The fireworks have almost all fizzled out, and the red cardboard from exploded firecrackers has largely been swept up, leaving everyone in China facing the various flip-sides of Chinese new year, and the prospect of having pretty much nothing to do for the remaining four or five days of the holiday.
I myself have found three glaring flip-sides of Chinese new year:
Half-empty cities: I can only account for this city, Suzhou, but it’s obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes that half of the city’s usual inhabitants and passers-through are all gone. This leaves an eerie, almost ghostly feeling out on the streets, especially in daytime. When I popped out to the DVD store earlier (one of only half a dozen shops in the area still open), I encountered – no exaggeration here – a total of 10 other pedestrians, a few cyclists, one nearly empty bus, and a few cars. At the main road here in the city’s business district, I stood dumbfounded on the kerb, waiting for the pedestrian lights to count down from 60, as there was absolutely no car in sight for about half a minute. As it is customary for people to return to their “hometown” at this time, the semi-evacuation of the city says a lot about the general trend towards city living.
Even less Chinese news on TV than ever: According to state television news, there is apparently nothing happening in the whole country all week, except for people dancing on stages and being merry.
Even slower internet than ever: It would appear that although 50% of the city’s people have gone back to the countryside to visit their parents – enduring nearly a week on un-mattressed beds with no heating, and no computers or internet access – the remaining half seem to be all online, judging by my slothful internet connection, which always suffers under high usage, such as at regular weekends. Also, from my neighbour’s apartment I can hear the almost constant, rapid bleep-bleep-bleep-bleep that indicates an incoming message on QQ, the hugely popular Chinese instant messaging software.
Furthermore, virtually all Chinese online friends that I’ve talked with today, on Skype and MSN, have used the words “bored” or “boring” in the sentence proceeding their explanation of how they’re about to go visit their uncle/grandfather/cousin later today, before repeating the process with a different, even more obscure family member the next day – until, by Friday, they’re visiting people they can barely even remember, and are champing at the bit to get back to work on Saturday or Sunday.