Qingdao was cold, but it had heating. Huanggang didn’t. I had forgotten the Chinese rule that south of Shanghai, regardless of the frigid weather, the government did not supply heating to the cities. Either you buy your own heaters, or you wear a parka for the whole winter.
Queenie’s family did have one main heater, but that was used in the baby’s room (which was perfectly acceptable). They had another portable heater in the living room which they only used once while I was there (which I found somewhat troubling). And they provided a heating blanket for me, which was my daily companion.
Most days I would wake up and see my breath vaporize in front of me. That was a sign I would be using the blanket. Even when the sun did shine, it seemed like its rays never penetrated the apartment. Concrete and plaster aren’t great insulation.
We arrived the day before Spring Festival. I had hoped to buy some fireworks, but the Huanggang government had banned them (unfortunately I couldn’t find any black market fireworks stands). For lunch we ate with Queenie’s parents, her brother, his wife Yi Wen, and her parents. I did one toast with Yi Wen’s father, but after that, I was done with baijiu.
For dinner, we all went to Yi Wen’s parents’ house for the New Year’s meal. I had expected a feast, but it was more of a hot pot with vegetable side dishes. Yi Wen’s mom filled a crockpot with meatballs, seafood, and green vegetables. On the side were some more vegetables I didn’t recognize. Not bad for a meal, but not the feast I had expected either. After the meal, I wanted to play some games with the family, but a Chinese military TV show beat me out.
Later Queenie and I walked around a park that had some brightly lit Chinese New Year displays on land and on the lake. On the way back to her brother’s place, I had hoped to find some fireworks, but no luck this time. At least we had a good talk together.
Once we got back, the Spring Gala had already begun. It was an annual TV show for the Chinese New Year that most families watched the night before the New Year celebrations. I enjoyed the dancing, but the comedy sessions were beyond my HSK level. Queenie’s mom quit watching before midnight, and so did her brother and Yi Wen. Only Queenie, her dad, and I were left.
Queenie had fallen asleep, and I was joining her when the fireworks began exploding nearby. Chinese New Year had come with a bang. I had nearly missed it. In fact, all I could think about was going to bed and snuggling with my heating blanket. I must be getting old.
The next morning I woke up and sensed something different. Of course, it was the first day of the Year of the Rooster. If a rooster had woken me up early, I may have strangled it. But I was glad to celebrate another new year. And Micah (Yi Wen’s baby) was celebrating too. In fact, he didn’t understand why his parents and grandparents were giving him these bright red envelopes with some money inside. He couldn’t eat it, and he couldn’t play with it either. But they seemed happy. So he smiled and played along.
I’m not sure what parents do with all the money their children are given on New Year’s day. But if my child was too young to know what money was, I think I’d have a nice vacation with my family that year or perhaps take my wife out to a fancy restaurant. Can’t let the money be wasted.
It’s good to be a child for Chinese New Year. Everybody gives you money, and you don’t have to give anything back. Once you’re an adult though, the roles are reversed. You’re the giver, and no one gives back to you. You’re expected to give money to your parents, nieces, nephews, and some aunts and uncles too. If I were Chinese, I would have gone into bankruptcy before I finished college. And not because of college loans.
For most Chinese, this is the only holiday when they see their extended family, and for some, their nuclear family. So if you do give, you’re expected to be generous. At least $100-200. Others give thousands of dollars. I’m not sure when hongbao (red envelopes filled with money) began, but I have begun to appreciate Christmas much more.
It seems more equitable. You give presents to friends and family, and they give some to you, no matter how old you are. At any rate, it was amusing to watch baby Micah receive all that hongbao. He was oblivious but liked the attention. In a few days, we would travel to visit some relatives. I think Micah hadn’t seen the last of those red envelopes.