在北京过年 / Spring Festival in Beijing

在北京过年

在北京欢度春节,迎接蛇年的到来是件再惬意不过的事情。

在这一年一度的特殊时刻,人们所有的期待恰好都和“F”打头的英文单词有关:家人(family)、朋友(friends)、美食(food)、水果(fruit)、烟花(fireworks)、风水(fengshui)、节庆(festivities)、好运(fortune),还有烟雾(fog,这是对爆表的严重空气污染很客气的说法)。

走在CBD空旷的大街上,我感觉恍如隔世,不禁想起20年前北京街道上空空荡荡的样子。那时候,北京的大街上只有自行车、公共汽车,还有屈指可数的几辆汽车、卡车、或者马车,人们看起来都是一幅不慌不忙的样子。 

Spring Festival in Beijing

Spending the Spring Festival holiday in Beijing welcoming the New Year of the Snake was most enjoyable.

It was punctuated by all the usual “F” words one expects at this very special time of year: family, friends, food, fruit, fireworks, feng shui, festivities, fortune, and fog (a euphemism for off-the-charts bad air pollution).

I felt a sense of déjà vu while walking on the empty streets of the Central Business District. It reminded me of 20 years ago when Beijing’s streets were nearly empty except for bicycles, buses, and a smattering of cars and trucks, or horse-drawn carts. In those days, no one seemed to be in much of a hurry.

90年代初,在早高峰时段,北京饭店对面的长安街街景 / Beijing’s Changanjie opposite the Beijing Fandian during morning rush hour, early 1990s

如今,北京交通拥堵已是众所周知的常态,只有在重大节日时才能还道路以清静。

春节长假期间,2,000多万北京人中约有900万人会离开京城返乡过年。

还有1,100万人会留下来过节。但据我非详尽、非科学的统计,这些人大都会宅在家里看电视、包饺子。所以,大街基本就成了我和太太的专享。

(相比之下,节日期间香港720万人口中只有50万人会离港外出。剩下的670万港人,有些可能在商店、酒店和餐馆里忙着接待大陆来的游客。春节假期,前往香港的大陆游客共计约75万人。)

节日期间,北京路广车稀,人们甚至不用左顾右盼就能轻松穿越马路。要是在平日,情况可要差得很多。在大的路口,行人即使是按照信号灯过马路,仍要提防疯狂的司机从四面八方疾驶而来。

北京曾是行人和自行车的乐土。年轻的北京人并不知道,其实20年前北京还是那个样子。但现在变化实在是太大了,而且变化的速度也比我可以想见的任何一个城市都要快。

我喜欢几乎所有中餐,只对少数气味、味道或材质特殊的菜肴敬而远之(比如臭豆腐、海参和凤爪)。还有些菜出于道德的原因我也不会碰(比如鱼翅和其他濒危物种)。

不过,无论哪种菜系都比不上家里其乐融融的家常菜。过节期间,我都数不清自己到底吃了多少个饺子,但怎么也得有一个“营”那么多。不管是煮的饺子还是炸的锅贴,都特别香。

四个多小时的电视春晚节目也是中国春节的一大特色。每年,我的中国朋友都会和家人一起收看这档马拉松晚会。他们离不开这个节目,就像美国人离不开超级碗橄榄球赛一样。每年他们都会抱怨节目的质量不断下降,但他们仍会看足四个小时,真是挺有意思的。

我通常不会连续四个小时收看任何一档电视节目,但我会问问大家对今年节目的看法。

最常见的答案是:“不如去年。”每年我听到的答案基本都是这样。

我问今年有什么亮点,许多人都提到了郭德刚的相声,说他用喜剧的方式针砭时弊,表达了人们对腐败现象和滥用公款的深恶痛疾。

一位久居欧洲、会多国外语的中国北方女士表达了批评意见。她特别不喜欢那三位受邀演唱中国歌曲的孔子学院的外国学生,说他们“唱得太差劲了。”

她说更差劲的是歌曲传递的信息就像是早年间的宣传口号——“我们的朋友遍天下”。在她看来,只不过是改成了新版的“我们的学生遍天下。”

我反驳说,在世界很多国家,学习汉语课程,包括参加孔子学院的人数的确是在迅速增加。但她回答说:“这不是关键。问题是这里表现出的唯我独尊与中国的传统价值背道而驰。”

这种看法很有意思。您怎么看这个节目呢?

As is well known, nowadays, the typical daily traffic situation in Beijing is non-stop traffic jams. It takes a major national holiday to empty the streets.

An estimated 9 million people, out of the total population of 20 million-plus, left Beijing for their home towns to spend the long Lunar New Year holidays with their families.

That left about 11 million people still in Beijing for the holiday. According to my (not) extensive (not) scientific research, most of these stayed at home watching TV and eating dumplings. As a result, me and my wife had the streets mostly to ourselves.

 

(By way of comparison, only 500,000 of Hong Kong’s 7.2 million population left the S.A.R. during the holidays. It’s likely that some of the remaining 6.7 million residents were busy serving mainland tourist visitors in shops, hotels and restaurants. During the New Year holiday period, about 750,000 mainland tourists visited Hong Kong.)

There was so little traffic in Beijing during the holidays, we could jaywalk without looking either way. This is in sharp contrast to the usual situation, where even if you obey the pedestrian crossing signals at major intersections, you still cross the street while fearing for your life, as all sorts of wild drivers career at you from every which way.

Beijing used to be a fun and accessible city for pedestrians and bicyclists alike. Younger Beijingers don’t realize this was still the situation even 20 years ago. The change is really phenomenal and took place within a much shorter time frame than any other city I can think of.

I love almost all types of Chinese food, with the exception of a few whose smell, taste or texture turn me off (e.g. stinky beancurd, sea cucumbers, chicken feet), and a few I won’t eat for ethical reasons (shark’s fin, and other endangered species).

As in most cuisines, it’s very hard to beat good Chinese home cooking, enjoyed in the warmth of a relaxed family environment. I lost count of how many dumplings I ate during the holiday, but it was at least a battalion’s worth. So delicious, both the boiled “jiaozi” and the fried “guotie”.

The 4-hour long Spring Festival national TV program (“chun wan jie mu”) is another special feature of China’s celebration of the Lunar New Year. Every year, my Chinese friends and family watch this marathon broadcast. They wouldn’t miss it, like Americans watching the Super Bowl. Every year, they complain about its declining quality. But they still watch it, all four hours of it. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

I can’t usually sit through 4 continuous hours of any kind of TV programming, so instead, I asked people what they thought of this year’s program.

The most common answer: “Worse than last year, ” which is roughly the same answer I get every year.

I asked about any highlights. Several people mentioned Guo Degang’s cross-talk performance as a comic highlight with a bit of a satirical edge to it, making jibes at corruption and mis-use of public funds.

One criticism came from a northern Chinese woman who has been living in Europe for some years and speaks several foreign languages. She was particularly critical of the three foreign students from Confucius Institutes who were invited to sing Chinese songs. “Terrible singers” she said.

Worse still, she said, the message seemed to be similar to the old propaganda billboard which proclaimed ‘We have friends all over the world’ (“women de pengyou bian tianxia”). In her view, it looked like the new message is ‘We have students all over the world.(“women de xuesheng bian tianxia”)’

I countered that enrollment in Chinese language classes is indeed growing sharply in many parts of the world, including in Confucius Institutes. Her response: “That’s not the key point. It was a display of arrogance, which conflicts with traditional Chinese values.”

Interesting viewpoint. What did you think of the program?

 


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