Chinese New year usually falls somewhere in between the end of January and the start of February. Outside of China you probably won’t see much in terms of celebrations unless you venture into your local China town. CNY is still a few months away but I am already getting excited as I will be spending CNY 2017 in Hong Kong with my fiancee Becky. Chinese New Year changes date from year to year as it is organised based on the lunar calendar unlike the new year most of the world knows which is based on the Georgian calendar, the Chinese celebrate this too.
Above: one of my favourite photographs from our CNY trip of a family walking through Lushan.
Above: my friend Tommy looking back as we went up Lushan on the back of some local guys motorcycles. Pretty badass looking if you ask me.
A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to spend Chinese New Year in China with my friends; I was living in Shanghai at the time and we travelled a short distance by plane to Jiangxi province. We flew into the city if Jiujiang in the north of the province – I can’t remember if it was the fog or pollution, but we hit the runway before we could even see it, the airport wasn’t anything like the other airports I had been to in China – it was a tiny building which seemed to open and close as and when planes were arriving or departing.
Above: the gang (from left to right: Taylor, Moira, Jess, Tommy and myself) in Lushan.
One thing you should bear in mind about Chinese New Year is that there is a massive population shift during the country’s most important national holiday. Thirty years ago, 80% of China’s population lived in rural areas of the country, today 80% of the population live in the major cities such as Shanghai, Chengdu, Beijing etc. During the national holidays, mainly Chinese New Year, many of the people who flocked to the cities from the country return home to visit family; now, what does this mean? China has a population of over one billion and when a good proportion of this gargantuan population decide to travel at exactly the same time it completely saturates the country’s transportation systems and depending on where you are at the time it can be eerily silent or utterly chaotic.
I was living in Shanghai which I consider to be the true city that never sleeps, I know they say this about NYC but seriously, Shanghai in some aspects doesn’t even start until late at night, I remember a place I used to frequent with my friend that served Doufu Hua (tofu soup) on the street, they only used to set up at about 11pm and serve until early morning, but anyway I digress, all of this changes come Chinese New Year, people disappear and the whole place quietens down for a few days. For Chinese New Year myself and my colleagues all got one week off work and we decided to make the most of it, so we found a cheap flight to Jiujiang in Jiangxi province and jumped on it.
Above: the time we accidentally created the album cover to a Christian rock band
When we arrived in Jiujiang we needed to find some accommodation as we hadn’t booked anywhere and everywhere seemed to be fully booked and being the cheapskates that we were, we weren’t willing to pay more than around 50RMB (£5) per night, and we found somewhere, we were all in the same room, the shower was directly above a hole in the ground which was the toilet, the bedding must have been from the 70’s and we were scared to sleep directly on it (lucky we had sleeping bags) and when the night came the place was unbearably cold, it was like being outside – and you might ask how we remedied the situation, and the answer is with Bai Jiu of course, the cheapest stuff we could get our hands on and a pack of cards; we stayed up all night drinking bai jiu and playing cards all the while tucked into our sleeping bags, and it was one of the fondest memories of travel I have up to now.
The following day we woke up from our pit, still cold and a little hungover but we had to make it to Lushan (a mountain close to Jiujiang), we took a tuktuk to the bus station and boarded a bus which took around an hour. We began the hike in what is essentially a mountain settlement, we started at around 11am and the ascent took a few hours, we spent a fair amount of time veering off the track exploring some of the wilderness and wandering off to the edge of lakes. We finally reached the top of the mountain where we had an amazing view of the surrounding area, we did however notice that the sun was going down and we had no idea how long the descent would take, it turns out that it took longer than we expected, as we go lower down the mountain into the forest it was getting darker and darker with no source of light, it was now a race against the clock but even still we kept getting distracted by monkeys which we didn’t expect to see, one of which had some sort of mono-leg, similar to a flipper, we called it the dolphin monkey. Monkeys seem quite funny creatures in the daylight, but when the sun goes down and they’re running behind you and staring at you with their dead monkey eyes it’s a little disconcerting.
Long story short, we got to spend a little more time with the creatures of the night than we had expected, it was really dark now and we started to get a little worried. Fortunately we managed to bum a lift off some people who were travelling to Jiujiang, and when I say bum a lift we had to pay a decent price but there was nothing else we could do, we had two choices: take the lift and pay out a bit of money or spend the night on the mountain and maybe freeze to death.
Above: a small island with a shrine on it. The bridge that leads over to the island is in a zig-zag shape, this is due to the ancient belief that spirits can only travel in straight lines.
When we returned to Jiujiang we booked into a better hotel, dropped off our bags, went out and bought some bai jiu, beer and fireworks – a most fantastic combination. We spent that night launching firecrackers and one another, getting absolutely leathered and generally having an amazing time.
Above: my friend Jess launching a firecracker into the air, soon after we took to throwing them at each other.
The following day it was onto another mountain called Sanqingshan which turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I visited in China, the hike up to the top was much more difficult than the hike up Lushan and took a fair bit longer – fortunately we didn’t have to descend the same day as we were planning on camping. At the top of the mountain were people renting out tents, they made them fairly cosy too laying duvets on the floor, they sold alcohol and cup noodles at the top. What could be better: beer, MSG and sweet views of the night sky, free from any light pollution. The mountain was awe inspiring in day and night, with vast stretches of walkways wrapping around the mountain. After we arrived we grabbed the bai jiu, sat on a bench looking out over the never ending expanse below the mountain and freaking each other out talking about the universe, again one of the most memorable moments from my time in China.
For the last day it was back to Jiujiang for one final night of more fireworks, more booze, more card games before returning to Shanghai the following day. It was back to reality, but teaching English in a foreign country is a pretty good reality to be living.
Well, that was a long post. It took me a while to find all of the photographs I needed. I’m so excited to get travelling again, this time with Becky which makes the prospect a million times better than any travelling I have done solo 🙂