Posted by: 1of10boyz | January 24, 2012

New Years Eve – Out with the Rabbit, in with the Dragon


We are here in China for our first Chinese New Year. It is going to be the Year of the Dragon. I want to see a Dragon Dance. You know the one that I am talking about, you have seen it in movies and on TV; it is the long paper/cloth dragon that dances through the streets. It has to be more spectacular in person than it is on TV or the big screen. I have to find one.

We have driven through Haiyang and watched as the central square has been decorated and looks to be getting ready for a superb party. We have asked the locals that we know what time the party starts. I am certain that we haven’t gotten a good idea of when it is going to start. We ask Jimmie Mah and his wife Nicole to help us get out into town and become part of the community celebration. Nicole is our hope for being able to figure out what is going on, she speaks Chinese, she learned while she was in school in Vietnam.

Nicole is able find out what Hyrum is doing for the holiday and we are able to convince him that we would like to have him take us to the square about 2:00pm on Sunday so that we can be part of the festivities that we can only guess will be occurring there in preparations for the celebration of the New Year. We leave and head towards town. I begin to realize that things are different. I doubt that we see 5 cars on the road between our location and down town, in either direction. There are no cars waiting at the stop lights. It is busier at 2:00am on any given night in Haiyang than it is right now. Something is wrong.

We turn towards the square, there are no shops open. Imagine what it looks like in Afton, WY on a Sunday without the Maverik, cafes, and bars open. Well, that isn’t even close to how dead it looks in Haiyang right now. I am SHOCKED. Where have all the people gone?

I know that the Chinese go to see their families and spend time with them during this holiday, but I am not prepared for this. The entire town is EMPTY. It is a ghost town of its former self. I can’t get my mind around it; there are only about 8 people on the square, two of them cops. I get a feeling like I am in a Stephen King novel. You know the one where you wake up on an airplane and only about half the people that took off are there, I keep waiting for the little munchers to show up and starting eating everything.

Nicole is able to get some info from one of the locals that are there, the party for the square doesn’t start until the last day of the New Year Celebration, the lighting of the lanterns, something like 15 days from now, February 8th. So we are pretty much done with the plan that we had. Nicole is able to convince Hyrum that we would really like to meet his family. We know that he is from Haiyang originally and that he is of humble beginnings, his family is farmers. We haven’t been able to get him to take us out to the country until now. We are excited about getting out there. We know that we have lived the sheltered life in China so far, we know that we haven’t seen anything like what we are about to see.

Hyrum warns us that the road is under construction to his parent’s village. It is off the road that will take the athletes from their village to the soccer and volleyball locations during this summer’s Asian Games. The road isn’t finished and still under construction. It is a dirt road. I tell him I grew up on a dirt road so I am not worried about it. It reminds of us driving up Greys River Road in August, the washboards about throw you off the road on the corners. It reminds us of a drive up the canyon, the trees, the rocky outcroppings are different, but yet they are the same.

We take a little concrete road from the main road and go north towards a little group of homes. We have been curious about what these little villages look like up close, we are going to find out today. The road is concrete and it is maybe 3 meters wide (11 feet-ish), it would appear to be about 6 inches think from what I can see as we observe the edge that was exposed by the main road roadwork expansion. It runs alongside an arched elevated roadway or water canal just before we turn into the village. We can’t drive back into the village close to where Hyrum’s parent’s home is and park at the beginning of the village.

The housing is inside a wall that is adjacent to the roadway. The houses are accessed via a gate that is part of the wall. Think Forbidden City and walls only on a peasant scale. It would appear that the walled compound is about 50 foot by 50 foot square. There are alleyways between some of the compounds. The alley is about 4 feet wide at best. We note that it is just about right to get one of the little motorcycle carts in and out. The area in some locations is also used for storage of materials that would appear to be fodder for cattle. Not much of a haystack in my opinion. The materials look to be some very poor feed, can’t imagine that the livestock eating this stuff are making much in milk or putting much weight on either. We walk back into the village. It is interesting to see the differences in the various compounds. Some have upgraded their walls to an elaborate tile while others are still very much something that I imagine they looked like hundreds of years ago. We arrive at his parent’s home.

We are welcomed as guests of honor. We enter through the gate and I am immediately reminded to watch my head, the gate is about 6 foot tall at the most. We enter into a courtyard of sorts. The area around the gate has a platform above it that is open to the elements but it does provide a covering for the entry way. The courtyard would be about 15 foot deep and about 20 foot long. To our left as we enter is the barn. It has several windows and a door that opens into the courtyard. Directly in front of us are several shed-like structures that are filled with things, there back walls make up the opposite wall to the compound. To our right is the home. To enter we have to pass through what I would call the mud-room and it has access to the 10-12 feet by 8 feet room that would be the cellar or storage area. The clearance into this area is even lower than gate. We enter the house into the kitchen. It is small but has two cooking areas. One is adjacent to the wall for the main room for the house.

The main room of the house is about 10-12 feet wide and about 18-20 feet long. It has an elevated platform that is about 36 inches high on one end and it has a cabinet of sorts with a countertop on the other end. The elevated section is about 6 foot deep and covers the entire width of the building. This surface has a pile of blankets and sheets in the far corner. It serves as the seating surface, it will also serve as the dining area, and after we have left the blankets will be spread out and it will become the bed. On the far cabinet sits a television and an even older radio, the cabinet has drawers and looks to be the only storage for the room.

We take of our shoes and climb on to the elevated surface. We are provided with a plate of nuts and candies. As I sit there I realize that the surface is heated. Not too much but it is hot enough that I can. I realize that the heat is being generated from the fire that is being used in the kitchen to cook. The exhaust from the fire is passing beneath us and it is heating it. It is quite comfortable.

I am always curious about how people make a living. I have wondered many times if that curiosity is because I am unhappy about what I do for living or if it really fulfills that inquisitive nature that I have. Maybe I am reading more into it than I should. We know that they are farmers but how much can you really make on 1.5 acres? They also have some pigs. They have one that just had piglets a few days ago. We ask to go to the barn to see. Wow, what a big pig. It reminds LaDawna of a pig that her uncle had that always made her worry about the pig eating her. Funny what we remember from being little kids.

We are invited to stay for dinner. I am honored to have been invited. I don’t want to impose but I have learned that it is almost impossible to go to someone’s house in this country without eating something before you leave. It is even more so at this time of year. We excited about having this experience. We have eaten Chinese food but I have to admit that we are now going to be eating Chinese food in a real Chinese environment. Not that the whole restaurant experience is bad, it just isn’t the authentic experience we are about to have. Even with the huge numbers of people that live in the cities of this country, the majority of the people live in situations closer to what we are experiencing right now. This experience is more like what the average Chinese person has. The food was not obtained to impress or influence us; it was what they were going to be eating. We are going to have a Chinese dinner.

We clear the elevated surface and place a small coffee table of sorts on the surface. It sits about 12 inches high. The meal plates are brought from the kitchen and placed on the table. There are about ten dishes that are provided, pork ribs, chicken, fish, tom/egg, spinach/egg, garlic/pork, dumplings, taro, cucumber/shrimp, and homemade sausage. We are told that this meal is one of the best that they have had at this time of year and they thank us for making it possible. It almost an emotional experience when we think about the difference we have been able to make in their lives because we can’t drive. We are happy.

We finish dinner and make our way back to the car. It is way past dusk; the first thing we notice as we leave the walls is that we can see the stars. There is no light pollution out here like there is in the Expert Village. We are able to see and hear the fireworks all around us. I comment to Jimmie that it is a good thing that he is not a ground soldier from Vietnam or he might be having a little problem with PTSD right now.

We get in the car and see so many fireworks. Many of these fireworks are as good as you see in the professional shows in the USA. We ask Hyrum how much a large fireworks tube with the starburst shells costs over here, between $60-80 RMB. We are quite certain that the equivalent firework in WY, one of the few states that would actually be able to sell it, would be at least a $100 USD. Makes me wonder what kind of markup a firework really has? I have no doubt that if I had a 20 foot sea container full of these fireworks that I could sell everyone of them for $50 USD or more, which would be something like a 500% markup for the actual cost here. Makes us think we need to figure out how we could import these things.

So we have experienced our first Chinese New Year in what appears to be the standard Chinese way, with our family. We are glad to have been included in this celebration with our Chinese family, The Xu Family.

Long Nian Kaui Le!

Looking forward to what the Year of the Dragon brings to our family, especially for my Year of the Dragon bride, we feel lucky to be here having the experiences we have. Best Wishes and Happy New Year to all of you.

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