Technically one day until Lunar New Year! This year my only plan is to take my mother out for Korean food…a culture which also celebrates, by the way, and probably feels a little left out that we always tag the holiday with “Chinese.”
From what I’ve heard, New Year is about visiting family, getting money from elders, feasting, watching really bad variety shows until midnight, and then staying up all night to play games. If you can’t stay awake, that’s what the firecrackers are for. Unfortunately, I’ve never gotten to participate in any of these activities except the eating. I’ve often been in China for the weeks leading up to New Year, but never on the actual days due to school or work obligations.
Still, being there around this time has always tugged at my heart. A few days before the big day, the train stations are flooded with migrant workers humping enormous burlap or plastic bags on their back, filled with gifts and food to bring back to their family farms. They might wait days at the stations and sleep in the terminals to get their hands on one of the cheaper tickets, travel days to get there, and then stay home for a night or two before heading back to work. It almost reminds me of salmon returning to their streams to spawn. Those who can’t handle the crowds end up putting off seeing their family for another year.
The only way this directly affects my family is that my grandparents usually have to take care of themselves for a few weeks, when their housekeepers and caretakers go home to see their families. But the silver lining is that now that they can afford it, my parents go back much more often during this time to look after them.
Check out this ad that Coke made about the children of migrant workers who see their parents once a year on New Year, if they’re lucky. It is equal parts fascinating, heartbreaking and bizarre considering the ad’s source and motivations, but wholly representative of what I feel when I visit modern China.