It’s hard to explain the day-to-day experience of Chinese New Year in Beijing. It’s not at all like the Chinatown celebrations I’m used to back in New York. Or even the ones in Manila. It’s not quite like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Not like July Fourth, or the Western New Year. It’s a bit of all of these celebrations, but nothing like them.
First, you have to imagine a city of millions emptied out. The streets, once so busy and overcrowded, feel deserted. Not a ghost town, but a ghost megacity. I wrote more about it for the Huffington Post, but it’s a surreal experience, especially now as the city is picking up again. I was here briefly enough to forget just how busy it was a few weeks ago.
Then, you have to imagine fireworks everywhere. Not in the American sense, with controlled explosions and shows, and not even in Philippine sense, with haphazard fireworks around town on New Year’s Eve. The explosions are large and small, in different corners of the city. The sprinkle the sky and dust the streets. They’re random. I could be walking down the street when suddenly it feels like the entire hutong (胡同), or alleyway, is blowing up. And it’s constant, early in the morning and then again as soon as the sun goes down, for the entirety of two weeks, in every part of the city.
Jonah Kessel’s come pretty close to capturing what it feels like.
But maybe journalist Mark MacKinnon said it best: