This is an actual email I sent to my students today. I thought it also might be useful to any first time Spring Festival-ers out there.
Tonight is the beginning of Spring Festival. It’s one of the craziest, happiest, and most exciting nights in the Chinese calendar, and I hope that you all have fun tonight celebrating the Year of the Snake*. As you are doing so, there are some things you can do to stay safe and healthy.
Be careful with fireworks. Think about the kind of attention Chinese manufacturers usually give to such things as “Quality Control” and “Product Safety.” Now look at the explosive device you are holding in your hand and which you just bought from some dude in a tent on the side of the road.
Fireworks are part of the culture and they can be fun, but every year the emergency room is filled with horrible injuries. They are often the kind of injury that will mean answering to new and interesting nicknames like “Lefty,” “Three-Finger Joe,” “No Scrotum Li,” and “Holyshitwhereisyourleg Wang.”
Be careful not to get caught by friendly fire or become collateral damage. I’ve seen people throwing exploding firecrackers out of fifth floor windows into the street below because it was “hen renao.” I’ve also seen people who are a little confused about which angle is suitable to fire a bottle rocket (Safety tip: That would be UP!). When walking around the city, keep your eyes open and be ready to hit the deck. Seriously.
Be careful with the Baijiu. First of all, it is perfectly appropriate (preferable, really) to say “no, thanks.” Your host will not think you are being rude if you decide to stick to Sprite. On the other hand, they WILL think you are being rude if you projectile vomit on their new sofa while sexually harassing their cat.
Second, baijiu is very much a “buy the ticket, take the ride” experience. Once you get on that train and it has left the station, it can be hard to get off. If you don’t think you can handle it, don’t start. Remember that it is something of a game in China to pressure people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do just to be part of the group. (See: Revolution, Cultural)
Finally, NEVER get into a car with somebody who has been drinking. The Beijing government is getting tougher about drinking and driving, but attitudes toward driving under the influence here are lax by US standards.** Caution is also necessary when traveling around the city or walking in the area around campus. It is an unfortunate reality that many drivers today and tomorrow will be lit up like a forest fire. Be especially careful of black Audis. Just trust me on this.
Have fun. Stay Safe. Happy New Year.
P.S. Yes, your host family will make you watch the 春节晚会. No, it’s not your imagination or the baijiu fumes…it really is that bad. Yes, it’s even worse this year than last.*** No, members of China’s ethnic minorities do not spend all of their time dancing and singing about how much they love the Party even if that’s what your host sister told you she learned in school. Yes, that is Celine Dion. No, I have no idea what she’s doing there either. Finally, yes…you MAY make fun of it. Everybody does.
*As Zodiac animals go, only people who were actually born in the Year of the Snake get excited about it. Souvenir sellers are especially hurting because let’s face it, everybody wants a stuffed monkey. Not everyone is cool with a toy serpent. Also there’s some history here. Past Snake Years are 1989 and 2001. ‘Nuff Said.
**Although last week a cop was so pissed at a petulant drunk driver that he pulled his gun. The cop is now a hero on the Chinese Interwebs.
***Score bonus points with your hosts by asking them if they think the show will be the same this year without Zhao Benshan.