Posted by: thelocaldialect | February 28, 2008

Goodbye Pig, Hello Rat

Spring Festival, the biggest holiday of the year in these parts, has officially came and went. Last year was a pig year, and not just any pig year, but a particularly auspicious pig year which brought about a baby boom here in China, as many couples tried to have a lucky baby. I remember one of my last visits to the doctor when I was pregnant with Dylan and there was a woman in the office who was due at some point in February and was practically in tears when the doctor told her she would be most likely have the baby AFTER the new year, and not before. Not that there’s anything wrong with rat-babies, but ordinary rats are not quite up there with golden pigs on the luck meters of Chinese superstition, er, tradition.

Our family brought in the new year by kicking it old school back in the village. In the competition between urban and rural which sometimes becomes rather heated on both sides (the countryside is dirty, the city is polluted, country-folk are uneducated, city-folk are rude …), the celebration of festivals is one point that goes to the countryside hands down. I’d spent many an extremely boring, even bordering on depressing, Chinese New Year in Kunming before, and so I was more than happy to head back to the village for some Spring Festival merrymaking.

Starting on Chinese New Year’s Eve, the fireworks were pretty much nonstop for three days. On New Year’s Day (Chu Yi) we were awoken well before it was decent to be awake (especially considering my husband was nursing a baijiu hangover) by the sound of people performing “bai-nian,” old men and women in heavy makeup and costume doing awkwardly choreographed dances to the (somewhat discordant) tune of Chinese traditional instruments like the erhu, gongs, and cymbols. Each dance would be followed by even more firecrackers, which meant that every performance of bai-nian was guaranteed to be loud. Fortunately our three month old was unphased by all of this. He startled the first couple of times he heard fireworks, but slept straight through several bai-nian. By the third day he was so nonchalant about the whole Spring Festival racket that I was a bit worried that perhaps he’d actually gone deaf and just wasn’t hearing any of it.

Of course, the main attraction of Spring Festival in the village is not the fireworks or the old ladies in heavy makeup, but rather the food and the drink. As proud parents of a three month old baby foreigner we were invited to many a relative’s house for food and drinks. My nephews and brothers-in-law would usually start drinking hard liquor at about noon, and would continue through the day. Having brought an American friend and her British boyfriend with me for our trip to the village, we three foreigners were under constant scrutiny for suspected food intolerances. When my friends refused rice after a meal simply because they were too full to stuff even another bite down their throats, they had to fend off relatives who became hell-bent on making noodles for the foreigners who obviously didn’t like rice. Luckily my friends can outdrink both myself and my husband, so their willingness to consume baijiu and beer offset both their refusal of the extra rice, and mine and Wang Yao’s (neverending) refusal of hard alchohol at 11:30am. I should also add that bringing two new foreigners down to the village, along with our son, did get us a lot of extra attention from people who, before when it was just me occasionally making appearances, would generally do the polite thing and just stare from a distance. Our son was a trooper about being passed off from relative to relative stranger over and over again and despite being exposed to all manner of countryside germs and dirt, has not even come down with a cold yet.

This was my husband’s first visit back home after his father’s funeral last Fall, his first visit to a home devoid of any kind of parental figures. Older brothers are all well and good, but they don’t have quite the same pull as mom and dad. When we returned to Kunming, Wang Yao told me we wouldn’t have to spend future Spring Festivals in the village, that there was no point. It’s sad that he feels this way. I would like Dylan to grow up with some connection to his father’s hometown, but this should be, I feel, more important to my husband than it is to me. If we stay in China I will nonetheless push for yearly visits at the least. There is something to be said, afterall, for putting a bit of tradition, if only once or twice a year, in our otherwise decidedly non-traditional lives.
Happy New Year, a bit belatedly, from our family.


  1. Ohh! Great to see a post from you!
    Your description of the Chinese New Year is awesome! My best friend back home is Chinese American and we used to go eat moon cakes and watch the lions dance at the Boston Chinatown pretty much every year!

    Sounds like it was good time and glad to hear little Dylan stayed healthy!!

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