恭喜发财

On the American West Coast we say “Gung Hay Fat Choy” but that’s apparently Cantonese. In Mandarin you say “Gong Xi Fa Cai.” You write it the same either way. It means something like “Happy New Year,” I guess. Although “Happy New Year” is actually (literally) “Xing Nian Kuai Le” (性年快乐). So I don’t know what Gong Xi Fa Cai means at all. You can say either one.

We’re back in Xiamen from our far-too-brief trip to Bali. There’s a lot to digest about Bali, and our experiences there. The trip itself was an exercise in contrast. The hard part about leaving China knowing you’ll return is that China is going to suffer in the comparison. For example, Balinese bricklayers work methodically and lay lovely straight walls with nicely square bricks. They like their brickwork so much they leave it exposed. You will never see this in China. When you travel to a place and you find yourself saying to your spouse, “they do much nicer bricklaying here than back home,” you can bet there will be other things they do better Here than Back Home. Like cooking food, picking up trash, refraining from spitting on the sidewalk, and being polite to strangers. They drive worse, though, and that’s saying a lot. There will be two or three more Bali-related posts, by the way.

Anyway, today is Chinese New Year and everything is closed. This is indescribably eerie. For example, right now it’s about 6 pm and we can hear birds chirping in the forest behind our building. Almost no traffic noise, and absolutely no construction noise. This is literally the first time—and I mean the first timespan greater than 10 or 15 minutes—in which we have not heard the racket of construction from our apartment. This includes the night time hours, by the way.

The plane from Singapore to Xiamen was packed with Chinese; I think we were the only foreigners. Our fellow passengers drank copious amounts of free international flight beverages. We had the bad luck to be sitting one row from the toilets; at all times there were at least five people in line waiting for the toilet. After the first couple of hours it stopped being annoying and started being amazing. They never stopped peeing. Our fellow passengers would drink and drink (this was a 7 am flight, by the way), and then get up and take all that liquid ballast to the back of the plane. I wonder if some point of national pride weren’t at stake. Because the Silk Air stewardesses are not idiots, they didn’t serve enough to get anyone drunk; they rotated in orange juice and soda. So this wasn’t a drinking contest so much as it was a urine production contest.