After last year’s Spring Festival non-event, we didn’t have high hopes for this one. People had told us that Chinese New Year out in the provinces could be a lot of fun, but we had learned (the hard way) in Beijing that it was a family holiday. With millions of people migrating from the cities to spend time with their families in the country, some of these farmhouses would already be pushed to the limit, and we certainly didn’t want to intrude.
We soon found out there was no need to worry. On New Year’s Eve, we were walking through a village north of Yulin when we spotted a beautiful old farm house behind some open gates. We stopped for a second to admire the wooden beams and tiled roof, when a 20-year-old girl appeared from inside. We were eager to see the rest of the house and to see how families were spending the day, so when she invited us in we gladly followed.
Liu Liangxia (on left), grandpa, dad and mum enjoying the food
This was to be the first New Year’s Eve event we were invited to. On this occasion it seems we were treated to the family meal, or one of them – dishes of chicken, goat, fish, meatballs, pork, rice and vegetables. Fish, we found out afterwards, is a special Spring Festival dish and is not to be finished. Well that was easy, there was so much food nothing was finished.
Liu Liangxia’s brother (in the middle), younger sister (in green vest), neighbours and rest of the family say goodbye
It was tempting to stick around the Lius’, but lunch was served late and finished later. We didn’t want it to become so dark they would feel obliged to invite us to stay the evening, so we headed out shortly after the meal was finished.
Our next port of call was the home of Gong Li Ping, who rescued us from the oncoming darkness as we wandered the streets of the village of Daheta looking for an open guesthouse. Not only did he give us a room, a heater and a kettle behind his restaurant, but he insisted, over and over, that we spend New Year’s with him and his family.
Gong Li Ping, Brendan’s “younger brother”
Again we worried a bit about stumbling in where we weren’t entirely wanted, and again it quickly became clear our worries were misplaced – as people gradually filtered in, we realised that what Mr Gong had in mind was not a quiet evening with the wife and kids, but the biggest, most raucous party in town (see the photo at the top of the post).
She always has to be the centre of attention, doesn’t she?
Emma with some of the village kids. Mr Gong’s 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son are at the front
By about 6 pm, there were probably 15 people in the restaurant, eating home-roasted peanuts, sunflower seeds, jujubes, apples and noodles. Mr Gong broke out the dice and the bai jiu (the national drink for Chinese men – 45% or more grain alcohol), and the drinking games began. While Emma got away with sipping tea and beer, Brendan’s manly pride was too great for him to take the easy road – until after a particularly bad losing streak, when it was agreed, by all who voted, that whenever Brendan subsequently lost, his wife would sing a song.
Once we’d had enough to drink to make things dangerous, we went out to set off fireworks
Boys and fireworks – so that’s why they’ve been banned in Australia
By 10 the party had outgrown Mr Gong’s restaurant, so we all moved to the house next door. While the New Year’s CCTV television extravaganza blared in the background, people took turns dancing, singing and doing magic tricks. When the clock struck 12, there must have been about 30 or 40 people crammed into the main living room, from children as young as 10 to Grandma, who was above 80.
This lady definitely won the prize for best, and most attractive, magician
And this one for best singer, a la Beijing Opera
Brendan chatting up Grandma (never mind the man in the middle, he’s just the village banker)
A “changing faces” performance, again a la Beijing Opera
She may not be able to sing, but she’s got some moves
As always, people were excited to have us join them and made us feel very welcome, but what was a bit different and quite nice about this night was that it was a party for everyone. So often we are the spectacle, and crowds gather around us (which is fun, of course, most of the time). On this night we were just part of the crowd, and it was great to able to fit in, more or less like anybody else, and to have the language ability, albeit simple, to socialise for the evening. (One unfortunate consequence of this, however, is that there was simply too much happening for us to get people’s names right, so almost everyone in the captions will have to go unnamed for this post.)
When we left the next morning we felt a bit sad, and it wasn’t just that we had 25 kilometres to walk and fuzzy heads. Two of the men had declared themselves Brendan’s younger and older brothers and the women and girls had spent the better part of an hour taking photos with Emma. It sure beat New Year’s in Beijing by a long way.
They didn’t even let a late night stop them from seeing us off