My name is Arantxa (or 杜雅雯) and this is the first article in the #StudyAbroadTB series. The series is a collection of the misadventures of my time studying abroad in Beijing- the good, the bad, and the extraordinary.
While I studied abroad, my dear friend Yuan invited me to spend CNY (Chinese New Year) with her family near Beijing. While it was full of new experiences, there are some things that I will never forget.
1. Beijing, the 2nd most populated city in the world, becomes a ghost town.
That’s right! I know this is difficult to believe, but in the weeks leading up to CNY, streets, subways, buses, college campuses, tourist sites, and even malls become eerily empty. It’s like New York City with no people!
How does a city become a ghost town for a week? During CNY, everyone goes back to their hometowns. More specifically, they visit the province/city where their family is from. Apparently, most people who live in Beijing are not from Beijing.
This travel spree is the largest annual human migration. Hundreds of millions of people travel over the course of the holiday.
Fun fact: during CNY, all highways nationwide become toll-free.
2. CCTV’s Gala is a HUGE deal
After eating many delicious dumplings (饺子)，I was told that it was time to watch TV in the living room. I believed we might watch some news, or maybe a movie and call it a night. I was so wrong! As I sat down with Yuan’s family, Yuan explained to me that we were going to watch China’s annual national TV show special called 春晚 (chūn wǎn) or CCTV’s Gala. It’s a tradition to watch the Gala together until midnight when the start of the Lunar New Year officially begins.
Every year, over 200 million viewers watch the 5-hour+ Gala from across China and around the world.
I managed to sit through 3 hours of it. While I didn’t understand much, I enjoyed what I could figure out.
3. There is a reason why fireworks are illegal in the U.S. (*hint* they are super dangerous)
The first night of CNY, I heard the fireworks. I excitedly looked up from my textbook and stared at the multicolored fireworks show going on outside of my dorm window. The magic quickly faded when the fireworks continued past 3 AM. Every night (and early morning), you could hear fireworks going off everywhere.
It’s during this time when I finally understood the real danger of fireworks. I saw children sneak up on people with fireworks, and drunk adults aiming their firecrackers downwards instead of upwards.
All in all, I still like fireworks, but from a safe distance.
4. Red envelopes (红包) are the best!
While visiting Yuan’s other relative’s, I received red envelopes. I was baffled to find out they contained money. Seeing my surprise, my friend told me that I should simply graciously accept the gifts. She explained that they just wanted me to feel welcome. I sheepishly accepted each envelope and thanked them many times. This experience made me feel like family and not just a guest.
Fun fact: Did you also know that you can send and receive red envelopes via a messaging app called WeChat? So, there is no excuse for not giving red envelopes to your family and friends!
5. 吃饱了 (chībǎole)
吃饱了(chībǎole) simply means “I’m full”.
However, it was the most useful phrase I learned while visiting Yuan’s family. Each meal was a large array of dishes. I did my best to sample as much food as I could, but I couldn’t eat forever. Yuan’s family kept piling on the food and asking if I wanted more.
The easiest way to end the eating marathon was to politely say, “吃饱了(chībǎole), 谢谢 (xièxiè).” Which roughly translates to: “I’m full, thank you.”