Insights from a TFA teacher on being a foreigner in China during Spring Festival.
Red lanterns shimmer and shake with the wind. Huddles of small children play games whilst wrapped tight in woolly coats. The cold nights stretch out across the East, forcing windows and doors shut. January can be an unforgiving month, this year even more so. But the tangible air of excitement can still be felt all across China as a red sea of toys, blankets, foods, and pretty much everything else washes over the country. Red is the colour of warmth and happiness, something found in abundance as February approaches.
Being a Westerner during Chinese New Year can sometimes seem strange. It often feels as if you are peering through a window into the intensely private lives of millions, albeit lives that they are willing to share. Herein lies the beauty of living this far away from home. Families are all too prepared to welcome strange lao wei s (foreigners) into their homes, aware that they are spending this crucial family period thousands of miles away from their loved ones.
I have been for countless dinners at the abodes of close friends and acquaintances alike, meeting their large extended family who are happy to sit and drink tea for hours on end. Friends of mine have sparked up a conversation at the local corner shop, only to find themselves eating traditional new year food with their new friend’s family that very evening. These experiences are invaluable, experiencing such an important time of year as both a watcher and a participant.
I wanted to know more about how my Chinese friends felt about this time of the year. It seemed to me like a very personal and intense period in the yearly calendar, which was why I was slightly surprised (but mainly amused) when upon asking my friend Lily what Chinese New Year meant to her, she promptly replied “FOOD!” . She went on to explain a bit more: “When I was young, we were very poor. We didn’t have much money growing up so we ate plain and simple food. But when Chinese New Year came around, it was different. All day, every day, for about a week we would just eat. Duck, pork, chicken, everything! For me, food is the most important part of CNY.”
China is, in many ways, a country of deep contrasts. Old couples slowly stretching to traditional Chinese melodies blaring from a shiny new smartphone; small children singing Frozen’s “Let It Go” whilst dressed in Qing dynasty era costume; teenage girls giggling with boys, all the while ensuring the gods and spirits are content with their being. But come Spring Festival, these frictions fall to the lantern adorned wayside, and China is filled the harmony and joy of a billion people sharing food, drinking tea and catching up with distant relatives.
As a Westerner for whom so much of this society is new and strange, that is one thing I find we can all relate to.
For details of our current openings in locations across China, check out our jobs page at www.teachersforasia.com/jobs/. We have a variety of positions, whether you have just graduated or are already an experienced teacher. If you’re considering teaching in China for the first time, check out our article on reasons to consider teaching in China – https://www.teachersforasia.com/top-10-reasons-why-you-should-teach-in-china/.