Chinese New Year is in full swing and every year, it makes me take a trip down memory lane. On February 7, 2007, I boarded a plane to China. It was the first time that I left Austria for something longer than a holiday. Furthermore, it was the start of many years of travelling, moving across continents and my passion for Asia. When I sat down to write this Postcard today, I was a bit shocked. I just realized that it has been 15 years. Time really flies but I remember my arrival in China like it was yesterday.
Our flight had to land in Nanjing, about one flight hour from our final destination Shanghai, due to bad weather conditions. We landed on what I remember was a military airport – the military helicopters were parked right outside of our plane. We were not allowed to leave the plane and apart from one other French passenger, we were the only foreigners on the plane. Except for the usual instructions we hear on planes, the crew of the China Eastern Airlines flight did not speak any English. We had no idea what was going on. We travelled just before Chinese New Year. Before Covid, this was the busiest travel period in the whole country. Many Chinese moved towards the richer cities in the East to find work and rarely see their families. For many Chinese, this is the only time of year when they can take two to three weeks off and go home and see their families. Furthermore, many overseas Chinese come back home to celebrate the New Year with their families.
When we finally arrived in Shanghai, we stayed in a hotel near Fudan University. It was a foggy day, but I immediately forgot how tired I was from the flight when we started exploring. The famous Bund at the riverside was very different from what it is now. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed, because it was basically just a really wide road. I did not speak any Chinese apart from some greetings and saying thank you. But I was met with a lot of kindness and hospitality and even got to celebrate such an important time with the family of a Chinese friend. (You can read more about it here.) It all felt like an incredible adventure. Back then, I thought I would spend one semester in China and then head back to Austria, graduate, find a job and somehow get settled. Little did I know that there was so much more to come.
Five years later, I arrived for work in Shanghai at the beginning of January and again, I got spend Chinese New Year in the country. This time, it felt a bit different. I already spoke Chinese quite well and I did not feel as lost as in 2007. It still was an adventure, but I was more confident. Funnily enough, my office was just a few minutes away from Fudan University. But the city had changed a lot. The Bund looked polished – for the Expo 2010, the area had been renovated and restructured and did the incredible view of the Pudong Financial district area with all its skyscrapers justice. Before Chinese New Year, our company organized an event for all the employees – we rented out a big trade fair hall and for the dinner, staff members had prepared some dances. Management had to sing Chinese songs in front of everyone – our Chinese colleagues found our bad performance hilarious.
Most of the expats used Chinese New Year to travel but I was just in the middle of my visa process and could not travel. A friend of mine decided to fly down and spend the New Year with me in Shanghai. The big cities are relatively empty during this time of the year. Many shops close because their owners travel home. Just the major tourist spots are crowded with Chinese visitors. We explored the quiet city and celebrated with some expats who also decided to stay in Shanghai. On the main evening, we watched the fireworks (which were rather firecrackers with a few fireworks in between) and went to a party.
Over the years, I got to spend the Lunar New Year in a few cities in Asia. In Hong Kong, Chinese New Year was very similar, just with bigger fireworks. I really enjoyed the quiet time of the year. Hong Kong is an extremely social city and it was nice to have some time for myself for about a week interrupted by occasional sailing trips or barbecues. In Bangkok, Chinese New Year is usually one of the busiest travel times of the year and as the Lunar New Year is celebrated in many countries in Asia, the city is also in a festive mood.
Like in the West, the Lunar New Year stands for new beginnings. 2022 marks the Year of the Water Tiger and it is said to be a very prosperous one.
I wish you all the best for the Year of the Tiger and a great week ahead!