Chinese New Year celebrations

Well, after what seemed like weeks of preparations Chinese New Year has come and gone.
The street decorations have been going up from the end of Christmas, gradually filling the bare trees with illuminated hearts, butterflies and flowers.

New Year camelsBridges spanning the streets are decorated with huge flowers, Chinese writing and images of athletes, animals and, of course, dogs.
Parks are filled with huge bright brilliantly coloured satin covered sculptures which glow in the dark when they are switched on.

Up the road from where we live there are a couple of environmentally friendly sculptures outside the large CHINA TOBACCO factory and its corporate buildings.
The shops became crowded with red Chinese New Year decorations. Every shop featured its own red lantern on the street outside, and each lamppost was hung with 4 lanterns each.
The doors of nearly every shop and house featured red banners pasted on each side, on the lintel, as well as a red diamond shape stuck in the centre.
EverBright – our friendly bank presented us with a Chinese New Year pack, and under the guidance of Vicky, our source of all information, we stuck the banners provided around our own front door – and Vicky ensured that all the Chinese writing was the right way up. Good Luck! Good Luck!

Everything at New year is basically about Good Luck, abundance and prosperity. Who doesn’t need a little or a lot of some of that for 2018?

We bought a fish ornament (more good luck) with 3 bells attached from one of the New Year stalls. I was tempted to buy red lanterns and hangings and lots of ornamental dogs -in the end, we did buy little Kuala ( Happy –快乐 ) to add to our collection.

We awaited the eve of 15th February (New Year’s Eve) and headed out in the evening on a later bus to find ourselves a celebratory meal. It was immediately obvious to us that things were not as they usually are on the streets of Lanzhou. The streets were empty, the bus was empty and…. The restaurants were ALL shut!
New Year’s Eve is a family affair in China. Silly strangers us – what kind of restauranteur would be found in his restaurant on New Year’s Eve, when there was family to be with who had either travelled far to be with him, or perhaps he had gone far away himself to be with family elsewhere?
The previous days are spent cleaning in China and no cleaning or taking of medicine is done on New Year’s Day – lest you take some of the Old Year stuff into the New Year, or might be ill all year…
The street cleaners had been sweeping the streets even cleaner than usual and great packs of them had been seen dusting every railing along the main freeway.

So…hungry and alone L and I wandered through some lonely but beautifully lit streets….and then we saw them…groups of families gathering on the pavements, some carrying trays of cups and teapots and small oranges and alcohol and piles of yellow rice paper money.
They gathered in the dusk and made little fires right there on the pavement, setting the imitation money alight and splashing alcohol and tea and other things into the bright flowers of fires blossoming under the illuminated trees and streetlights!

Some research about the making of the fires explained about ancestors being honoured and symbolical offerings being made and it being some ancient Buddhist /Chinese practice….whatever…it made a beautiful impression on us and we strolled among the people as they solemnly went about their rituals. We kept to the shadows and took a few photos from a respectful distance.
We noticed that the street cleaners were still out and about as well, faithfully sweeping up the embers left behind from each departed group. In the morning no ashes were to be seen anywhere.


Hungry as we were we eventually spied a KFC and our rumbling tummies led us to its lemon lit front door. Inside we found some groups of teenagers (avoiding that traditional family gathered around a table somewhere, with rolling eyes and sighs – like teenagers everywhere?)
Our waiter spoke good Student English, the Chinese delivery guys carried big takeaway boxes on their backs and came and went in their cool biker leathers, coming and going on their motorbikes. Was there a Grandad somewhere who preferred a KFC burger this New Years Eve?
L and I sat in the window and devoured our burgers and chicken pieces. Like all Western food in China – the food was the same but different to KFC in South Africa (much spicier in Lanzhou)
We provided some entertainment for some families walking by – oh look in the window – some real Westerners eating some real Western food!
We smile and wave!

Replete, we found a bus – suddenly panicked that they might not run late this New Years Eve. The bus driver definitely drove faster through the empty Lanzhou streets – he wanted to get home (of course he did!)

At midnight we ascended the stairs of our empty building and stepped out onto our icy roof. We were not disappointed. For a few days already our sleep had been disturbed by the sound of crackers going off.
Now the skyline of Lanzhou was being lit up by some dazzling displays and sparkling shower shows of starry fireworks.
They popped and exploded and showered down between all the high-rise buildings all around us. They lit up the many bridges and were reflected in the dark waters of the night time Yellow River.
We watched it all for a long time. None of the photos really capture the magic and eventually we gave up – I was getting cold and thinking of all the scared dogs of Lanzhou – oh well – it would soon be over and it is going to be a glorious year for them – this 2018 – Year of the Dog!

Bare trees and dogs

Stray dogs getting attention

All the trees in Lanzhou are bare now.

Trees in the snowWe arrived here in Winter. Ice and snow still lie in shadowy corners that the sun does not reach.

The Spring Festival holiday is already underway.
Red Lanterns have been strung up everywhere. Other decorations have been put up all over town. Christmas decorations still have not been taken down. New Year camelsThey are blending in well. We are experiencing a bumper amount of bright and colourful decorations all over the place.
The Chinese New Year celebrations will burst upon us tomorrow.
We are looking forward to that.

2018 is the year of the dog.

Tao and Bao
L and I have our two yellow dogs, Tao and Bao but we miss our dog, T-spoon.

She died shortly before we left South Africa. She was very old, and it was probably all for the best, but we think of her often. Her photo comes up on our flat screen, and when we see it we pause to gaze at her, and we mention her briefly.

T-spoon played an important role in our lives. She kept us fit because she needed, and loved her walks three times a day. She was L’s therapist – as he stroked her body, squashed between him and the seat of the armchair, I could see the stress of the day leaving him.
I have always been aware that Dog and God have more in common than the same letters…

There are dogs all over Lanzhou.

Stray dogs in the snowA lot are feral and I worry about them in this cold weather. I have seen food left out for them and have also seen them eating the snow left on the ground around the trees. I look away when I see one or two of them trying to cross the roads. So far they have all made it to the other side.

Pampered dogsI have seen a lot of other dogs as well, pampered poodles mostly, out walking with their owners, complete with jackets and little booties.

In celebration of The Year of the Dog L and I fancied and bought the little red paisley dog, with gold stitching that we saw for sale in Vanguard the other day, amongst all the other New Year decorations.
Red is a good colour in China. Lucky.

For now, there are big pots filled with a huge amount of artificial flowers – but people have told us that when the holiday is over there will be buds on the trees. Spring will have come.

Artificial flower garden
Flower beds filled with artificial flowers

I have been thinking about that a lot lately. About how silently the bare trees stand now, while all that Spring colour and energy is gathering inside them, ready to burst forth. Waiting.

Waiting has been a theme of our lives for many months now. We have been living and moving from one Waiting Room to the next.

But I am aware, that within all the waiting there was also so much life.
A hidden life of learning and stretching and moving and knowing. Even within our own bodies, during all this time, there has been so much growth.

Seasons come and go, of course, and my face in the mirror shows me that my springtime and summer have passed for good.

I think the risk is that during the second half of life we can miss the signs. We might feel that we will now remain in a kind of winter – and it is there that the story will end.

But that, I am realising, certainly does not have to be the truth.

L and I had felt the deep stirrings of new life within us for quite a while before we acted on it.
Before we came to China.
Before we embarked on what we call our second journey.
It happened just when we thought we might put our feet up, and stay slumbering in the silent snow of our lives, most certainly with a dog on our laps.

Make no mistake – that thought does hold a certain appeal. Especially on those tired days…

But the sap within us is powerful and rising. It is unstoppable. It makes our pulses race. It pushes us on. It fills us with excitement. And hope. And life.

This journey at this time in our life isn’t about status or achievement or in order to add anything to our CV.
It is will help us financially, yes, but deep within us, we know that we are answering a much deeper call.


A call to adventure.
A call to flower.
A call to learn and live a new thing.

Happy New Year

On this first day of 2018 I opened my phone to messages from our children, Jethro and Georgia – our 6 o clock being their midnight.

Happy New Year
Happy New Year

IMG_4547A few minutes ago Lex and I stood on the balcony at the end of our passage and looked out over Lanzhou. The Yellow River slipped slowly by over the road, not very far away.
Beneath us, on a partly demolished piece of land men were working, unloading boxes from a truck onto a few three-wheelers – pilling boxes onto their ‘bakkies’. Their loud voices carried up to us where we stood in the cold air on the 11th floor.

We sipped green tea and nibbled on Oreos – yes- exactly the same, except for the packaging.

Lex on computerBack in the flat now Lex plays Joni Mitchell for me and I watch our photos of home sliding by on the flat screen. For a while, we could be anywhere. Right now.
But we are here.

We chat over our computers, reading messages. No teachers have yet returned. Today is a public holiday. We are beginning the day slowly.

Last night we sat up and talked about the miracles of the last year, and especially the last 6 months. Starting with the fires, moving on to when we lost our jobs when British Academy closed down, through the offer of work in Lanzhou – how that came to us and stuck with us until Home Affairs eventually (after 14 weeks of waiting!) granted us our unabridged marriage certificate.

Last night and this morning we are grateful.

We are here in this flat, having left all behind – our house and home, our children, our friends, my mother, our country, and for me right now, my suitcase, within which are some items that I have held onto for over 25 years. Items with a memory and an identity. Mine.

Knysna firesI remember the devastating Knysna fires of 2017 – and all the heroic people who lost everything in a moment. Everything. And it was not by choice. My heart understands a very little bit more.

New beginnings are strange things. Tremendously exciting and yet relentlessly confusing. A little like China.

We decided, Lex and I, a while ago, not to spend too much time looking back. I do believe that all the worlds’ sacred texts warn you against that. And anyway, the past doesn’t really exist, does it?
The past is just a memory, that we are free to rewrite any way we like – as a tragedy, a comedy, a hero’s tale, a victim’s melodrama or (my favourite) as high adventure!
A solution to all always presents itself if we can only keep calm and carry on – as the old wise poster says. There is not enough room in this blog to list every extraordinary solution that has come rolling in towards us over the last year. I can only laugh out loud.
Lex and I look forward – but not too much. Next thing you know I’ll be writing stories in my head that may or may not come true.

IMG_4588There is the sound of a dog barking plaintively on the wasteland below.
There is a smudged line of tall buildings standing on the murky horizon.

There is a door opening close by.

The lift goes ping.

My phone reveals a message from a new friend, saying that she will see me tonight.

Joni plays that warm chord, my favourite song.

More tea.

IMG_4546Another very small ‘naartjie’, still with stalk and green leaf attached.

I peel it and it is very, very sweet on my tongue.