Gan Bei!

Gan Bei!

2013 Spring Festival/Chinese New Year of the Snake

Every year since 2008, when I moved to China, during the Chinese New Year I travel to different locations to visit friend’s hometowns. Usually my friend’s homes are in very remote rural areas where I am the first foreigner to set foot in their village or home. This year, Lin Lei, a friend who has been my part time assistant invited me to go with him and two other friends to his home in Long Hua, Hebei Province, north east of Beijing. He warned me it was going to be cold, and it was! -18c at times. I didn’t have a seat on the train from Beijing, but it was not too bad, only an 8 hour or so trip. I know people who travel 24 + hours during the Spring Festival with no seat or bed on trains so crowded it is hard to move down the aisles to get to the WC. This is common, and we were on a common train where tickets are hard to come by. Millions upon millions of people travel to their hometowns to be with their families for Chinese New Year, eat home cooked food, drink bai jiu (Chinese white wine), and light fireworks day in and day out. It is a mass migration unlike anything else in the world.

As we rode across the countryside to Hebei Province we caught glimpses of the Great Wall snaking over the mountain ridges. Surrounded by mountains, Long Hua is a small city that still feels like an older China. But it was more developed than most other places I have visited for Chinese New Year which were completely rural. First stop, of course, is Lin Lei’s home with lots of food, drink, and curious family members. Let me explain something about the so-called Chinese white wine, Bai Jiu. It is mandatory and it is not wine as we know it, it is around 55% proof sorghum liquor. Clear like water, lethal like turpentine. And it is almost impossible to escape its grasp when eating with the joyous family. The good news is that the glasses used to drink it from are somewhat small, like shot or juice glasses, but the bad news is that as soon as the glass is empty it is miraculously and instantaneously filled again…and again, overflowing to the rim. Even the old-timers wince when they drink it. The eating and toasting begins early and lasts all day, for days! Every afternoon and evening we toured on foot the city, surrounding mountains and temples, markets, and went from relatives houses to houses eating, laughing, and toasting to everyone’s health and good fortune to the sounds of exploding firecrackers and whistling fireworks.

Gan Bei! (Bottom’s Up)

--James Elaine

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Tags: Beijing, China, elaine, hammer museum, James Elaine, Telescope: China, Year of the Snake