I vaguely remember the scramble of Y2K to gather canned food, packaged goods, things that would last a while in case something did happen when the year 2000 hit and we were forced into our underground bomb shelters (which comes standard with every pre-Y2K house, of course). Preparing for Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, in China, is quite similar. Minus the underground bomb shelter part. I should’ve realized sooner that most of the surrounding restaurants and shops were closed for the holiday, which lasts at least a week, sometimes longer. Today, I walked around my neighborhood searching for one of those cheap hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants (小吃). Each one I passed by had a big padlock on the door, and as I peered inside I could see the stools stacked on top of the tables. By this time, it was 2:30pm, and I was getting pretty angry. Oh…..when I don’t eat, I get angry. Finally, I saw an un-padlocked door! The only one on the several blocks I’d walked.
Not only are many restaurants closed down during Spring Festival (because a lot of the owners are not actually from Beijing, so they return to their hometowns for the holiday), people warned me that many grocery stores would be closed as well. Because I’m lazy, and for no other reason, I haven’t made it yet to the nearby grocery stores to check. So far, the small fruit and vegetable stands across from my apartment are still open.
A lot of people compare Spring Festival to Christmas in the US, but even during Christmas, restaurants and shops are still open. And grocery stores. Here, people have to stock up ahead of time and make sure they have enough food in their houses for at least a week to 10 days. Actually, I hope I have enough gas in my kitchen…..that would be the ultimate mindbang if I stocked up on food to cook and ended up running out of gas for my stove. Today, I woke up to find that the hot water was gone. In a panic, I called the hot water guy, who I think is actually from Beijing. That would’ve been awful, and quite smelly, if I had to go 10 days without showering.
Can you imagine if you didn’t prepare properly for Spring Festival? No grocery stores and restaurants means shortage of food and possible starvation (not to be dramatic or anything). No electricity or gas means…..well, no electricity or gas for 7-10 days. I’m assuming the banks are closed too so we can’t recharge the electricity and gas cards (in China, we have to go to the bank for that, it’s not a monthly bill like in the US). And if you ran out of hot water and nobody was around to add any, that would just add to your unfortunate situation. Instead of enjoying your holidays, you’d be hungry, blind, and reeking with the stench of bad hygiene.
I hope that at the very least, I have enough gas for the stove. That way, if there’s no place to go eat at, I have a big pack of 方便面 (instant noodles) to get me through this traditional Chinese holiday. Happy Chinese New Year!
How do you plan on spending your Spring Festival holiday? Will you risk the dangers of traveling among the multitude of Chinese people or enjoy the 庙会 (temple fairs) in the city that you live in?