Dragon feasting

31 Jan

This year I was lucky enough to spend my lunar new year eve with Li and his parents.  His mother cooked up a storm – literally steamed up the windows- to deliver an amazing spread of classic Chinese dishes.  Li told me that some of these things were very familiar from his childhood, including a full array of organ meats that I have seen only a couple of times, one of which was two years ago when we also celebrated with his family.

There are cold dishes and hot dishes and if you look carefully at the following pictures you will not see any rice.  Rice tends to be what is offered at the end of the meal to fill you up if you haven’t had enough.  Since the food here was prepared for just the four of us to eat, the chance of that was nil and the rice stayed in the cupboard for the post new year’s detox that I will begin right after my holiday.  Every single one of my plates and bowls were used – there was literally nothing left in the cupboard that had not been used in prep or serving.  When we counted – there were eleven different kinds of meat used – including two types of shrimp, two types of fish and four types of poultry (chicken, pigeon, goose and duck).

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When I have asked friends and colleagues if there are special dishes that you must prepare, they came up remarkably short.  Several people mentioned that eating fish is good luck – fish is a symbol of prosperity and you can see it in the door decorations I posted several days ago.  I pressed – what kind of fish – how should it be served – no one really had the same answer.  For New Year’s morning it is tradition to serve dumplings (jiaozi), but for the big feast itself, relatively little guidance.  I’d say about half of my friends eat at home and the other half will book a table at a restaurant and let someone else do the prep.

The second part of the evening consisted of CCTV 1 annual new year’s television program.  You can bet that as everyone waits for the stroke of midnight, nearly 99% of the Chinese population is turned to this show to watch the comedians, singers and production numbers.  The following weeks the jokes will be parsed in day to day conversation and it can make someone’s career to get a place on the show.  The singing and production numbers aside, the comedy is still sometimes hard for me to follow.  The funniest tends to take place using Beijing dialect which is one strike against me and secondly it uses a lot of word play – akin to puns – that still leave me shaking my head.

The show finished, you enter the war zone.  About 5pm the stray fireworks and firecrackers start to go off and closer and closer to midnight the whole of Shanghai is turned into my view of what it would be like to be bombed or suffer from anti-aircraft fire.  The fireworks occur in more and more concentration – whistlers and big flowers and just noise.  There is no way to sleep, so I accepted it and sent text messages to people wishing them good luck in the new year.

Have you ever celebrated within a culture that you don’t consider your own? What things stick in your memory or what have you absorbed into your own celebrations?

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One Response to “Dragon feasting”

  1. valerie January 31, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Wow — what a feast!

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