Sunday, January 26, 2020

China: Chinese New Year of the Rat and Coronavirus

There is a dichotomy going on in China right now--exhilaration for a new year, a new beginning, achieving new dreams, but also a resolve to try and not to be afraid about a virus where the epicenter is in Wuhan, China. I guess, on a macro-level, that is the way we all feel--joy and excitement for dreams of a new year, but trying to be prepared--to not fear the future. And we all need each other to achieve the conflicting feelings that sometimes collide. The Chinese people are doing that right now: trying to be brave, joyous, and peaceful because they know it is a holiday they have been anticipating. It was supposed to be happy and festive. However, they are also nervous about a virus that has come to their country. So we celebrate here in China for a new year, but are conscious others are suffering... We celebrate a new year, knowing that every moment with loved ones is precious. 


Gathering as families is the main reason for the Chinese New Year. People work hard all year so they can travel to see their loved ones. Linking the generations together is very much a part of Chinese culture and philosophy. 

Here in Tianjin, China, everyone has been happily preparing for the year of the rat for about a month. You can read China: Preparing for the Year of the Rat (before the virus hit). Yet, when I left the hospital last night on New Year's Eve where my husband works, there was a pensive sadness in the air. A few days ago there was jubilation and cheer in everyone's faces--people chattering about the dishes they were preparing and spending time with their families. I was always being stopped again and again outside in the streets to exchange New Year's wishes. One old Chinese woman with just a few teeth wanted to practice her English on me as we crossed a busy intersection together. Now, there is not nearly the excitement.

Last night for New Year's Eve there was a noticeable, palpable fear--and we are far from the epicenter of the coronavirus. I smiled at everyone on the street and wished them a wonderful new year. But everyone was wearing a mask to protect them from the coronavirus. They wished me a great year ahead too, but I could not see smiles underneath the masks or hear the usual easy conversing. The day everyone had been preparing and waiting for felt different because we knew many people were scared and suffering.

As we hailed probably one of the last taxis that would pass by that street in hours, we felt lucky to chat with the taxi driver all the way to our New Year's Eve dinner. We decided to still attend since we knew many people had canceled their invitations. The roads were mostly empty. Restaurants that are usually kept open for people who don't want to cook were mostly closed. All the public events had been canceled in the parks.

I knew that many people who have been working hard all year long to see their family--especially the migrant workers in the city--will likely not make it home to their province or village. Most everyone is just staying in. At times like this, it is important to not panic but to listen to official news and enjoy the time to be together in our homes.

I was planning on a more jovial blog, but I did want to show some of the artistry and happiness of what was going on just before the virus came to China. I invite you to pray for China and all those who are affected by the coronavirus. Hopefully, smiles will soon return to everyone's faces soon, and we can all take off our masks.


Making dumplings is what most people eat at this time of year with their families in northern China. In fact, many families in the north make dumplings together a couple of times a month. They make the dough, filling, and then "bau" (or fold them together). The old and the young continue this tradition together--taking time to make them together, instead of boiling a bag of frozen dumplings. "Reunion" nights are very important in China. 

Some young girls at a pre-Chinese New Year show with traditional instruments. This night was about a week before Chinese New Year began and the virus started spreading.

A night of Chinese culture just before the Chinese New Year when everyone was more exuberant. This is a ten-year-old girl who is performing Chinese opera. 
Another picture of her. She was just adorable...



Shopping in a nearby market before the outbreak. The Chinese celebrate the vegetable, unlike any other place I have ever seen.

More shopping outside our apartment building. I bought enough for a couple of weeks since I knew many stores would be close. Now, I am glad I did because no one is going out now. 


At a well-known restaurant in Tianjin, where workers were getting ready for customers to buy packages or gifts for families from the restaurant. Gifts are very important to take to family gatherings and dinners.

One of my favorite traditions--people make their own banners for friends and family to hang on their windows and doors, instead of buying them. All the Chinese sayings wish blessings on families--to bring peace, joy, abundance, health, and longevity to them. I love these young boys a few days before New Year's making banners of us foreigners to view. 

A Chinese friend came to help me decorate my door a few days ago before everyone stopped going out. Two days before Chinese New Year's Day, the Chinese put up their banners welcoming in the New Year, and wishing everyone prosperity, blessings, health, and family joy


Rats are everywhere--stuffed rats, statues, cartoons, performers who are rats, little children dressed up like rats. It is hilarious, very playful, and fun.


At a park where all the 12 Zodiac animals have statues. This year, the rat rules. 
Interesting tidbit: The rat is the first of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. According to myth, the Jade Emperor organized a race for a group of animals on his birthday. He said whoever won the race could start out the Chinese zodiac sign. Legend goes that the rat climbed on the back of the ox, jumping off at the finish line to win first place. That is the reason the rat starts the Zodiac cycle. People who are born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1996, and 2008 are the sign of the rat.


On a frozen outlet of a pond near our home. Everyone was so happy to spend time together outside with loved ones. Again, just a few days before Chinese New Year's. There was such exuberance in the air. We were all so excited...

I love the way this older gentleman leads everyone out on the ice every day to play hockey near my home. 

A grandfather and son out just before everyone went inside. I love the way grandparents are such an integral part of Chinese children's lives. 

A little girl eating a favorite Chinese festive candy apple.


Going into a store to buy candy for Chinese friends, and to take them to gatherings. Red paper-cuts and banners adorn most of the windows.

We all laughed when a little robot came to try and serve us some candy.

The entire city is ablaze with red color to show the Chinese people's favorite color--a sign of luck and blessings. 
Excited to take off our masks soon....

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