Culture General

Year of the Dog – Letters from a Jamaican in China

Lunar New Year, a time for Chinese people to spend time with their family and friends and exchange small gifts and money. The streets are lined with red lanterns and Chenzi Bushes (tiny tangerine like bushes) and red, white and yellow flowers. For expats it’s a time to do New Year’s Eve one more time in case we didn’t get it right the first time. It’s also a time to begin the resolutions that we broke only a few weeks before. It is…The Year of the Dog! It’s said to be a good year for….who knows? They say that about every year that comes in. Every year is a good year for something I suppose. All I know is that on the Chinese Zodiac calendar the most important of the 12 is the Year of the Dragon. Which happens to be yours truly’s year. People plan to have their children and get married in that year, because they believe they will have good fortune forever.

This was my first Lunar New Year in Guangzhou and I expected it be larger than life. My first year in China was less than fun. I was in a small town, it was 7 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was stuck outside taking pictures with people who had never seen a foreigner before. The second year I spent in Hong Kong, which was cool, but infiltrated with more western culture than Chinese (like Samba dancers). The third year I spent in Bangkok, and it was fabulous. Bangkok is fun without any cause for celebration but the Lunar New Year just made it wonderful. So here it was, my first new year in a big city on the mainland and I was geared up. I had my Qipao (traditional Chinese dress) tailored to fit me perfectly. It’s the only time a foreigner can get away with wearing one and not look like an idiot. I made dinner reservations with friends as the Chinese do. I was full on ready to celebrate the New Year. I tried to find out where the dragon dances and fireworks would be. There were none scheduled. Dinner was mediocre but there was always hope for the bars. We got there at about 11 and it was full. When the clock struck 12 everyone did a minute’s worth of Xin Nian Quai Le (Happy New Year) and then within 15 minutes everyone was gone. Lunar New Year was a complete dud.
The celebrations here pale in comparison to the rest of the world. I remember in Chinatown in New York, the New Year was a big deal. It makes the Chinese celebrations look like amateur decorators not even trying. Kind of like how the Miami Carnival totally blows away any carnival on any island I’ve ever been to. I’ll equate it to the fact that when people are no longer in their home country they go above and beyond to make things “more authentic”. So I will simply add this to my list of Great Myths
About China. Along with, duck sauce, won ton soup and the belief that Chinese girls are soft and submissive.
One the bright side, everyone has left the city. The streets are empty. The buses are empty and for once downtown is quiet. And I have 10 days of vacation to enjoy it.

Happy New Year, Again!

About the author

Shelly Ann Wauchope