In China work is King. Your job is your backbone. Without a job you cannot possibly support a family, own an apartment, or possess a social standing. So when the all-mighty Big Brother (aka government) says ‘here, have some days off’ you bet your ass the locals get down on that decree.
Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is the biggest of these holidays; think a two week Christmas on cocaine (that’s not sugar dust on them doughnuts). During this festival an estimated 3.6 BILLION journeys will be made in the spirit of getting home to eat jiaozi and remind yourself how much you
loathe love spending an intimate two weeks holiday with your family. Beijing, though being the capital of China, is not a city where many people actually originate. Most citizens of Beijing have moved from other locations (myself included) so during Chun Jie (Spring Festival) most of its population is responsible for a proportion of the 3.6 billion tallied travels. As such it becomes a rather boring city to be in for this holiday with almost everything decent closed for up to two weeks.
One special thing that Beijing does provide for those who stay in the city are Miaohui or Temple Fairs. This tradition started during the Liao Dynasty, grew momentum during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, and hasn’t really stopped growing popular since. They’re a place for stalls of food and trinkets to be set up amongst the older architectural areas, and for people to walk around, buy meaningless trinkets, and generally have a good time in.
My co-worker Samuel and I were invited to go to a fair near Taoranting with a friend of another Chinese friend. The Chinese man who accompanied us spoke not a word of English, which made for some interesting interpretive dance communications later on. He drove us from our campus to the temple, which was really nice of him, and I learnt that traffic jams are a universal annoyance followed with the universal sound of ‘ughhhh’.
Our 10rmb admission was to be paid at the gate, and through the lantern encased trees we made our way around the temple at the walking pace of your general Chinese: very verrrrrrry slowly. We stopped to eat some tanghulu or sweet sugar coated hawthorne, some chuanr or kebabs (lamb and squid, of which no food poisoning was received yusss) and some fattening coffee from Yunnan (I bought some anyway, it was tasty). There must have been some 100 stalls spread around the lake, a good proportion of them being food, with the rest selling trinkets like owl figurines, bubble guns, hand-held windmill spinners, magic cards, blow up dolls toys and every plush doll from the 90’s (there were even a few ET’s to purchase). The lake itself had been dammed at each bridge crossing, turning one large lake into four smaller lakes for skating on in winter. One little lake was open to the public with two snow machines erupting fake lemonade tasting snow all over the giddy crowd.
Temple fairs to me appear to be a very community concentrated, colour saturated, sensory overload of ‘fun’. It’s a shame that China feels it has to pack in so much of this carnival atmosphere into a relatively short timeframe before the drudgery of work for another 11 and a half months consumes the vast majority.
If you do end up in Beijing they’re worth killing some time in at least. The communities left in the city really do know how to let their hair down.