Taipei, Taiwan, cityscape, including Taipei 101
Downtown Taipei, scene of many late-night strolls
(photo by Chris; click to enlarge)

During the period of my life when I was studying abroad in Taipei, Taiwan, I was an inveterate walker. Whenever I visited a new place, I would buy a map and set out on a peripatetic exploration at the first opportunity. And while in Taipei, I routinely spent long stretches of time walking around the city by myself at all hours, familiarizing myself with its geography and making serendipitous discoveries.

One of those discoveries occurred late one night when I was walking down a narrow sidestreet. I came upon a forklift that was unceremoniously picking up cars parked on one side of the street and depositing them on the other, proceeding car by car down the block. The scene was so surreal, and yet the manner in which the driver was going about his work was so casual, that I could only stare for a moment, chide my lying eyes, and then resume walking. In the years since, I’ve sometimes wondered whether that strange sight was actually just a product of my febrile, sleep-deprived brain, which was on constant stimulus overload back in those heady days abroad—especially since it was the dead of night, and I had quite possibly been drinking beforehand. Now, however, after a quick search online, I have video evidence that such things do happen (in Taiwan, at least):

For all I know, this sort of thing is a routine occurrence that the locals don’t even bat an eyelash at. At the time, it felt as if I had wandered off into some kind of Bizarro World where people with forklifts could do whatever the hell they wanted, where Dude, Where’s My Car? had a radically different plot, and where street cleaners had a better option than punishing hapless residents with $40 parking tickets. (I make this comment as a former San Francisco resident who, like many others, unwittingly helped fill the city’s coffers by sometimes forgetting to move my car.)

But just as one person’s geeky is another person’s cool, what seems absurd in one society is completely normal in another—a fact I’ve often been reminded of during my adventures in China (and probably just as often living in the United States, which I’m well aware is by most international standards a strange country). In any case, it’s nice to know that this, at least, was not something I merely hallucinated.

Chinese New Year fireworks icon with text - 150 x 150To celebrate Chinese New Year in China, especially with family, is a fun and fascinating experience: the festive atmosphere, both at home and out on the town; the excessive consumption of food and alcohol; and, perhaps most exciting of all, the fireworks. In 2003 I spent Chinese New Year in Shanghai, and the amount of gunpowder detonated in that city in the 16-day period from New Year’s Eve through the Lantern Festival (on the 15th day of the lunar year) absolutely blew my mind. As a childhood pyromaniac who hadn’t indulged in fireworks in many years, I was on fire with excitement—though to some degree it was like being in a war zone, with so many fireworks going off at certain times that you could barely have a conversation outdoors and had to be constantly on guard against wayward rockets. My father-in-law and I burned a completely unjustifiable amount of cash on long strings of firecrackers, big batteries of missiles, and various other explosives. I strolled through the city streets, tossing firecrackers to and fro and setting them off in every nook and cranny to magnify the sound of the explosions. Obnoxious and environmentally irresponsible, to be sure…but also gloriously Dionysian, especially because it seemed like everyone was doing it. To put it simply, I had a blast. But I’m fortunate to have emerged from the experience with all ten fingers and all five senses intact.

In celebration of the lunar new year, I present some spectacular photos and a couple of video clips that will give you an idea of what the experience of celebrating Chinese New Year in China is like. We at CIT are looking forward to another successful year, and we’d like to wish all of our family, friends, and customers a prosperous Year of the Dragon. Thank you for your support!

Chinese New Year Fireworks Photo Gallery

Click on any photo below to open a full-sized version in a separate window.

Chinese New Year fireworks exploding in Shanghai, China fireworks exploding during Chinese New Year in Shanghai, China
Explosions amidst residential buildings…
(photo by Jaye Zhou)
…now THAT’s what the Chinese
熱鬧 (rènào; “lively”) means
(photo by Aapo Haapanen)
Chinese New Year fireworks exploding in Shanghai, China Chinese New Year - Shanghai fireworks store - Marc van der Chijs
Viewing from high-rise balconies is hazardous
(photo by Harry Alverson)
Fireworks stores pop up during the New Year
(photo by Marc van der Chijs)
Chinese New Year fireworks boxes - Christopher Chinese New Year fireworks - fountain
Let’s hope they’re well-shielded from stray sparks
(photo by Christopher)
“Fountains” light up streets and alleyways
(photo by Fox Z.)
extremely long strings of Chinese New Year firecrackers in Taipei, Taiwan Spectators turn their backs and shield their faces during a massive Chinese New Year fireworks explosion
Mile-long strings of firecrackers scare away evil spirits…
(photo by Ming-Yang Sue)
…and people, too, if they know what’s good for them.
(photo by Ming-Yang Sue)
a street covered by firework remnants left behind by Chinese New Year firecrackers in Taipei, Taiwan fireworks exploding during Chinese New Year in Shanghai, China
Firecracker aftermath
(photo by Ming-Yang Sue)
There is an ironic beauty in all
that potential destruction…

(photo by Jakob Montrasio)
view from the Bund of Chinese New Year fireworks exploding over the Huangpu River and Pudong in Shanghai, China Chinese New Year 2011 - Hong Kong fireworks - N.C. Burton - small - 300 x 200
…especially in picturesque places,
like Shanghai’s Huangpu River…

(photo by Sebastien Poncet)
…and Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour
(photo by N.C. Burton)
Chinese New Year fireworks over Hong Kong Island in 2009 Chinese New Year fireworks - fire - Jinjian Liang
Hong Kong’s 2009 Chinese New Year fireworks
(photo by N.C. Burton)
China during the Lunar New
Year: a country on fire

(photo by Jinjian Liang)

Check out these video clips to get an even clearer idea of just how crazy it can get (you might want to turn down the volume first):

Relaxing in a boat on West Lake in Hangzhou

The process began as I desperately clutched the seat in front of me, wondering whether I would even survive the ride into Taipei from the airport. No doubt the driver, my Chinese professor’s brother, found my fear quaint and amusing as he weaved nonchalantly through the crush of contending cars. Driving with a heedless brusqueness that would have evoked a string of one-finger salutes and perhaps a few acts of violence in most American cities, he aroused the ire of no one on that highway in Taiwan. Most of the other drivers were too busy doing exactly the same thing to even notice him. So it was with these stomach-churning observations that my process of disillusionment began, not one hour after I had first set foot in Asia.

Strange mannequins in a Shanghai shop window display
Strange mannequins in a Shanghai shop—one of many
interesting sights I’ve come across in China

As a white American who was double-majoring in philosophy and Mandarin, my first acquaintance with China and Chinese culture was primarily academic. I had an idealized impression of Chinese culture formed by the many hours I had spent analyzing the Analects of Confucius, stumbling through t’ai chi, meditating to Buddhist chants, struggling with the abstractions of Chinese poetry, listening intently to the feverish plinkety-plink of classical Chinese music while drinking green tea and inhaling incense smoke, and scratching out Chinese calligraphy that must have seemed to my Chinese friends like the scratchings of a second-grader – in other words, I was a massive China geek. Although I had had a number of close Chinese friends for years, they were primarily well-educated, somewhat Westernized Chinese who were not at all representative of the typical citizen of China or Taiwan. So I guess it’s no surprise that some part of me always expected to find in the daily lives of the Chinese people a more elevated, culturally sophisticated lifestyle than I had observed in American society. In that sense, I’ve had some disappointing experiences in China: I’ve seen pollution, ignorance and backwardness, a dog-eat-dog business mentality, shallow popular culture, and, of course, harrowing city traffic (not to say, of course, that these same flaws and many more can’t be found in the United States). Fortunately, looking back on the last thirteen years of my travels there, I can say those experiences have been far outweighed by the many more pleasant surprises that China has given me, in addition to treasured friendships, soul-cleansing mountain hikes, touching encounters with earnest rural villagers, late-night strolls through the urban canyons of Shanghai, euphoric drunken karaoke binges, wide-eyed walks along ancient city walls, and meditative moments in temples and teahouses, all of which have made every day of my time there fresh and stimulating. China is a land rich with paradoxes and brimming with vitality.

Relaxing in a boat on West Lake in Hangzhou
Relaxing in a boat on Hangzhou’s West Lake

These are the things that I’ll be sharing with you in this blog, and these are the things that I hope our company will allow some of you to experience for yourselves. When you travel anywhere, life is more vivid, more intense, somehow more REAL than it is during the mundane routine of daily life. Nowhere has that been as true for me as it is in China. No matter what kind of life you’ve lived, traveling to China will be one of the best things you’ve ever done – especially with the extensive knowledge, practical experience, and thoughtful service that my Shanghainese wife and her Cantonese partner, along with our many connections in China, can provide. Our tours are a good place to start your own cultural journey.

Welcome, then, to the home of China International Travel CA, Inc. I hope you enjoy browsing our website and watching it grow. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have.

(originally posted on our old blog on June 5, 2009)

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