By THEO ROBIE
NANJING — There are only two viable options for foreigners who happen to be in China during the Chinese New Year holiday, chun jie. One of them is to go and spend chun jie with a Chinese family. This option carries with it two of the three negative aspects I am about to discuss, but as long as the family you’re with aren’t a bunch of jerks, you can expect to receive at least a couple thousand RMB in shiny red envelopes, which eases the pain slightly. The other viable option is to just leave China, which is what I did this year.
Some people, however, make the mistake of staying in China alone. As you may have heard, all Chinese people go home for chun jie, turning bustling cities like Nanjing into ghost towns. HNC student Kevin Pond elected to stay in Nanjing this chun jie, citing the lack of a Chinese girlfriend and no extra funds for traveling as reasons for staying. “I was the maddest I’ve ever been,” said Kevin as he discussed the exponentially longer hold time when ordering McDonald’s delivery, due to lack of staff. This brings me to number three: Eating. If you elect to stay in China during chun jie and you aren’t with a Chinese family, you will die of starvation, as poor Kevin nearly did. Nothing is open, anywhere. All of the employees and all of their bosses went home. “I was forced to capture and eat stray animals,” complained Kevin. This sort of action put Kevin at great risk of contracting diseases such as diarrhea and ebola.
If one does manage to get in with a Chinese family for chun jie, there are still many other things to worry about. Number two on the list is sleeping. If you are in China during chun jie, you can’t sleep. This is because for an entire week straight, Chinese people feel the need to set off completely inappropriate amounts of fireworks. It must be good luck to set them off at three or four in the morning because they really pick up around that time. “I’m the maddest I’ve ever been,” I said three years ago while spending chun jie with a Chinese family in Hunan province. The ground outside was covered in a ten-centimeter thick carpet of red firework paper. Chinese people don’t get the lame sparklers either; they go for the big ones, what we’d call M80s back home. Linked chains of them, by the hundreds. Completely illegal in most states.
Actually, chun jie is the only time of year when, for a short period, fireworks are allowed to be lit within the limits of the fifth ring road in Beijing. But in reality, it’s a blatant conspiracy. Every chun jie, CCTV news reports that the elevated pollution levels in Beijing are caused by fireworks alone. Which brings me to number one: Breathing. When you are in China during chun jie, you can’t breathe. “I’m the maddest I’ve eve- …oh wait, I’m dead,” one recently deceased expat said. Pollution levels are elevated to an outrageous extent during the winter months, as millions of people crank up their coal-fired, power plant-fed heaters. The fireworks just exacerbate the problem, leading to PM2.5 levels well over 1000 for the entire week in many places (1000 is twice as high as the charts even go). China’s own government has even been kind of open to starting to allow people to talk about possibly admitting that there may in fact be an air pollution thing in China. A new documentary titled “Under the Dome” is being hailed as “China’s ‘Inconvenient Truth,’” and has even been endorsed by some important people somewhere.
So to sum things up, if you are in China during chun jie, you cannot eat, sleep or breathe. And you’re dead. So it goes.