It is New Years day... yes in the middle of February. You can tell by the fireworks going off outside.
About a week ago it felt like it was starting to get warmer. Then the temperature dropped suddenly and on the night of the seventh it snowed. The morning of the eighth everything was white. The whole world was covered by a blanket of snow about five to six inches thick. This seemed like a lot of snow to me. But then snow that is still there after 10:00 am seems like a lot to me. The snow did melt but slowly. About half was gone before I came home that evening and all that remained this morning was a bit of dandruff at the tops of the bushes and gate posts
I've decided not to travel during Spring Festival. I made this decision in October and unlike other similar decisions I'm keeping to this one. I like traveling, of course, but what I don't like is standing shoulder to shoulder with at least three hundred other people crammed into a decaying and crumbling old building; waiting for a train to arrive forty minutes after it was supposed to be there; trying not to get pushed down as a hundred Chinese people attempt to shove their way by even though the train still isn't there because they don't seem to understand that the three hundred of us already standing there aren't really standing so close together just because we all really like each other. They also don't understand that there is, in fact, not only no room to squeeze through but really nowhere in front to go even if you could squeeze through because that space is already occupied by the people who already squeezed through two hours ago.
That may be a long sentence or two but it's no more crammed full of words than the average train station in China was crammed full of people yesterday evening. Travel is great but the peak travel seasons in China are insanity. I've decided that the two pieces of advice that I got from Chris and Joe my first year here are probably the best. Each of them gave completely separate suggestions. Both of which I now feel are perfectly valid. I recall Joe saying that if I stayed in Wuhan I would be fine. At the same time Chris offered that if I was going to travel during Spring Festival then I should get the hell out of China.
At the time I didn't understand this but I do now. Spring Festival for the Chinese is essentially Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day, and the Fourth of July; all squeezed into one and fortified with Schedule I psychedelic substances and Lance Armstrong like blood transfusions. With just a tablespoon of Chili paste and a glug of soy sauce for flavoring. Sauce will thicken on standing.
I'm sitting in my kitchen as I'm typing this. Every few seconds or so one of my neighbors sets off a battery of either firecrackers or fireworks. If I walk out onto my back porch I get to see the night sky light up a dozen different colors as the rockets fired by my neighbors illuminate the omnipresent cloud of pollution which tonight casts an iridescent glow over Wuhan's skyline. It is a terrifyingly beautiful sight punctuated by the staccato pops of firecrackers and the whistling screams of rockets and the rich smell of gunpowder.
For this past week everyone's been asking me what I would do during my five days off. They're always surprised when I tell them I have no plans and that I'm not going anywhere. Students and Student Advisers alike continuously ask me if I'm going home for Spring Festival. The idea of not going home during this time is as foreign to them as I am. I have to explain the time limitations as well as how much a plane ticket costs (and that if I did go home I wouldn't have the money to come back) and sometimes they still don't understand. Oh well. Despite all these explanations I've no doubt that when classes continue the same people will be asking me if I WENT home instead of if I'm GOING home. Though they will likely not actually use the pass tense form of the verb when they ask.
My plans for the next five days are actually fairly simple. I've spent the day at Starbuck's (amazingly they were open) studying the 100 most common Chinese radicals. These aren't whole words or even characters (well, most of them aren't) but they're little parts of words that can be squished and glued and mangled together to form a character. There are about 214 common radicals but from what I've read the first 100 are used about 90% of the time. Tomorrow I'm going to review these before starting on the 155 most common words (which the Chinese government conveniently uses for their HSK level 1 tests). Once I feel like I know these (or most of them) I'm going to try to learn how to memorize a pack of playing cards in less than five minutes because even though it's a pointless skill I actually think it would be fun to be able to do it. So that is basically my plan for the next few days. I realize that this may seem rather dull to most people but to be honest I'm just excited to have five days in which no one is going to ask me questions like "Do you married?" or "Can you... ne ge... use... ne ge... ne ge... chopsticks?"