Xin nian kuai le!

By Aimee Andaya-Hilger

BEIJING, China — I’m gearing up for my second Chinese New Year celebration here.

Living in a country with a different calendar gives me a chance to start my year right.

I might have screwed up in my New Year’s resolution since the first day of this year but I can start working on my 2013 checklist starting this Chinese New Year.

Chinese people are using lunar calendar, which means their year 2013 is kicking off on February 9th until February 10th.

I wonder how they are going to open the year of the water snake.
Will they light up tons of fireworks again and blast the roads with lots of firecrackers? I bet I have to buy a filtered mask for thick smog starting this New Year’s Eve.

I’ll enjoy watching spectacular fireworks from my window for 10 days here in Beijing.

Sadly, I have to endure the smog for a month. A beautiful fireworks display comes with a huge price, smog and a deafening noise.

Three years ago, I almost waved a white hanky out of my window just to tell my neighbors that I had enough of their hour-long firecracker session every morning. I felt like I was living in a war zone area.

This has been a longtime tradition here in China.

According to a Chinese friend, the usage of this colorful explosive started during the 6th century. They even used it as a tool against the Mongolian invaders. No wonder they’re still the leading manufacturers today.

Apart from this, every family has to wear something new every New Year’s day. I got excited when all the shopping malls here were on sale starting Christmas day last year.

It was like a black Friday sale here in Beijing. I tried not to shop but I got tempted during the first day of the Gregorian new year. I started my year shopping! I hope I can avoid spending on the Chinese New Year! Chinese people are working hard for the whole year so they can buy new clothes, new furniture and have enough cash to put in the “hongbaos” or the red envelope they’re giving to their kids and relatives. Kids are over excited to collect their red presents, I could sometimes hear them bragging about the amount they collected.

But Chinese kids know how to save. Most of them put their money in the bank. They were exposed to the culture of saving at an early age. I wish Filipino kids will do the same.

Chinese New year isn’t only about fireworks and commercialism; it’s about families celebrating life together. Every New Year the streets here in Beijing are quite, subway cars are almost empty because the “mingongs” or migrant workers go home for the occasion. I bet there are millions of fathers and mothers from far flung towns and provinces working here in the city. Thus, many children are left in the care of their grandparents and only get to see their parents once a year.

One reason why the trains bound to different provinces here in mainland China are jammed. People with their one year earnings and huge bags of presents go home. They have a simple New Year’s Eve celebration. They cook special dishes and must eat “jiaozi” dumplings and fish. I had been invited by a Chinese family a few years ago.

I prepared dumplings with my student’s grandmother in their hutong, the traditional Chinese house. She put one coin in one of the dumplings.

She said a person who can get it will be lucky for the whole year. I prayed that nobody gets choked when we eat dinner. After dinner, they watched the annual Chinese show on TV.

It’s a grandiose musical show with a little poetry. At midnight the firing of fireworks and firecrackers get more intense.

Lanterns swaying with in the wind while hotpot restaurants are full of foreigners working here in the capital.

I was expecting for a dragon dance, just like what Chinese community in the Philippines present to the people every New Year.

I learned that the dragon dance is commonly practiced by the people living in the South of China. That’s why I haven’t seen it here in Beijing.

To them, dining with the family, putting red posters on the door with a good luck sign, filling up the fridge with a lot of food and a two-week fireworks display are the most important things to do.

Since it’s the year of the snake, I bet Zisiqiao, or known as the snake Village here in China might sell lots of snakes for the New Year.

I wonder how many restaurants will serve snake dishes for this special time of the year.

Zisiqiao, a sleepy village in Zhejiang province, has more than three million snakes. Its snake population outnumbers the people living there. Local residents are hoping that they can have a bigger profit this year.

Some Chinese people believe that snakes are good medicine and a good food to offer for their honorable guests. I was even offered once for a Christmas dinner. Just a thought of it makes me cringed so I’m staying away from restaurants on the eve of the lunar new year. It’s a perfect excuse to start my slimming diet. But for now, I have to buy a lot of mandarins for good fortune. Chinese people believe the year of the snake is not as good as the year of the dragon.

They said snakes might bite the economy and the world this year so we better prepare. To all Zhongguo Ren I say Xin Nian Kuai Le, Gong Xi Fa Cai, Happy Chinese New Year to all!