Happy Chinese New Year! On the Gregorian calendar (no, it's not named after me in any way), the calendar which is used in the universal time codes for things like earthquake recordings, Chinese New Year's eve is January 28th, and Chinese New Year's Day is January 29th. This is definitely the holiday season, here. I can feel it. In fact, I've been feeling it all year round, since people have been talking about it since before I got here: "will you be there for Chinese New Year this time?" And then, for the last couple of months, the questions and planning and discussions have been going on pretty constantly, with the frequency getting higher as we neared this day. In the last couple of days, discussions of hongbao (red envelope that contains money) have really increased. The guys in the group that I call my "sons" started demanding hongbao (meaning money), and then I found another employee getting the hongbao ready for her and her husband's parents. I had them explain, and got a few more explanations from others, and came up with, in general, when you are a kid, you get hongbao from your parents and aunts and uncles, and then when you become an adult, it's payback time, with interest. . . You start giving it to your parents, especially if they are retired. Armed with this new information, I went back to my "sons" and started demanding hongbao from them! Of course, none of us were serious, but it sure helped to get some explanations about the finer points of who gives hongbao to whom. . .
Also, it seems that children get very demanding about this hongbao, which, to me, as a westerner, borders on downright rudeness, but doesn't appear to be taken in a rude way at all, here. I got a taste of this when I started saying "gong xi fa cai" to people, a phrase I'd learned more than 20 years ago from Jeannie, which means "congratulations, become rich" but is a common greeting that I had always thought simply meant "happy new year," since that's what everyone said to each other at this time. Anyway, now that I understand the translation, having the response be "hongbao na lai" something like saying "where is the red envelope?" makes a heck of a lot of sense. It's sort of like saying "I'm happy to have you contribute to my becoming rich", which no longer seems rude.
In Taiwan, you're supposed to go visit the parent's of the man's side of the family on New Year's eve and Day, and then on January 2nd (of the lunar calendar, so, January 30th on the Gregorian, this year), you're supposed to visit the parent's of the woman's side. This has a whole bunch of interesting ramifications. For example, this means that if you are Mom and Dad, you can expect to see all of your sons and their families on New Year's Day, and all of your daughters and their families on the 2nd, but you won't have ALL of your kids, together, during that time of year.
Since a big percentage of all of the people who live in Taipei are actually from somewhere else in Taiwan, and have only moved up here for their jobs, many families head down to their hometowns. No-where is *really* far in Taiwan, of course, but even a 5 hour ride is considered a fair distance for people like me, especially for just a couple of days. So, if you're a man and your family heads down to southern Taiwan to be with your side of the family, and your wife is from the north of Taiwan, this could present a problem, and, indeed, does, for many families, since this January 2nd at the wife's family is a very, very strong tradition (no matter if you spend most of the rest of the year near your wife's family! People can be very irrational when traditions are concerned. . .). For all of those folks who married someone from their hometown, they get to avoid this mess.
I've heard a few firecrackers, but not what I'd been expecting. I hope to stay up to midnight to see if anything special happens, then, but I'm suspecting not, since the new year celebrations seem much more about spending time being with the family. I seem to remember that this is supposed to be a 10 day festival, but that, in the new era, lots of people just take the week off, and certainly all of the companies give the week off. I met a couple of Americans flying to Taiwan for the holiday, so that they could do all of the maintenance to various equipment while everyone was on holiday. It was funny, since their perspective is always of a Taiwan in festival. . .
Speaking of Chinese New Year, and family. . . here is a picture of parents, my brother, and me, taken on my parent's 49th wedding anniverary, taken in Michigan, at my Brother's house (I didn't notice, but it's kind of cute that there is an anniversary clock in the background, above my head - how fitting). leora