Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! by joe with a camera
Happy New Year!, a photo by joe with a camera on Flickr.

In case you think we're really behind the times, it is of course Chinese New Year. the buses are empty, there are charred scraps of red paper blowing in the gutters, and Lucy's currently working on the laptop while snuggled up in bed - Ah, the good old Nanjing winter!

This year falls under the Dragon's influence in the Chinese Zodiac, which is strangely appropriate, as we both do as well. Lucy's close to being a rabbit, it must be said, but you only see that side if you offer her a carrot. Apparently dragons are very independent, and work best on their own (oh dear); they prefer to live on their own terms and not be ruled by others, while they go about their creative things, eccentric experiments, or whatever. While this might sound strangely familiar, I've always had some problems with the concept that everyone born in that year operates the same way. Every twelve years it would be total anarchy... but then, perhaps that's why the school year doesn't coincide with the Chinese year, but is almost six months out - a schoolyard filled with an even mix of rabbits and dragons does more-or-less fit my memories...

Anyway, what I hadn't realised was that the Chinese Zodiac also goes through a cycle of the five elements. This is the year of the Water Dragon, who is by all accounts a very reasonable sort of beast. Apparently they counteract the blazing emotions and recklessness of fire dragons (guess what we are... reckless? really? Well, I guess we did decide to come out here in the first place). You've got to say, though that the prospect of schoolrooms filled with a year's worth of fire dragons is rather a terrifying prospect.

Anyway, enough of this silliness. the festivities went off in true Chinese style (as always, click on the photo to get to Flickr, where in this case there's a little video of the fireworks from our window). We were hoping to find lots of photogenic, noble-looking dragon statuary and ornaments, but there are almost none to be seen. The official dragon is a strange deer-like thing that's always depicted as a cartoon or a fluffy toy. Someone hasn't read the stereotype... either that, or everything is aimed at children, which is quite likely. After all, go to the UK at Christmas, and how often do you see a non-stereotypical, jolly Santa? I guess these celebrations are not really about the meaning any more, here or back home. It's the occasion that matters nowadays, the giving of huge boxes of oranges (very nice ones, but we'll be eating them for weeks), and the chance to go join the crowds at the fair and win a stuffed Garfield.

Having said all that, guess where the biggest crowds we saw were? Not at the parks, but at the entrance to the local Jiming buddhist temple. Yes, there were loads of balloons with Winnie-the-Pooh and similar local characters, but in an officially non-religious country, this mass attendance suggests that at least some of the traditions are deeper-seated than just enjoying the festivities...

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