This was an evening very much unlike any other. For a long time, I had my eyes on China Central Television’s Spring Festival Gala — itself often ridiculed. I wondered why eight emcees were needed — but loved it when in early 2011, a CRH high speed train model rolled into the studio.
I was totally unexpected for something like this to happen to me, for my remote control to be replaced by a microphone, and for me to be standing in the centre of the stage in front of thousands — instead of leaning back on the comfy chair.
This completely changed on Wednesday, 17 February 2016, in the city of Portsmouth, right on the southern coast of England. I was to emcee, along with another host (a lady), the Cultures of China, Festival of Spring Year of the Monkey gala to a massive audience in Portsmouth’s King Theatre. ▶
The Year of the Horse has silently come to China — silently because this year, there is much less fuss.
In major cities, especially in Beijing, even the oft-seen lanterns are on a disappearing act. On the main avenue just about 5 minutes’ walking distance from my flat, they were there for previous major events, including the Beijing Olympics and the celebration of the People’s Republic at 60. But they simply were nowhere to be seen now — except, interestingly enough, on an avenue right outside the government headquarters of northwestern Beijing’s IT-savvy district of Haidian. (That sure would make Zhongnanhai more than a tad than concerned, right?)
The only bits of “China-ness” that were more visible this year were pictures of horses running together, which were a standard part of every government propaganda banner. Elsewhere, the mood was quite muted. At the Huayu shopping centre not far from Renmin University in northwestern urban Beijing, I can still see two Christmas trees by the main entrance… and I thought they were supposed to… save it for next year? ▶
I realize that I am probably the weirdest soul of Chinese blood out there. (There are odder souls, still — and by that I mean those who speak zero Chinese, which isn’t a rare occurrence if you’ve spent the best part of half a century outside the People’s Republic and with the — oh well as they call ’em — the “US imperialists” State-side. There are plenty of these folks…) The only “fest-related” Chinese delicacy I take in are the dumplings (aka the jiao zi, 餃子). They’re good and I can easily finish 50 of these if you starve me of Subway sandwiches for a full week or so.
I’ve a close friend who unfortunately got a pretty bad disease after feeding himself “new food” from south China (he’s from northeastern China, so they’ve different “feeding habits” so-called). And because that was the case, that made me even more adamant to stick to my own preset diet. For me, especially after that horror story, it’ll be either just Yang Zhou Chao Fan (fried rice) or nothing — at least I’ll be happy that along the stuff that lands in the dumpster after a bad meal out won’t be remains of — let’s say — octopus.
Given that, I basically survived Moon Festival 2010 without mooncakes. Actually, to be frank, I kind of cheated by feeding myself with an ice cream variant from Haagen-Dazs. Having heard how long a queue there was to get the thing, though, I’m probably going to skip that crap next year. Nobody wants to force mom in line with a hundred other souls who are going to sit out hours just to claim some free crappy ice cream version of mooncakes. Life’s too short for that kind of stuff. ▶
The Spring Festival, known as Chunjie in Chinese, and known also as the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year, is totally unique. You can only experience “the real deal” if you’re within the Chinese-speaking part of the world. What happens in Switzerland pales in comparison.
Here’s wishing you a happy New Year of the Pig! ▶