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My wife Jing, son, and I spent the 2012 Chinese New Year with Jings family in Shanghai, China.
It was a special New Years for us, not only because it ushered in the auspicious Year of the
Dragon but also because it marked a first for our familythe first time we had been together
with Jings family in China for the holiday. My wife had not spent New Years with her family in
almost two decades, and it would be the first time my son and I joined them. The happy hearts
and big smiles of my in-laws when we arrived January 21 foretold a joyous reunion.
We arrived in Shanghai the day before New Years Eve. We spent some time January 22 getting
ready for the evenings festivities, which promised to be the grandest of a weeks worth of New
Years celebrations. We went shopping and bought fireworks and red and gold holiday
decorations, including the Come Luck (fu) symbol, to enhance the festive atmosphere. The
weather hovered below freezing in the urban confines of Shanghai, where concrete buildings
with ceramic tile faades sucked any vestiges of heat from the air, but the holiday buzz warmed
our souls.

We spent New Year Eves with family at my in-laws home. Her father, mother, sister, brother-
in-law, and nephew joined us. When we arrived, my brother-in-law, Song, took us outside to
blow off a string of firecrackers and light up some sparklers. My son and his cousin had a blast.

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My mother-in-law, Ma, prepared a cacophony of Chinese dishes that ranged from fish in sauce
for Song to soy sauce meatballs for my son. The meal was delicious. My father-in-law, Ba, Song,
and I offered toasts with shots of Maotai baijiu, a 120-proof Chinese liquor, and wished each
other and our families health, wealth, and love. The others sipped Changyu, a Chinese brand of
red wine.

After dinner, the family moved over to the couches to watch the annual New Years variety
show broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV). The glitzy show beloved by many Chinese
featured over five hours of skits, songs, and other entertainment, a tried-and-true formula used
for years. The quality of the production had undoubtedly improved and become more hip
than it had been when my wife was young.

An hour before midnight the fireworks started in earnest. We took a break from the TV show to
give gifts of hong bao (red envelopes with money) to the children. The adults took turns sitting
in chairs as my son and his cousin each bowed to us and politely asked for envelopes. My
nephew recited a common Chinese New Year phrase, , ? (in pinyin,
gongxi fai cai, hong bao na lai) roughly translated as Wishing you a prosperous New Year.
May I have my red envelope? I enjoyed the ritual of the hong bao and thought that it trumped
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Christmas gift giving because the kids had to pay homage to their elders before getting their
gifts (not to mention that its easier to give cash in an envelope than buy and wrap a gift).

Just before midnight, Ba and Song ignited a long string of firecrackers outside the apartment
that exploded with deafening pops, adding to the sound of the fireworks booming around us.
Thankfully, they did not blow off the remaining packages of firecrackers until the fifth day of
the Chinese New Year.
At midnight, we looked out the bay window of my in-laws home and watched the most
amazing fireworks display Ive ever seen. Fireworks were exploding everywhereon rooftops,
out the windows of high-rise buildings, and on the ground in the streets and alleys between
buildingseverywhere. It was a beautiful 360-degree, three-dimensional light show unlike any
Id seen in the West. We heard the sounds of pop, pop, pop in all directions! Considering that
the Chinese invented gunpowder and fireworks, its understandable why they went over the
top using pyrotechnics to ring in the New Year. The din of the fireworks died down around
12:30 in the morning. We finally left the in-laws at 1 a.m. and headed back to where we were
staying, picking our way carefully in the streets to avoid being hit by stray fireworks.

On New Years Day, after we had recuperated from the previous nights festivities, we visited
the Temple of the Town God (Chunghuamiao) to see the lighting of the lanterns that adorned
the decorated floats in a pond near the temple. Dedicated to the protector spirits that guard
the city, the temple itself lay in the middle of one of Shanghais most popular commercial
districts. Thousands of visitors, mostly Chinese, had the same idea as we and converged on this
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popular area to take in the holiday atmosphere. The strings of lights, red lanterns with gold
tassels, and traditional Chinese architecture at Chunghuamiao were simply spectacular, but the
place was numbingly overcrowded. I had never seen so many people packed into one place
even considering that China had more than 1.2 billion people! The crowds put a damper on my
mood.

On January 24, we visited my wifes childhood home in northeast Shanghai. This fell in line with
the Chinese tradition that a married daughtermy wifespend time with her family on the
second day of the New Year. We arrived at the low-rise apartment, which still looked much the
same as it did when my wife grew up there, and walked around. Jing and her sister reminisced
about growing up there, showing us where they used to play and some of the fun things they
liked to do as children.
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My young nephew and son werent so interested in the family history but enjoyed Yangpu Park,
one of Shanghais larger parks located across the street from my wifes former home. The boys
had fun doing on some amusement rides and kiddie activities. Jing and her sister revisited a
Chinese pavilion near a pond, a picturesque stone bridge, and other places in the park etched in
their memories. I enjoyed watching couples ballroom dancing in the frigid cold.

Spending time with family and friends is an important aspect of Chinese New Year and a major
reason why we visited Shanghai during winter. We spent the third day of the New Year, January
25, with my wifes uncle, Xiao Shushu, his wife, and relatives Erhong Jiujiu and his wife. We
gathered around the table at my in-laws home for another delicious Chinese spread prepared
by Ma and listened to the relatives talk about the past. They told touching stories of how
difficult it had been for them in the old days. Life was better now.
On the fourth day of the New Year, January 26, we went with family to the self-proclaimed
Venice of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao, a beautiful village not far from the city. Founded over 1,700
years ago, the village was a smorgasbord of traditional Chinese architecture, including a
Buddhist temple and a Temple of the Town God, canals and waterways, stone arch bridges, and
wooden oar-powered tour boats. Dragon boats sailed in the canals and red lanterns festooned
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the streets. While we enjoyed the festive atmosphere, the crowds were horrific. We thought
we were going to be crushed in an alleyway but eventually wiggled our way out of town.

Following our tour of Zhujiajiao, we met some cousins for a meal at the Xibei Oat Noodle
Restaurant in Shanghai. Influenced by flavors from the Middle East brought to China via the Silk
Road, the northeastern Chinese cuisine served was simply delectable. My brother-in-law noted
that I enjoyed the roasted lamb, green salad, and pita bread more than the sweeter and
seafood-laden Chinese cuisine preferred by Shanghainese.
After dinner, we went to the cousins home, where we joined them for a traditional Chinese tea
ceremony. The oolong and barley teas were soothing to the tongue and light on the stomach.

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On the evening of the fifth day of the Chinese New Year, January 27, the fireworks started again
in earnest as the residents of Shanghai welcomed the arrival of the god of wealth and success,
Guan Yu. Some believed that making noise would attract his attention and bring them
prosperity, so the fireworks continued unabated for the next 24 hours. I did not sleep well that
night, tossing and turning as the noise makers rattled outside our window all night long.
We concluded our seventh and final day of the Chinese New Year shopping and spending time
with family. My wife bought some nice New Years decorations for our home. In the evening,
my brother-in-law took us for a family meal at a Korean restaurant that he thought would
satisfy my western tastes. The Korean bulgogi, kimchi, and other dishes from the Land of the
Morning Calm hit the spot. Jings family joined us for one more meal before we headed home.

We returned to Bangkok on January 28
exhausted from a weeks worth of
celebrating the Year of the Dragon. The
intensity and excitement of the
occasion was unforgettable. Through
the family gatherings, traditions, foods,
fireworks, and trappings of the season,
I glimpsed the heart and soul of the
Chinese people. The experience was so
profound that I spent the next couple
of weeks at home in peace and quiet
contemplating what it all meant. I will
never fully understand this cultural
event, but it is now a part of me.

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M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and
science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is
author of Kilimanjaro: One Mans Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction
account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africas highest
mountain, and a short story collection called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of
Short Stories. He also wrote and illustrated Alexander the Salamander, Ellie
the Elephant, and Zoe the Zebra, three books in the World Adventurers for
Kids Series, and a 3-in-1 collection featuring all three. His books are
available in e-book and print from Amazon.com and other booksellers.
Edwards graduated from the University of Washington with a masters
degree in China Studies and a Master of Business Administration. He lives
in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.
For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit www.mgedwards.com or contact him at
me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.
2014 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or
transmitted without the written consent of the author.

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