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The Year of the Tiger

The Year of the Tiger has finally shown its true colors through the fireworks, lively village squares, and traditional celebrations of the Chinese New Year.

The traditional “Dragon Dance” at the basketball court in Xizhou, where author Martha Aurelius narrowly escaped a collision in attempts to capture a photo.

On the eve of Chinese New Year, Jeanee, Bryce, and I gathered up our thick blankets to brave the midnight chill. The Linden Centre’s rooftop terrace was the perfect place to perch and watch the firework display that rang in the New Year. At the stroke of midnight, every household that surrounded us lit fireworks that would put our 4th of July fireworks to shame. The crackling firecrackers were a constant buzz throughout the entire night and into the early morning. Having the chance to participate in this energetic national holiday for two weeks is something that I will remember forever.

Just like it is a tradition for Americans to travel back home for Thanksgiving with their families, Chinese New Year is the yearly pilgrimage for families to return to their home villages and spend time with their relatives. Just imagine, the entire population of China trying to travel back home during this holiday! Trains, buses, and taxis are in high demand and are stuffed to the brim with people and overflowing with presents. Luckily, I didn’t have to travel during this time, and I was fully warned in advance that it would be more than a headache to even try. Where I witnessed the commotion and felt the true energy of the reuniting of families was in the village square. Our little village of Xizhou had quadrupled in size and as you dodged tuk-tuk traffic, you were pressed shoulder-to-shoulder with other pedestrians enjoying their holiday. If you have ever stepped foot into Leroys Coffee during the Christmas season where young locals come to reunite, you would be able to understand the excitement that was in the air as friends walked arm-in-arm, catching up on the past year’s stories. Children were buying bags full of fireworks and lighting them off as they ran down alleys, little girls getting their hair done as if they were going to the prom, and food vendors were selling everything from cotton candy to chicken feet.

In the early afternoon of the first day of Chinese New Year, we walked over to the basketball courts where the rest of the Cheng Bei locals were gathering to watch the traditional “Dragon Dance.” The dragon, in Chinese culture, symbolizes power and strength. Emperors hundreds of years ago would be seen wearing robes that were embroidered with the Five-Clawed Dragon. Today, the dragon dance is highly anticipated for all ages. We knew that the dragon, being operated by at least 25 women, was coming toward us since we could hear horns, drums, and firecrackers in the distance. Once it finally reached the basketball court, the band started to play and the dragon began to dance by twisting and turning through the crowd. As firecrackers blasted off, the dragon spiraled into circles, dipped low to the ground, and wove itself into different patterns. With all of this excitement and colors streaming through the sky, I ran over to take pictures. As I was snapping shots, I didn’t realize that the dragon was headed my way at full force and there was no way of stopping it! Luckily, a kind local pulled me out of the way just in time for the dragon to pass. I may have missed out on a superb photo, but at least I wasn’t the cause of a dragon dance collision!

A woman in the traditional Bai outfit dances through the streets in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

It is amazing to me that I only have two months left living in China. This year has allowed me to see and experience a life in China that I had never imagined. I have been able to cast aside the previous thoughts and take in vibrant images of the Chinese village life. I am fortunate enough to be able to share my experiences with my parents and my aunt, who are coming just next week! There are bound to be more adventures to tell, especially when the Aurelius clan is together!