Sunday, 21 February 2010

Hu nian kuai le

Hu nian kuai le; or as they say in Guangdong, Kung hei fat choi.

It’s the end of the spring festival holiday in China. After a week of festivities, millions of people are wending their way back to work. Come Monday, and life will be back to the routine. The overwhelming feeling is akin to a schoolgirl having to go back to school after the summer vacation.

It is rather a strange feeling being in Guangzhou during this period. It's my third spring festival in China and I still haven’t got over this strangeness. For Guangzhou is half empty at this period as everybody who’s from elsewhere in China goes back home for the new year celebrations.

This period sees the largest human migration in the world. Some 200 million people leave their place of work and go home for the festival. As China is full of migrant labour who have come from for work, this number balloons every year. Imagine the challenge of transporting 200 million people in a week. And then a week later transporting them back. Amazing. Even though I come from a country where crowds are usual, I am still open mouthed at the sheer number involved here.

Spring festival is a period when the family congregates at home. Somewhat like Christmas in other parts of the world. It is not unusual in rural China that both the mother and father have gone to work in different cities of the country. The children are left with the grandparents. And the spring festival holiday is almost the only time the husband and wife meet each other as well as get to see their child. No wonder, despite rain and snow, people will do anything to get back home.

But in Guangzhou, it’s a very strange period. The city is empty, for half its usual population has gone away. The roads are empty; the shops are deserted. Fireworks, a critical part of the celebration is banned in Guangzhou. The Chinese are the world leaders in fireworks – even Diwali has to take second place when it comes to defeaning and amazing fireworks. So, while most of China is suffering from sore eardrums, Guangzhou is eerily silent. Its hard to kindle a festive atmosphere in Guangzhou.

Being an expat, one of things you miss is festival time. When its Diwali, it feels odd to go to work as if it’s a normal day and not have the festive cheer. But at least you can make up by enjoying the local festivals. Unfortunately in Guangzhou, even that is denied – the still, empty and quiet spring festival is a, sort of, let down.

There’s a quaint tradition here. Come Feb, in every shop, you’ll see red underwear all over the place. The belief here is that if you are a tiger and this is the year of the tiger, you may get bad luck. To ward off ill luck and bring some of the good variety, you are supposed to wear something red all through the year. But men wearing red is somewhat odd – so the tradition has been interpreted to mean that its OK to wear red underwear ! Hence all the red underwear in the shops !!

Well, I am a tiger, but ……… . Hu nian kuai le (Happy year of the tiger).


  1. Come Chinese New Year and the island practically shuts down.. felt an eerie sense of quiet here too..

    Can relate to what you are saying abt missing the festivities and the quiet being a little unsettling..

    That was a nice anecdote abt the ahem underwear..(Just read today abt the significance of the color red for the Chinese)..

    Here is wishing you a wonderful 'Tiger' year

  2. I've witnessed similar migration in blore..during diwali times..!!! i dunno how many migrate..but majestic bus terminus comes to standstill tht diwali weekend!! feels as if u r inthe center of the world :D with tht many people around china i can guess it wl be multiplied amillion times more :D :D as a blog tiger..u need to post more ..say twice a day to ward off evil :D :D hehehe

  3. @AJCL - Oh; does Singapore get quiet too ?? Yes, they ban fireworks, but don't they allow organised fireworks in parks ???

    @gils - Yes, Majestic does get special at Diwali time..n Oh; in blogging terms I am not a sher; only a chuha :)

  4. Given that my abstract piece this weekend got so abstract that no one actually understood it, i try a variant here....

    the light and heat of the sun are bestowed in varying style

    no one person is fortunate or unfortunate, just that some are for a little more while

    every day the sun dawns a realization of ones state

    every festival, every belief and every tradition is a loud song to subsume the noise called fate

    It is but ways of reconciliation to the fact that there is a compromise

    But the fact that there are outcomes of the existence is the conscious price.

  5. Ramesh,

    I have not gone into a psychological trance....

    i just read some abstract stuff and had to read over and over again to understand and still couldnt understand some part of it, so tried my luck to what it takes to tell without telling....

    failed miserably i guess !!


  6. It is indeed difficult to be away from home on festivals and even harder when one cannot enjoy local festivals due to some reasons.

    Wish you a great year ahead, Blog Tiger!

  7. @Sandhya - Oh your poetry on your blog was superb - its just that boring old bandicoots like me have trouble comprehending the higher things in life. Lovely words here in your comment. You are in poetic finery today. Not failed - succeeded very nicely.

    @vishal - Thanks, but I ain't a blog tiger : as I said to gils, more chuha than a sher :)

  8. I seriously wish photos of the festivities could be captured here and shown to those of us that have not had the privilege of visiting Guangzhou yet.

  9. did u take some kind of pill :P i love ur posts these days, esp this one. Transporting 200 million ppl is no joke, wow well done, and i am sorry for missing on the celebrations, U kind of go numb not celebrating when then whole world does. Red underwear LOL, ppl might say u are on fire LOL.

  10. @Pranav - Slight problems with that. One I don't own a camera ! Two there's nothing to shoot here as its all very quiet and silent. Three even if I had photos, I can't upload because Blogger is blocked here by the net nanny and proxies I use don't allow photos to be uploaded. All in all can only post dry words :(

    @Sri - No pill; no fire; just inspiration from Sri !

  11. You are indeed a sher, sir! everyone in this space would vouch that! :-)

  12. The eeriness is captured pretty well in your words (devoid of pictures, you are forced to be more visual in the post to compensate that and that is a blessing in disguise)

    // No wonder, despite rain and snow, people will do anything to get back home.

    Reminds me of the Steve Martin movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles".

    Any reason why fireworks are banned in Guangzhou whereas the rest of the country celebrates? Or is it controlled and used only for official/national celebrations?

  13. @Vishal - Wow - Grrrrr !!

    @RamMmm - Thanks so much. Fireworks are banned ina few cities because of the fire hazard. But in small towns and now even in Beijing, its allowed and its a sight to see even for an Indian brought up in a rich dose for Diwali. But Guangzhou continues to ban it with some rationale - with every building 30m stories high, the fire hazard is always there.

  14. You should've have traveled too to some place where there were more festivities - imagine all the stories you could have told about traveling with the other 200m. Loved the very local tidbit about the red underwear - funny how the Chinese combine the superstitious with the most modern - like Indians too, I guess.

  15. Haha, did Chen Xin teach you Kung hei fat choi? Acturally it means "may prosperity be with you". It is close to putonghua: gong1 xi3 fa1 cai2. gong1 xi3 means congratulations and fa1 cai2 means to get rich. Is it really empty in GZ during the spring festival? While you will feel more of the festival when you go to the country side. Yes, it's quite strange to work or study in the festival like me in the UK. Wow, you are a tiger! You should know that in Chinese tradition, some people will make greater seccess and will have very good luck. So nomatter you wear red underware or not, I wish you all the happiness and success in the year of tiger!

  16. @J - No way I want travel along with 200m others !! The crowds are something to be seen; a tad more than evern Churchgate station !

    @Zhang - xie xie ni. Thanks for the lesson and the wishes. Actually nobody in Guangzhou says xin nian kuai le. Its all kung hei fat choi. Very Cantonese !!

  17. Thanks for sharing....enjoyed reading abt it. Whenever I read abt things I didnt know about, I'm so glad I'm blogging.

    And guess wht I too am a tiger...err tigress;-D

  18. @Reflections - Hurray fellow tiger. Special best wishes ....

  19. I feel like punished, not having got to read this one before! :D

    Just one question, 'are you superstitious?' ;-)

  20. @Deepa - Oh no - not superstitious at all. Even if I was, red ..... would be a step too far :):)


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