Sunday, 17 February 2013

Chinese New Year II

If mainland China ever decided to invade Taiwan, the optimum time would be at Chinese New Year, as it would take several hours for the Taiwanese to figure out that all the bangs, screeches and crackles weren't fireworks.

Firecrackers are an important part of Chinese New Year celebrations, and used to be set off to scare away evil spirits. Today, the tradition continues with the addition of evening fireworks throughout the holiday. Last year, when we were living in Wanlong, fireworks were a mere ornament to the general holiday festivities, but this year we've been a little, er, overwhelmed.

The fireworks started in earnest more than a week ago. As soon as it was fully dark, around 7.30 p.m., we would hear the initial explosions. Performances would reach a crescendo around midnight, then gradually wind down until about two in the morning, when they would finally stop. So, apologies to those who might have missed last week's post, but the sound of fireworks, and general family holiday duties, left little room for quiet reflection.

Setting off fireworks is tricky if you live in an apartment, as most Taipei-dwellers do. So, as we discovered, people head out to open, public spaces, such as the river park opposite our home. When my son and I went for a bike ride there last week, we found some areas thick with spent firework cases. As another item in my list of living-in-Taiwan experiences, I appreciated the novelty for about 48 hours, then sleep deprivation set in and I began planning next year's escape.

Now, I'm pleased to say, the fireworks are tailing off. Everybody is back at work or school, and things are just about back to normal, though I can still hear the occasional burst of firecrackers in the distance as I type this.

The general noise actually started just before Chinese New Year, when recycling and rubbish trucks seemed to be going round the clock, allowing people to get rid of all their old, unwanted items before the year was out. This is an exclusively Taiwanese phenomenon and a typical, very loud, communal activity:

Our own celebrations were low key. Our apartment block had its firecrackers up for a week or so, and now we're protected from evil for another year.

Communal paper money-burning bins were available if we wanted to send some cash or consumer items up to the old ancestors.

We spent a quiet Chinese New Year Day at a friend's house having champagne and leftovers, which was very relaxed and enjoyable, and we gave hong baos (red envelopes containing money) to our friends' children and our apartment security guards. Compared to the Western tradition of giving presents, I found this method extremely practical and convenient; in other words, very Chinese. One result we've had is the grumpy guard now says hello in the mornings.

Aside from the fireworks, we had a great break, and spent lots of time on simple family pursuits, one or two of which I hope to write about in the coming weeks.

Hopefully, my next Chinese New Year post will be from somewhere far from home.

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