Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chinese Holidays in Need of Festive Makeover

I recently read this article while visiting Shanghai.  It really made me appreciate and miss the fun we had in our workplace, which made me more determined to try to bring these 'holidays' into my classes and share the festivities with my students.

Chinese holidays need a festive makeover
By Eric Fish-- Global Times, March 17, 2011
[ByLiu Rui/GlobalTimes]

On Thursday [March 17th], People all over the world will avoid being pinched by donning their tackiest green clothing and hitting the bars with friends to drink pints of Guinness. Some who are feeling especially lucky might exclaim to the opposite sex, "Kiss me. I'm Irish!"
St. Patrick's Day is the quintessential Western holiday. What would otherwise be just another forgettable saint's day honoring a Catholic missionary has become an international excuse to drunkenly dress and act stupid with friends.
The customs might be a bit silly and even perpetuate a few Irish stereotypes, but for one day each year, a country of just 6 million people gets almost uniformly positive attention from around the globe. On March 17, everyone is Irish.
St. Patrick's Day and other internationally successful holidays like Valentine's Day, Halloween, and Christmas draw an unfortunate contrast to their Chinese counterparts. While Chinese festivals are very old, symbolic and meaningful, there's one thing they simply aren't: festive.
Dragon Boat Festival, for instance, is pretty trivial if you don't have access to an expensive racing boat. Tomb-Sweeping Day is exactly what it sounds like, so not really an occasion to be merry. Mid-Autumn Festival has the exchange of moon cakes and the hanging of floating lanterns, but that's hardly anything to get excited about.
The Spring Festival is China's most pervasive holiday, but major customs include humdrum activities like cleaning the house and giving out hongbao (gift money in red envelops). Wearing red and shooting fireworks is festive, but so far hasn't been unique enough to grab much international attention outside cities with high Chinese populations.
Holidays that are successful internationally tend to have multiple customs which are fun, colorful and easily exportable. They give people an excuse to show off their creativity and draw closer to their community, all by acting a little goofy together for just one day.
Halloween is arguably the perfect such holiday. People of all ages creatively fashion colorful costumes, adults party with friends, and children go trick-or-treating among neighbors. Everyone has a great time and comes closer as a community.
In recent years China has watched some of these Western celebrations start to overshadow homegrown ones among its people. This in part prompted the government to amend the national holiday scheme in 2008 to give workers the day off to celebrate traditional Chinese festivals.
But many prevailing international festivals aren't public holidays in the countries they're most celebrated in; and this has actually helped to popularize them.
Part of the fun of St. Patrick's Day, for example, is to show off festive clothing at work and have themed staff parties.
If Chinese festivals ever hope to stay competitive at home and abroad, they need to add a little flavor.
If Lei Feng, a national soldier icon in 1960s, could be depoliticized, his holiday encouraging people to do good deeds has potential. So long as those good deeds could include buying drinks for friends.
Or there's the little-known Spirit Festival, when people burn fake money and make offerings to their ancestors. Maybe this could go a step further in honoring ancestors by wearing traditional clothing they might have worn in the past. This would be fun and easily adaptable to the culture of any country.
These are just a few poorly thought out ideas, but it wouldn't be hard to initiate some new customs to jazz up an existing festival. The tradition of watching the CCTV New Year's Gala with family during the Spring Festival is practiced by over 700 million people each year, and it just began in 1983. So is the tradition of complaining about how bad it was this year.
If China hopes for more soft power and cultural influence abroad, current initiatives like Confucius Institute and PR videos are one route. But an eventful Chinese holiday everyone can enjoy would probably do more to endear China to the world.
With 1.3 billion people reaching out to every corner of the globe, there's no reason why a Chinese-born celebration shouldn't be internationally recognized. China should follow Ireland's example and give the world a holiday it can relish.
The author is a master's candidate of Global Business Journalism at Tsinghua University. His blog: sinostand.com. ericfish85@gmail.com

Friday, May 6, 2011

China's new drunk driving laws now in effect

Evidently May 1st new drunk driving laws went into effect in China.  Prior to that drunk driving was seen as a civil offense or misconduct with a revocation of a drivers license up to three years.  Now it is a criminal offense with revocation of up to five years and the possibility of a lifetime ban.  It also appears that police are enforcing it because recently, Wednesday night, Ying and I went out with some of her girlfriends to celebrate the daughter of one who was selected for a masters program at the NE Normal University in Changchung.  One of the women who drove to the restaurant called her husband to come get the car so she would not have to leave it.  Yesterday (Thursday) our nephew was visiting us when my wife's brother called to say he had a few to many beers and asked my nephew to come and drive him home.  In the past both of them would have driven home and not thought twice about it. 

A Chinese newspaper even went so far as to show the first person detained under the new drunk driving laws.  He may have a grin now, but I doubt he had it the next day.  I especially liked his response when the police asked him if he had been drinking, "I did, just a little."  It reminds me so much of responses I've heard in the states...."Honest Ossifer, (burb) I only had two drinks, honest (burb)."


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Watching a sad sight...

Today is May 1st, which is a holiday here in China, but right now I don't feel to festive.  I saw something that makes me question how efficient emergency services are here in China.  The street we live on is a major street here in Yanji which while busy, the traffic is not heavy.  About a block from us is an intersection with the main east/west artery from the city center.  The traffic on this street is always busy, but the majority of vehicles are either taxis or small busses.  Now crossing the streets here in Yanji is sometimes a bit of an adventure because drivers don't readily yield to pedestrians even if you are in the crosswalk.  If a driver wants to make a left hand turn and their is oncoming traffic or people crossing, as far as the drivers are concerned, its "DAMN THE TORPEDOS, FULL SPEED AHEAD."  But the bus drivers are in a class all their own.  When they are in the inside lane, anywhere from half a block to closer to the intersection, their stop is just to the other side of  it and if the light has or is about to change to red, they have this nasty little habit of pulling into the oncoming lane, blow through the intersection to get to their stop with no consideration of what might be coming.  Many a time I have been crossing the street only to be stopped short as a bus honks its horn a split second before it cuts me off.

Today this practice if it hasn't seriously injured him, may have killed a man.  As I was looking out our apartment window at the intersection I saw a group of people standing in it.  As they moved I noticed a motorcycle on its side, an empty bus stopped just past it, then finally a person lying on the street.  I immediately knew the bus had run a red light and hit him.  As I watched the person and the motorcycle was surrounded by people as a shield while taxis and just weaved their way around and between them.  About 15 minutes later the police finally showed up, but other than taking some pictures but didn't do anything to control the trafffic that was continuing to move in and around the accident scene or appear to render any aid of any sort.  The ambulance didn't show until 35 minutes later and even then they didn't seem to be much in a hurry, which leads me to believe they guy may had been killed.  Less than 15 minutes later the motorcycle was picked up, debris swept away and now the intersection looks like nothing has happened.

Even though I have been driving for over 40 years, incidents like this scare the bejabbers out of me and just reinforces my decision to not drive in Chinese cities.