Written by Lauren T on 29 Mar, 2002
February 12, 2002 marked the beginning of this Chinese Lunar Year, the year of the horse. That day, everyone in China became a year older--and so did I (because the twelfth just happened to be my birthday), Therefore, I was eager to celebrate the…Read More
February 12, 2002 marked the beginning of this Chinese Lunar Year, the year of the horse. That day, everyone in China became a year older--and so did I (because the twelfth just happened to be my birthday), Therefore, I was eager to celebrate the passing of another year in my life along with the Chinese (although for distinctively different reasons). It was certainly different than any of my previous birthdays, and it was wonderful to spend it in such a festive atmosphere, even if hardly anybody I was partying with knew or cared that it was my birthday.
For about 48 hours or so, on February 11th and 12th, Dali looked, felt, and sounded like a war zone. The Chinese take their fireworks very seriously (they believe setting off fireworks during the new year season frightens away the ghosts and brings good luck in the year to come), and seem to have no laws or social taboos against setting them off in crowded streets, restaurants, or even throwing them at people. Okay, so I know they do have laws against such things in Shanghai (and probably most other major cities as well) but Shanghai is a long way from here. And it appears that in Dali, just about anything goes.
It was absolute chaos. All of the streets in central Dali were lined end to end with fireworks vendors and thousands of people crowded into the street to buy and set off the fireworks (and then buy more). Everywhere you looked you saw (and heard) explosions, roman candles, sparklers and flashy firey things flying through the air, across the ground, swung through the air at the end of a string, and even "jokingly" used as projectile weapons. What may have surprised me most was how many small children were participating. I saw a little girl (she looked about two) standing in the middle of the street, calmly holding a sparkler while flashy things zipped over her head and all kinds of things were blowing up on the ground around her (as in, within a three foot radius). Her mother was about ten feet away working on some firecrackers of her own, and seemed completely aware and unperturbed by this situation. Fortunately, I didn't witness anything horrible, but I imagine the firework related mortality and morbidity rates in China must be pretty atrocious.
As far as I can tell, you really aren't safe anywhere. (Someone set some firecrackers off in the guest house bathroom while I was taking a shower). I did learn this much though:
1. If you see several people running away from a particular point and ducking for cover, it is best to do the same.
2. I had two Israeli friends with extensive military training and followed them around some. I don't know if this gave me any protection whatsoever, but since they are very good at looking like they know what they're doing, it was somewhat comforting.
3. When you actually do get hit by a firecracker, it doesn't hurt as much as I had anticipated.
All in all, however, it was a lot of fun, and as I was running down the streets of Dali with things exploding all around me, I felt like I was in some cheesy action movie. Of course, I did get hit several times (had many bruises but nothing worse), had one small firecracker fall into my purse (managed to get it out in time) and had one firecracker explode approximately twelve inches in front of my face (very scary and my ears rang for hours but I wasn't injured). I am absolutely certain that all of the ghosts must be sufficiently frightened out of Dali (except maybe the ones at the International Youth Hostel).
But enough about fireworks, the villages which dot the countryside are actually a very good place to see some locals observing their holiday traditions. The Chinese, particularly in rural areas, do a good deal of their housework outdoors, including a good deal of their food preparation. This is especially true when the weather is pleasant, and it appears that the weather is almost always pleasant in Yunnan. Therefore, while walking through one of the villages during any of the days immediately preceding the new year, you are likely to find the people buzzing about, cleaning their homes and their clothes, putting up decorations (including the traditional red strips of paper which decorate the doors of homes throughout China as well as characteristic Bai ornamentation), and preparing a holiday feast. What's more, on New Year's Eve and New Year Day you are likely to find the villagers in their traditional garments singing, dancing and parading up and down the streets with dragons.
When I first found out that I would be spending the Chinese New Year in Dali, I was disappointed. Since travel on the New Year Day and the day or two before are highly impractical, I was largely stuck here. I was under the impression that it would have been best to spend this most important of Chinese holidays in one of the major cities so I would be more in the middle of the action. However, word has it that most of the cities are very quiet during the New Year Holiday since everyone stays at home and spends the season with their families (and since they have fire-cracker regulations in the cities). So while I hadn't planned on spending the holiday in Dali, I believe that being "stuck" in Dali provided a much more memorable experience than I would have had in any of the places I would have chosen.
Written by Lauren T on 26 Mar, 2002
Over 80% of the 1.6 million members of China's Bai ethnic minority live within the villages of the Dali prefecture, the area they have occupied for 4000 years. And they stay here for good reason: they are blessed with some of the most fertile…Read More
Over 80% of the 1.6 million members of China's Bai ethnic minority live within the villages of the Dali prefecture, the area they have occupied for 4000 years. And they stay here for good reason: they are blessed with some of the most fertile farmland, beautiful scenery, and mild weather in China.
The first thing most people notice about the Bai are the very distinctive traditional clothing their women wear, with their bright colors, beautiful, elaborate embroidery and dramatic headgear. The Bai like the color white (their religion, a mixture Buddhism and various ancient local traditions, regards the color white as sacred) and "Bai" means white in Chinese. However, most foreign visitors don't take nearly so much notice of the white in their garments and ornamentation as they do the bright colors and flashy patterns which appear to be very important to Bai culture.
Another thing visitors are quick to take notice of are the beautiful, embroidered baby-carriers Bai mothers strap to their back. Apart from being decorative, the carriers seem to be very comfortable to the children, with their faces held over their mothers' shoulders providing them with an excellent view of where they are going and what is going on.
Speaking of babies, here's an interesting tidbit: The Bai, or at least Bai women, actually have a preference for female offspring, and it is considered a good omen if the first child born to a family is female. Who ever heard you'd hear that in China? (It should be noted that the Bai, as with all of China's ethnic minorities, are exempted from the one child policy.)
The Bai have a surprisingly fascinating history. In the eighth century they grouped together and formed and established the Nanzhou kingdom. At the height of their power the Bai Nanzhou empire ruled all of Yunnan and much of present day Burma, and defeated the Tang Chinese Imperial army. They were later invaded by Monguls in the 13th century and have been part of China ever since. Still, it seems odd to think that these quaint, charming, rice farmers, who come across as laid-back and somewhat unambitious and whose language has no wriiten form (though I believe most are literate in Chinese), once controlled one of the most powerful empires in Asia.