metal Tiger – because while each year there is a different animal sign, there is also a cycle of 5 elements, each lasting for two years – those being fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Metal Tiger is a positive sign for good luck with money – and damned if I am not hoping something comes from that! It is also a symbol for power and authority, yet inflexibility and destruction.

Sometimes when I read about these festivals, and their associated celebrations – all very precise and practiced, I cannot help but feel that my own culture is lacking. Sure, we celebrate Christmas and Easter and the like, yet for most of us it’s just about giving and receiving presents, while eating a big meal with our families. What particularly amuses me about our own holiday ‘festivals’ is that most of us who celebrate them are not in fact religious in the least?

The Chinese festivals in particular are elaborate and interesting and reflect on a history which stretches back into the ancient. While it is of course not my own culture, I often feel envious, and when I walk by stalls decked with offerings and symbolic meanings, I can’t help but feel like an outsider – a feeling that I hate.

Happy New Year!

January 26, 2009

Today is Chinese New Year, the most important of all Chinese holidays.  Beginning on the first day of the first lunar month, the festival continues until 15th, this day being known as Lantern Festival.  New Year and the Spring Festival are big business in China.  It is a time where families reunite – resulting in huge people migration across the country.  Migrant workers return home from the cities, and even overseas Chinese return to celebrate with their families.  For many in the country, it can be the only chance to see their family for the entire year, what with so many parents working hundreds of miles away with their children raised by grandparents. 

A typical scene outside Wuxi Train Station as thousands return home for New Year.

A typical scene outside Shanghai Train Station as thousands return home for New Year.

We have had many emails from our former students in the last couple of days, detailing how they will spend their holiday from school.  Most of them are excited at the thought of going home, and being given presents and money in red envelopes by their family.  As is the way with any Chinese festivity, families enjoy a celebratory dinner accompanied by either dumplings (jiaozi – which symbolise wealth due to their shape) or new year cake (niangao). 

Possibly the highlight though is the New Years Gala which is broadcast on CCTV – the mind can only boggle at the wonderment that must be felt watching such a spectacle. 

We were really looking forward to experiencing Chinese New Year, with our hope being to spend the time in Shanghai.  Our second day in China was Lantern Festival day, unfortunately we hadn’t yet found our feet enough to venture into the city for the festivities.  Sadly though, we will have to watch from a distance this year with the hope of being in China again in the future.

Workers decorating outside the Birds Nest

Workers decorating outside the Birds Nest

Young girls practicing a dance in earthquake affected Sichuan Province.

Young girls practicing a dance in earthquake affected Sichuan Province.

This year celebrates the Year of the Ox.  The Ox symbolises a year of prosperity through hardwork.  It is a powerful sign, showing leadership, dependability and patience.  However, this year is expected to be one of conservatism and traditional values, which probably reflects the current financial state of the world.


I have no doubt we’ll be able to hear the fireworks from here tonight.  And with that – Happy New Year everyone!


January 16, 2009

Anyone who has spent even a nanosecond in China will know of the Chinese love for fireworks and crackers.  Not a day went by when we weren’t woken by the splutter of fireworks in the distance, and it was a rare night when they did not like up the sky.  On our first night in China as we were driven to a banquet dinner with the school, we were amazed to see fireworks in the distance.  We asked one of the teachers “What are the fireworks for?  Is there a celebration?”  To which we only received bemused and puzzled looks.  We joked to ourselves that perhaps the fireworks were in our honour, but were soon to realise this was a daily (by multiple) event. 

The Chinese use fireworks for all sorts of occasions, symbolising the end of the old and the beginning of the new.   They have been used throughout time to bring prosperity and happiness and to frighten away evil spirits.  We were to learn that fireworks would be set off for all manner of reasons – birthdays, weddings, store and restaurant openings…hell, buy a pair of socks and set of some fireworks to celebrate! 

Of course, if you put together the concepts of China + fireworks, your mind is bound to realise that a lot of these fireworks must be made illegally and perhaps many Chinese must die each year as a result of fireworks related accidents.  Well, you’d be right on both counts.  In fireworks-1news this week, police and firefighters destroyed a large amount of illegal fireworks that had been confiscated in the lead up to Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).  The pictures are pretty impressive, but would have been moreso if the destruction had have been staged at night (possibly with an epic song about the flag and some children in bubbles).  Alas, there are possibly thousands of Chinese whose New Year is looking a little more grim and lacking in good fortune.

Sadly though, with the illegal production of so many fireworks comes the obvious lack of safety, hence Chinese news is littered with stories throughout the year of accidents, explosions and hundreds of deaths.  The latest resulting in the death of 13 people in an illegal factory.  Whilst the media claims of crackdowns, it’s impossible to halt the scale of these sorts of operations when there is  money to be made and an ever growing market.


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