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Published: January 19th 2009
The Lantern Festival ends the Chinese Spring Festival.
The Lantern Festival dates back thousands of years and the shapes and sizes and colors of the beautiful lanterns are only limited by the imagination.
In China, the preparations for the Spring Festival (2009), in anticipation for the "Year of the Ox", are nearly completed. This year it falls on January 25th. Our excited students, teachers and staff from Taizhou Teachers College are heading home, to spend this "most important festival" in China with their families and their friends.
Another group, an army of migrant workers, are also returning to distant provinces, expecting to be with their loved-ones. They may have not seen their families for a long time.
It is now a time, when all of China seems to be on the move!!
Public Transportation during China's Spring Festival is strained beyond capacity, as during no other time of the year:
BUS-tickets can only be purchased 6 days before departure in China, and the lines at the bus-stations stretch beyond our Western-imagination. These bus-tickets can only be purchased as a "one-way" ticket. To walk away with one of these tickets brings deep smiles to the traveler's face. During peak season, such as the Spring Festival, there are no empty seats on any of these busses, no matter the destination.
Around the bus-stations, a healthy black market for tickets to primary
PHOTO JOURNEY #1:For the average person, these are the most common, mass-produced shapes.
The lanterns are for sale at every street corner, and soon will decorate the homes, stores and restaurants, or any building in cities and villages of China.
destinations is thriving and cannot be discouraged, even by the vigilant police, who are more visible during this time of the year. But bus-travel is more expensive than train-travel in China, because it is faster and more direct to a destination.
TRAIN-travel in China is the least expensive mode of transportation. For the money-conscious Chinese travelers, it is also the preferred way to travel. Millions attempt to make their way home during this Spring Festival, when everyone wishes to share these most important days with families.
But there is also a catch to buying a train ticket! One-way train tickets to any destination can only be purchased 10 days before departure. On that day, and many hours before the ticket counters open, lines of potential and freezing travelers can be seen stretching around the block of the train stations, and can only be controlled by an attentive police force. There is pushing and shoving, tempers can flare, and Chinese patience is stretched to the limit, often to the breaking point.
Even though the government will add extra trains and stop the movement of freight trains, in a country of almost 1.4 billion, there simply are never enough
Soon these red and gold lanterns will decorate the doorway of a Chinese home.
In ancient times, they will have been made of paper or even silk. Now they are mass-produced to satisfy the needs of millions.
seats. After waiting for hours in line, and then finally arriving at the ticket window, it is more likely that all tickets have already been sold.
A TRUE STORY:
One of my friends was planning his 24 hour tain-trip home, some 1,500 miles away, to be with family in time for the Spring Festival, on January 25th. His company announced vacation days beginning at the end of of the day, on the the 22nd of January. And so, needing to travel on the 23rd of January, he arrived at the train-station on the 13th of January, exactly 10 days before these train tickets go on sale. He arrived at the train-station 3 hours before the ticket windows opened, at 7:30am.
Lines of travelers were already standing in tight formation, some having spent the night at the large Taizhou Train Station, making sure that no one might push or find a crack into the line, and they guard their square foot of space with great care.
And so, my friend patiently takes his place at the end of the line. The ticket windows open at exactly 7:30am, and the queue begins to move forward, "like molasses in
The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the First Lunar Month.
This lantern is made of wood and glass, and hangs in the Mei Lanfang garden in Taizhou.
winter", edging ever closer toward the ticket-window. By 9:30am he reaches the front, cash in hand, for a ticket for his "23 hour" train-journey home. (Yes, 23 hours!) He looks hopefully into the eyes of the official selling the tickets.
He places his order:
The most comfortable ticket is a "soft-sleeper", a berth for four persons, at 770 Yuan? "Sorry, NO ticket available!!!"
Oh no!! How about a ticket for the "hard-sleeper", a berth for six persons, at 430 Yuan? "Sorry, NO ticket available!!!"
My Lord!! How about a ticket for a "soft-seat", a comfortable assigned seat, at 210 Yuan? "Sorry, NO ticket available!!!"
Oh God!! I will settle for a "hard-seat", in a crowded section of the train, but at least sitting, at 110 Yuan? "Sorry, NO ticket available!!!"
Then the sales person speaks first: "I can sell you a ticket "STANDING" (for 23 hours!), along with hundreds of others, for 100 Yuan!!!
In despair and desperation my friend asks for the most expensive ticket, a "soft-sleeper", in a berth for only two persons, usually only possible for the wealthiest? (It would cost 1,600 Yuan, a huge sum of money for most Chinese.) "So sorry!! NO
The most special lanterns are protected from the elements.
There are sectons in parks, where incredible lanterns are displayed as works of art.
Standing for "23 hours" on an over-crowded train was simply not an option for my friend! He sadly left the train-station, empty-handed, and returned to his place of employment to ponder the options.
And the options are: Not to travel home for the most important family holiday in China, or he may now have to "attempt" a bus ticket from his city in Jiangsu to Shanghai, take the Maglev-train to Shanghai's Pudong Airport, and try to catch a flight to the airport nearest his home, 1,500 miles away!!
After he arrives at the airport closest to his home-town, he will still need another 5 hour bus- or train-ride to reach the Spring Festival's dinner-table to be with his family.
The total cost of this alternative, "ONE-WAY" holiday-journey home? About 2,000 Yuan, the salary for one month!
And that is what he has to do!!!
Now, don't forget this!!!!: The "return journey", at the end of the Spring Festival with his family, to his place of employment can "only" be arranged once he has arrived at his family's home. This will cost nearly another 2,000 Yuan, if he cannot find one of the
Walking below the lanterns, the details of each are amazing.
I could not yet see them at night, but it must be a stunning sight of light.
train alternatives back.
This is only one story of travel for a Chinese during the Spring Festival. There are millions of others, who must brave similar or worse situations. Those with limited funds, such as students and migrant workers, are especially hard hit.
I hear on Chinese television, that in Beijing alone, as many as 200,000 passengers pass through Beijing's West Train Station in a single day at the height of travel. I have been there and that station is the largest of several in the capital of China. Begin to multiply these numbers with all of the other mega-, large- and mid-sized cities around the most populous country in the world, and you can understand why I say: "The whole country is on the move, every year, during China's Spring Festival."
In China, there are simply too many people and there is not enough transportation. The Central Government is acutely aware of this. To ease the travel-plight, the State is promising to construct additional rail-lines as quickly as possible as part of an almost "$700 Billion Stimulus Package" it has set aside recently, designed to ease the job-loss China is also experiencing due to the World
Taizhou's Buddhist Temple too has been decorated with hundreds of red lanterns.
The local Buddhist temple in Taizhou is ready for the Lantern Festival. Temple fairs will welcome many of the visitors and residents of Taizhou.
Getting home, to be with family, is the un-deterred goal of every Chinese during the Spring Festival. This holiday is their most important time, much like our Christmas and New Year all in one.
Thankfully, unlike last year, when China was hit with the coldest winter in 50 years and with heavy snows, the weather-gods are co-operating this year. So many of my Chinese friends tell me as they search for travel-alternatives: "It could have been worse!"
**You may wish to review my entries #108 and #109 for the details of the Chinese Spring Festival, its origins and customs.**
At the end of the Spring Festival, there is one more special day the Chinese families to prepare for: THE LANTERN FESTIVAL or THE YUANXIAO FESTIVAL.
This traditional LANTERN FESTIVAL falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar. On that night there is a "full-moon".
The custom of enjoying "lanterns" on that day comes from the Taoist "Theory of Three Yuan": the 15th day of the first lunar month is "Shang-yuan" Festival; the 15th day of the seventh lunar month is "Zhong-yuan" Festival; and the 15th day
PHOTO JOURNEY #2: Food is being prepared for the Spring Festival.
This lady is hard at work at plucking the feathers of the chicken she just killed, and will prepare them for the dinner table of her family.
of the tenth lunar month is "Xia-yuan" Festival.
During these three times of the lunar year there is a full-moon, and according to the Taoist Theory, these same three times of the lunar year are in charge of three officials: heaven-, earth- and human-world respectively. The first, the official of the heaven-world, likes joyful things, so lanterns should be lit on "Shang-yuan" Festival, known as "The Lantern Festival".
This custom dates back to the Han Dynasty, over 2,200 years ago, and with the passing years the variety of lanterns were only limited by the imagination and available material with which to make them. Most cities have lantern ceremonies in which all patterns of lanterns are exhibited.
Apart from lighting lanterns, people also set off fireworks to go with the festival atmosphere, and the amount of noise will lead to sleepless nights, and you can count on that!!!
"Guessing lantern riddles", similiar to our crossword puzzles, are also the custom on Lantern Festival. The riddles are hidden in the Chinese characters as a beautiful poem or some common saying, and visitors to the lanterns find themselves challenged to come up with the answers.
Other activities include
Home made sausages and pork pieces hang to cure.
All of these foods are made ready for the festivals. I can deal with the sausages, but I am not sure about the pork pieces!
"stilt-walking", lion-dances, rowing boats on "land"?? and drum competitions, among many more.
Eating "rice glue balls" ("tangyuan" or "yuanzi") is the custom of the Lantern Festival. The rice glue ball is made of glutinous rice with or without stuffing, usually sugar, bean paste, or other dried fruits. The rice balls can be boiled, fried, and steamed. They are considered a tasty treat, though I must add, that it is an acquired taste!!
Eating the round "glue rice balls" on the night when the moon gets full and round for the first time in a year indicates people's wish for a joyful reunion and a peaceful life.
With the Lantern Festival, the Chinese New Year activities come to a conclusion. Once again everyone, including the students of Taizhou Teachers College, must "struggle" to find transportation that will take them back from where they had come from. In the case of my students: To be with me for another semester, improving their English, and I cannot wait to see them all again!
I HOPE YOU HAVE THE TIME TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT THE 77 PHOTOS, HIGHLIGHTING THE PREPARATIONS IN TAIZHOU FOR CHINA'S MOST IMPORTANT FESTIVAL HOLIDAYS,
A farmer is resting in the winter sun with his crop of ginger root.
Most of the important ingredients in Chinese food is the ginger root. This farmer has come to Taizhou, to offer his crop to the eager buyers, once they have been dried by the sun.
THE SPRING FESTIVAL, BEGINNING ON JANUARY 25TH AND ENDING WITH THE LANTERN FESTIVAL ON JANUARY 10TH. DON'T BY SHY WITH YOUR COMMENTS, QUESTIONS, THOUGHTS AND GREETINGS. THANK YOU!
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