Last Train Home

Lunar New Year

In the spirit of Lunar New Year, I would like to tell you a few different (interesting to me) things about the Lunar New Year that most sites and people do not tell you or you do not get the whole story.  Why repeat the same old stuff, right?  On the Gregorian calendar for 2015, Lunar New Year lands on Feb. 18.  On the lunar calendar, I don’t know what year it will be, but I know it’s a lot more than 2015.  

  1. Lunar New Year.  It is more correct to say “Lunar New Year” than “Chinese New Year” because
    1. One year has passed using the moon to count the days of the year instead of the widely used (but inferior to me) Gregorian calendar.  [Side note: Lunar New Year may have been invented by Chinese, but because it is celebrated by so many others, it is fairer to award the holiday “Lunar New Year” opposed to “Chinese New Year.”]  There is totally a system to the lunar calendar; you just don’t know it or don’t pay attention to it.  You don’t see the moon on the 1st, you see more and more of it as the days pass, you see it at its biggest and brightest on the 15th (sometimes 16th), then you see it get smaller and smaller toward the end of the month, and the cycle continues on to the following months.  Next time you hear about the super moon or spend some time watching it, check the day it appears.  For the most part, it will be on the 15th, if not, on the 16th.
    2. The vast majority of Chinese were farmers for a significant part of their history, and they used the moon to tell when it is the right time to harvest crops.  Agriculture was and still super important to the people and the state.  Historically, mainly rice (wheat and millet in other regions) were collected as tax by the state so they can store it in local granaries.  In times of famines, droughts, floods, and other natural disasters, these rice would be distributed to victims.  Back in 2008 (before the financial crisis, before the Olympics) there was a big earthquake (I forget the city and province) but there were lots of school-children killed because of poorly-built schools.  Anyway, PM at the time, Hu Jintao, immediately placed price controls on rice so more people can afford to buy rice.
    3. Chinese are not the only people who celebrate Lunar New Year; Vietnamese and Koreans also celebrate that day.  Adults/parents giving envelopes of good luck money to children and youths.  Chinese andVietnameseusered envelopes, sometimes yellow, sometimes burgundy.  Red represents good luck and a variety of other good things, yellow is supposed to represent the color of gold (indication of money, therefore prosperity), and burgundy is a color related to red.  Koreans use white envelopes (I don’t know why).
      1. Vietnam was a part of the Chinese empire for a very long time, way before the French were in.  In the short period that Vietnam was not a part of China, they were one of China’s many tribute states.  Therefore, Vietnam was heavily influenced by Chinese culture.
      2. Korea, historically, was seen as China’s younger brother, so lots of things were borrowed or emulated.  The most widely-seen influence is Confucianism.
      3. *Please nicely ask Japanese and other people from countries that were Chinese territories or tribute states of China to see if they also celebrate Lunar New Year, and let me know.  Thanks in advance.
  2. Money.  Money is given for good luck.  Chinese definitely believe in good and bad luck and take it very seriously.
    1. Here is a video on how kids will spend new year money.  Here’s a list of videos to feed your curiosity.  Another fun video on how red pocket-money will be spent (not relevant but funny at the beginning; starts being relevant at 2:45).
    2. When do people stop getting money?
      1. The norm is 16 and 18 depending on your family/tradition/parental financial situation.  You’re practically an adult by Chinese/Asian standard.  If you’re the oldest child or one of the older children, then you’re responsible for taking care of your younger siblings while your parents worked.  It also wasn’t unheard of for a 15-year-old Chinese girl to marry a Chinese guy of similar age way back in history.  You have to consider the medical abilities/advancements and average lifespan of people back then to consider people 15/16 years of age as marriageable age, and of course, good child-bearing years.  Living in America, some teen parents still exist because of entrapment, misinformation, or recklessness – throwing lots of medical advancements, accurate knowledge of reproduction, and low average lifespans out the window.
      2. Some people will say, “When you get married.”  To me, this is a no-no.  If you’re 30 and still not married and you’re seriously still taking money from your parents and relatives, shame on you.  They supported you for so many years and you’re still taking their money?! You’re a grown-ass adult with the ability to get a job and you should be giving your parents money.
  3. Biggest holiday.  Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday for Chinese since it starts on the 1st and ends on the 15th.  Living in America, I have never had a day off from school or work for Lunar New Year unless it falls on a weekend on the Gregorian calendar, or I requested the day off.  I want at least the first day off so that I can spend it with my family, since we all work or go to school or both, there’s rarely a time that we’re all awake in the same place at the same time.  By my standards, it’s not ok because of the growing population of Chinese in this country (from international students and workers).  Like I wrote before, Vietnamese and Koreans also celebrate this day, so it’s not just for the not-so-liked Chinese despite the super-liked Chinese food.  That is just the first reason.  I can list reasons until my face turns red from frustration, but maybe for another year and another post.  Anyway, in China, it is celebrated from the 1st – 15th and migrant workers (Chinese from different cities/provinces work in other cities/provinces) race against time and tightly-packed crowds to get a seat on the right train to go home for the biggest holiday of the nation and the people.  Please read further for more info.

Last Train Home

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The summary below is copied and pasted from a public library with this DVD.

Every spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos as an astonishing 130 million migrant workers journey to their home villages for the New Year’s holiday. This mass exodus is the largest human migration on the planet, an epic spectacle that reveals a country tragically caught between its rural past and industrial future. Working over several years in classic verite, Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan travels with one couple who have embarked on this annual trek for almost two decades.

It’s been a while since I saw this film.  I encourage you to watch it since you get a glimpse of the textile factory work that a teen girl endures – not only from her work environment, but also from her boss.  If you think there’s a happy ending, watch it and find out.  After all, there are 130 million migrant workers, limited number of trains, and limited number of conductors.  If this is available at a library, it’s likely that it’s available elsewhere (not on youtube, but the interview with the filmmaker, Lixin Fan can be found there when he was on PBS NewsHour).

[Side note: if you’re interested in China’s textile factory work, here’s another snippet of another documentary called China Blue.  It’s about working in a factory that makes blue jeans.  Watch it and think about whether your jeans are worth buying and wearing.  I haven’t watched it.  If you find a free version, please let me know].

If you got this far, thank you so much for reading.  Do you think it was informative enough? Do you have any questions for me?


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I began writing Elle's Adventure in China (EACh) in June 2014 as a fun summer project, but as obstacles kept interfering with my plans, I forked and forked more options. I took writing this novel much more seriously in mid-July, and want to have it officially published someday in my lifetime. As many artists put their hearts into their projects, so do I. I did not start out liking to read, but a professor suggested a book for me for homework a few years ago, and it was an amazing book. Since then, I read for pleasure, and I hope my novel, Elle's Adventure in China, does the same for as many of you as possible. The same thing goes to writing. I did not like to write until I took a course where the professor and papers made me love to write. I hope every one of you find what makes you happy and dedicated to work. In May 2015, I started my other blog, Read and Write Here (R&WH), as a place to post other things that aren't China- and Chinese culture-related and not EACh. I share some of my memories and experiences from student teaching, irregular participation in Daily Prompts, etc. I'd like to have regular people and bloggers to write book reviews and post it on R&WH someday. Keep reading and writing!

10 thoughts on “Last Train Home”

      1. The whole thing was great! We had a lovely Chinese man, who came to our school last week to talk about Chinese New Year and how it is celebrated, the stories behind the animals etc, and its great to increase my knowledge further!


    1. That’s great! Do you want to know anything else? I know I started with the least interesting thing to most people – the calendar – but I think it’s totally useful and underused and underrated.


      1. No I wasn’t turned off by it. I thought it was really cute and the characters were memorable. I’d like to see you use more descriptive words about the girl.


      2. Thank you so much! If only the other readers agreed. I do use more descriptive words about the girl, but that would be one of my themes – she’s a mystery as all the characters – and more of themselves are revealed as the story continues. Why don’t you try this one as well and see if I do a better job describing her, of course, if you have the time and are up to it: Thanks again 🙂


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