It's the Year of the Tiger and we've all been celebrating. Red lanterns and lights are hanging from the balcony. Paper banners with the characters for health and prosperity surround the door. And food, lots of food. Rice from the paddies of the famous lake nearby, fiery shrimp, mantis shrimp, local sausages, local black fungus, all manner of vegetable dishes both spicy and sweet, fish garnished with its own unborn babies...the list goes on. We ate and ate and toasted away the waning Year of the Ox.
Festival eve was a lazy day, spent watching the Olympics opening ceremony and other television (Chinese shows be craaazy), eating candy and fruit, and much surfing of the internet. Our hosts refused to let us help with the cooking or serving. I couldn't even put a cup back into the kitchen without Lu's dad intercepting me. My insistence that I REALLY like to help fell on deaf ears, so there wasn't much else to do.
As soon as it got dark, the constant din of firecrackers was joined by the boom of full-on fireworks lighting up the night sky, all set off by neighbors. I'm not sure if there's an official show out in the city, but there doesn't seem to be a need for one. The people make shows of their own, launching things that would never be legal in the states.
As midnight approached, we bundled up and went into the courtyard to set off some fireworks of our own. We did strings of firecrackers, of course. But then also long tubes that sent blooming flowers of light high over the 8-story complex. Lu's dad used his cigarette to light the fuses, and handed it to Ness and I to light some ourselves. The out-and-out danger of it put any 4th of July celebration I've participated in to shame.
At midnight we had dumplings, another festival eve tradition, this one because the dumplings are shaped like ancient Chinese coins and thus bring luck and prosperity. Although the sheer volume of celebration would doubtless be crazier in Shanghai, I was so glad to be in Mudanjiang with Lu's wonderful family. How often does a white guy from the west get to experience a traditional New Year celebration in a Chinese home? It is pretty terrific.
Grandma eats a dumpling that Ness wrapped (she tried!)
Lu took this photo. No one knows what Ness is doing.