Apologies for the long hiatus, but you see, I made a terrible mistake: I moved to China exactly one week before Chinese New Year.
The Logistics of Chinese New Year in Shenzhen
Chinese New Year is like Christmas on crack. In most Western countries the last two weeks of the year are basically a wash. By December 20th, nobody’s really expecting anybody to actually get anything important done. That’s what next year is for, after all. So it is with Chinese New Year.
I arrived in Shenzhen on January 29th. The first day of Chinese New Year this year was February 8th. Chinese New Year, bear in mind, is a 15 day holiday. In China, you get one week off. The official, government-approved Chinese New Year holiday where all non-essential personnel could have time off was supposed to be from February 7th until February 13th. People started going on vacation for Chinese New Year on February 2nd, and there are still people on Chinese New Year vacation, who will not be back for another week.
In 1980, the year that Shenzhen was first designated to be a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), there were 332,900 people living in the city. In 2013, there were 10.6 million people living in the city.
Now, during Chinese New Year, Chinese people traditionally travel back to their hometowns (aka where their father’s family was from) to celebrate with family. These hometowns are generally back in smaller villages out in the provinces. If we assume that the 332,900 people originally in Shenzhen considered Shenzhen their hometown, then we can quite safely assume that at least 10.3 million people were planning on leaving Shenzhen to go back home, wherever home may be.
Problem #1: The Landlords Aren’t There
This meant that when I was looking for an apartment, most of the landlords had left for home, and weren’t even in town to give the real estate agent the keys. The real estate agent told me he had eight apartments lined up for me to look at on the first day. We looked at three, because he couldn’t get keys for the other five.
It also meant that I absolutely had to get an apartment by February 4th, or spend another eight to nine days in a hotel, because the real estate office was closing all its systems down on Friday, February 5th. Imagine looking for an apartment in a city that is on the verge of shutting down. The pressure was real.
Luckily enough, I found a nice apartment in a nice, safe neighbourhood overlooking a bustling street lined with little shops, banks and grocery stores. How convenient, I thought, and not as noisy as I expected.
Little did I know.
Problem #2: Most of the People Aren’t There
The lack of noise was the exception, rather than the rule. I’d forgotten to factor in the fact that most of the traffic was gone. After all, by February 4th, the day I signed the rental agreement, half the city had already left for parts unknown, and another 25% were in the process of leaving. Of course, it was quiet.
As I sit here, typing out this blog post, it is 9pm at night. I can hear the people 11 floors down hawking their wares. Cars and bikes honk as they drive past. Or worse, somebody blocks the nearby intersection of what I now know is one of the major thoroughfares in the neighbourhood, and a veritable car-horn storm ensues, with honks of all stripes jumping in to add their voice to the cacophony.
More importantly, with everybody gone, there’s nobody actually available to work, which means…
Problem #3: Everything Shuts Down For A Week
Everything, and I mean, literally everything shuts down for a week. I had to stock up for the apocalypse in the brand new (completely dirty and dusty) apartment I had just moved into. I moved in on February 5th. Most stores closed early on February 6th, if they even opened at all. I spent most of the afternoon on the 5th, and the entirety of the 6th out buying bedding, pots and pans, and more importantly, cleaning supplies and food.
I’ve been in Shenzhen for 3 weeks, and I only just opened a bank account this last week, because… obviously, the banks were closed.
However, now, one week after Chinese New Year, people are returning, and the banks and shops and restaurants are starting to open again. However, this is just the beginning of another problem.
Problem #4: What Has Left, Must Return
10.3 million people left the city for Chinese New Year. This also means that 10.3 million people must return to the city where they work and/or study. The majority of Chinese people take the train when they’re travelling long distances.
I also live two blocks away from the new train station. The metro station around the block that I use to travel to and from work, is the major metro station for people wanting to travel to and from the train station.
Let’s just say that getting to and from work this past week was a pain.
Thus: Lack of Posting
And all of this combined is why I haven’t been posting as regularly as I planned to. Between searching for a place to live, moving into said place to live, combating a vicious cold, exploring my new city, and settling in at work, I’ve been pretty busy all around!
The whole internet being blocked thing has also impeded my posting progress, but never fear, I shall once again, take up the reins and commence weekly posting once more.
What have you guys been up to? Has Chinese New Year affected you as badly as it has me, this year?