Shanghai expats talk about their plans for Chinese New Year holiday

By Chen Shasha Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/7 19:13:39

Foreigners and Spring Festival

With the Year of the Dog approaching, millions of nonlocal workers in Shanghai are returning to their distant hometowns to celebrate Spring Festival with their loved ones. The entire city will see a week-long period of silence as stores close, streets empty and construction projects cease. But among Shanghai's large migrant population - which also includes foreign expats - what is there to do here?

A child looking forward to Chinese New Year Photo: VCG


Photo: VCG

 The Global Times recently interviewed several foreigners in Shanghai about their plans during Chinese New Year holiday week.

Spanish national David Costa and his Chinese wife Yang Yang will spend the occasion with their two daughters in Spain to introduce their second China-born child to Costa's distant relatives.

"I understand how important this occasion is to the Chinese, so I have been trying my best to let my wife spend every Spring Festival with her family every year," he told the Global Times, explaining that this will be his first time to not stay in China during the holiday since he arrived in China in 2006.

"For me, Spring Festival has already become a part of my culture," Costa said, adding that ever since he was 12 years old he has celebrated the holiday in Spain with his Chinese friends.

"Now, China's Spring Festival has become a very famous festival in Spain, there are activities all across Spain: fireworks, dragon dances and performances and activities for children," he said.

Costa has experienced this tradition in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, East China's Zhejiang Province and Shanghai. He still remembers the event in Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia, where he made dumplings, watched fireworks, and sang and drank with local friends.

Lack of public events

"It makes me feel that there is no difference between Chinese and foreigners; we are a big family where people feel very happy when they get together," Costa said, "I think this festival is to remind people that the most important thing in the world is not material things but being with your loved ones."

Costa admitted that what still confuses him about Chinese New Year is the tradition of hongbao (red envelopes filled with cash).

"We foreigners don't know how much money we should put in a hongbao and always forget whom we gave it to," he said. "The money just travels around and then returns to you."

He also worries that many cities still allow fireworks all night.

"Babies can't fall asleep because of the loud noises and they keep crying," he complained.

Moreover, Costa has found that many Chinese now prefer to travel abroad during the holiday, and that many foreigners are losing interest in this festival due to the lack of publicized local events.

"There isn't much media publicity about cultural events here for expats," he said, suggesting that the local government ought to provide more related activities such as opera performances, dragon and lion dances, paper cutting competitions and food festivals that will entice foreigners and Chinese alike to stay in China.

It's quiet, too quiet

This will be the sixth Spring Festival for American expat Stephen Hook. He told the Global Times that he actually misses the noise of fireworks, as he truly believes they can "scare away evil spirits" according to ancient Chinese mythology.

Fireworks are indeed an age-old custom in China. However, some larger Chinese cities including Shanghai now ban or control setting off fireworks in downtown areas as a necessary safety and security precaution.

"The first two years I lived in China, fireworks went off all night long, all over. Now it is quiet, almost too quiet," he said.

Hook often spends Chinese New Year at a five-star hotel at People's Square to enjoy a nice restaurant followed by night clubbing. This year, though, he plans to travel to neighboring cities such as Hangzhou, capitial of Zhejiang and Suzhou of East China's Jiangsu Province.

Meanwhile, Davide D'ambrosi from Italy will be arriving in China over the holiday to join his fiancee Wang Qun to celebrate Spring Festival in Shangpan county of Zhejiang, Wang's hometown.

"I'm going to meet my girlfriend's parents at her village. There, they will take me to temples since I'm Buddhist and they also want to teach me how to play mahjong and tai chi," he said. "I can't wait and I'm very excited!"

"I also know that Chinese people have to clean the house during the three days before the new year, so the whole family will work together in helping each other," D'ambrosi added.

An IT consultant by day, D'ambrosi attends a Confucius school after work to learn Putonghua. "I'm expecting to spend a relaxing time in this amazing county and to learn something more from ancient Chinese culture."

Understanding local traditions

Wang is not really concerned that her foreign fiance might not be able to understand local customs and village life.

"I like that he is willing to understand and accept us. It is true that the rural areas of China are very different than Europe, but he is willing to explore Chinese culture."

Likewise, Tomasz Merta from Poland has been living in China for four years. He used to spend Spring Festival in Shanghai as a student, but tended to get depressed over the long, quiet holiday week.

"I was pretty sad actually, because most of the restaurants and stores were closed. It was hard to find food or do anything," he sighed.

As most of his Chinese friends returned home for family reunions, Merta was left here alone and became bored. "It was just me and few of my foreign friends. Nothing interesting to do," he said. "If you don't have Chinese friends or you are not Chinese, then you just kind of feel lonely."

Traveling around during Spring Festival was not an option for him either, because the price of all train and airline tickets surge, and many touristic places become extremely crowded.

This year, Merta has made it a point to try something different. He told the Global Times that he is joining his new Chinese girlfriend to return to her hometown in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality. "So I will finally have the experience of what it feels like for Chinese," he smiled.

Merta has his own understandings about this ancient tradition. "I like the idea that, no matter where you are or what job you are doing, you will still go back to your hometown to meet your family. It's kind of a special time reserved for that matter," he said.

Stephen Hook


Tomasz Merta


Wang Qun and Davide D'ambrosi


Yang Yang and David Costa Photos: Lu Ting/GT and courtesy of the interviewees



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