Saturday, February 4, 2017

Akiva Wanted an Outing

Welcome to the Year of the Fire Rooster! Rooster years tend to emphasize hard work; 'fire' highlights passion. For those in love, it would be a great year to marry... or to split up. Tempers are also a trademark of 'fire' years. For those considering a career change: go for it! The time is auspicious. 

This Rooster year is a good omen for my impending relocation/career move.

This is only the second year I've celebrated Chinese New Year in China. My first was in 2011, when I spent the holiday in Xi'an with the now-lost friend, Ken, and his family. The city sounded like it was under siege! Like an excited puppy I ran from window to window to take in as much of the fireworks as I could, while on television, the traditional New Year gala show played on.

A particularly attractive hostess wore a midnight blue gown and had her hair styled to resemble a bird's nest. I remember thinking how sad it was that the culture's biggest festival was celebrated in western garb, as opposed to the delicately sexy qipao (tchee pow) dress of the Tang dynasty, considered trademark Chinese style even today.

According to social media, the Chinese are fed up with the traditional gala show, whether the hostesses dress in Chinese or western clothing. They find it trite and boring, and would like to see more lively and up-to-date entertainment. Kind of reminds me of our school leaders, demanding better entertainment from their teachers.

Demanding better entertainment might be a trend, in China, these days.

This year, my second Lunar New Year in China, I made no special plans and accepted no invitations... not that there were many. No matter, though! After the stress of the past couple of weeks – trying to get  money stateside and interviewing for online teaching jobs, I was perfectly content to stay home and stream a few movies. I didn't want to watch the gala, but really wanted to witness the barrage of fireworks. I've not ever witnessed Wuhan's New Year fireworks display.

It wasn't anything to brag about.

A few minutes before midnight, the OTW (the community next to campus housing) set off some fireworks. I grabbed my phone and rushed up the 6 flights of stairs, to the roof. I wanted to video the show! Their arsenal was spent by the time I arrived... and I hadn't even stopped for breath on the way up.

I lingered in the frigid air, scanning the horizon – or, as much of it as I could see between the tall buildings, waiting and hoping for another scintillating display. I was disappointed.

The government had asked residents of major cities that are particularly affected by pollution to not set off so many fireworks. Instead of ringing in the new year with those loud, colorful explosions, as per tradition, it seems many in Wuhan complied with the request. Maybe the Chinese are more tired of dirty air than they revere ancient customs. Recalling my only other time, witnessing the new year in  China: it's 3-hour, ear-splitting barrage, I was sad that so dirty an environment could repeal centuries of ritual and glee.

I don't know what is sadder: the dirty environment or the repeal of the fireworks ritual.

Gary didn't do much for New Year, either. In fact, he did his best to avoid his family, participating/attending gatherings only minimally. In spite of his wedding, last year, he is still under substantial family pressure... now, to produce a child. The day after New Year, when, customarily, family ventures forth to visit other relatives and friends, laden with gifts, he and I set out for the ancient village of Da Yu Dun, about thirty-five kilometers from Wuhan.

Traffic was terrible! Gridlocked highways, taillights as far as the eye could see. Inching along, with cars driving on the shoulder and cutting other vehicles off without so much as a blinker. It took us 3 hours to get there.

After a few misleading directions from his GPS, we located the village, using road signs (go figure!). The empty parking lot should have been a clue, but that was not my friend's first concern. After a travel mug full of coffee while driving and a cup before leaving my house, Gary had urgent bathroom business to attend to! He dashed off, following restoom signs, only to find there was no restroom.

In fact, the whole site was under construction. The 'ancient village' touted on social media was, so far, just an idea. While Gary was tending to his need I scanned the large map that detailed the complex's particulars. Indeed, it promises to be a great tourist attraction... once it opens!

Who is Akiva?

For some reason, I have a strange habit of naming vehicles. I'd named all of my past cars; even my bike has a name. Seeing as I have no car in China but frequently ride in Gary's car, I dubbed her Akiva, using the letters from her license plate.

Now aimlessly driving around, Gary bemoaned the fact that he could not provide us with great, fun entertainment. In fact, he had stated upon arrival to my house that his New Year gift to me was a day of great fun; he would pay for everything (I gifted him a Adidas shower set). Finding the bright side, as is always my wont, and trying to cheer my friend up, I said: “Akiva wanted an outing. We're just along for the ride.” Rich laughter spewed forth, frown lines disappeared and Gary was once again enjoying the day. 

We tried our luck at nearby Mu Lan Mountain but again ran into: 1. the site was closed due to the holiday and 2. the wind, fierce in the valley we were in prior to driving up the mountain, was downright ferocious atop of it! The parking lot was dotted here and there with transports and a few brave souls wandered around. Gary stepped out to stretch his legs but gale force blasts soon sent him scurrying back into Akiva's warm interior.

“To heck with the countryside!” he proclaimed, easing Akiva down the switchbacks. “In the city is where we will have fun!” We headed to a shopping mall, briefly visited with one of his friends employed there, enjoyed a fine dinner and went home.

The short time spent at Da Yu Dun and atop Mu Lan mountain reminded me of how few actual relics  of a past time are still standing in China: Forbidden City and Drum Towers – in Beijing and Xi'an. Outside of tourist hot spots such as the Badaling Gate, even the Great Wall is crumbling. I refuse to visit the Yellow Crane Tower, Wuhan's trademark edifice, because it was reconstructed at its present site only some thirty years ago, moved from its original foundation next to the Yangtze river. Although the government is making great strides in recreating historic sites, I find it mildly depressing that they must be recreated in the first place, and won't be ancient for a few hundred years. Are these new constructions worthy of the reverence centuries-old structures are due?

I contend that they aren't.

Still, across the unfinished parking lot where Gary sought in vain for a bathroom; atop Mu Lan Mountain, in the shrieks of the gale and in the steady thrumming of Akiva's engine I heard: “This is the last New Year! The last outing! The last one... last... last... last...”

And all the modern/ancient buildings in China can't turn the clock back, as I inexorably move toward my departure, marking off my 'lasts'.


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