Yesterday marked the final day of Chinese New Year festivities. For some, the final day of vacation, for others the last day of fireworks, for Phil and I, the evening we share with a million other people contemplating Chinese capitalism at its worst…in the form of giant lanterns.
Phil and I head out to Tazishan park for Chengdu’s annual lantern festival last night. It was recommended to me as a great way to celebrate the final day of the new year. In fact, the exact words were “the sky will be filled with lantern and you walk through the park admiring trees dotted with globes of light.” Not quite.
Besides the lanterns there was plenty to buy, Mardi Gra-esque masks, silver jewelery being sold by women dressed up as Miao sisters, lamb on a stick, tofu on a stick and devil horn light up head bands. The paths of the park were strewn with snack sticks and every loud speaker we passed was one or two or ten clicks too loud.
One redeeming part of the adventure though was Phil’s pictures of a man making elaborate burnt sugar lollipops. I’m not sure whether this is a Sichuan art form or just a China obsession, but it is mesmerizing to watch a design take form as the stall worker drizzles burnt sugar along a slick plastic board. Unfortunately, this was the closest we could get to witnessing old style culture last night.
As we left the park I contemplated the idea of celebrations and holidays. Is there anything that’s sacred anymore? The presence of having things to buy seems to go hand in hand with having something to celebrate. What’s more the quality of those things to purchase seems to decrease more and more.
We found a relatively quiet path towards the exit on our way out of the park that was dotted with lanterns hung throughout the trees. I imagined, just for a moment before we head back into the throes of the masses, what it must have been like before. Paper lanterns lit by candles, a festive walk with family and friends, preceded or followed by a massive meal. Echos of this holiday are still there, but will they eventually disappear completely?
Phil and I, enjoying the feeling of being herded cattle so much, are heading up to Xi’an for the weekend. We’re looking forward to the Terracotta Warriors, some good northern Muslim food and getting out of Chengdu for a bit.