It's Spring Festival here in China. Fireworks are going off everywhere. They are sold at temporary stands put up on sidewalks all over the city. Last night the sky was lit up with multicolored blossoms of light and this morning we can hear blasts going off in all directions. I'm told this will go on for about a week.
Yesterday I met up with a college student who interns at a finance firm in Shanghai with the former colleague of a friend. She's home in Beijing to celebrate the holiday with her family. She came out to meet me at the program I'm doing here and invited me to celebrate with her and her grandparents at their home last night. We took the subway to the eastern part of the city, then a bus, and after a ten minute walk arrived at the housing complex for retired military personnel where her grandparents lived. The buildings were decorated with red lanterns and banners, and the driveways were full of cars of visiting family members. Everyone had children or grandchildren visiting and it was fun to see all of the people bundled up warm and walking around. The fireworks were banned inside of the complex so it was safe to walk without worry that we would be struck by an exploding firecracker.
The young woman's grandfather, Lao Lei, was a military artist before his retirement and he is still creating and showing his work in galleries. After we were shown into the living room, with some of his paintings and enamel works hanging from the walls, and our coats were off we sat down and he brought out several books of his work to show me some of his sketches and paintings. Many of the works were breathtaking and he knew enough English to understand my appreciation without his granddaughter's translation.
Dinner was had at table. Many small dishes were laid out around a boiling central pot, around which little plates of needle mushrooms, fish and shrimp balls, cabbage and noodles were placed for cooking. Also on display were sliced eggs; the whites were a translucent black and the yolk was a dark green-grey. These were the first thing offered and I was wary. My first bite was very small but they tasted very similar to regular boiled eggs so I was able to enthusiastically finish it. After this contents of the various plates were put into the boiling pot to cook while we drank peach nectar, talked and ate. The fish balls are something I've enjoyed on various other travels and in New York's Chinatown and they are always yummy. At first different things were dished out onto my plate, then I was encouraged to take things directly from the pot with my chopsticks. One trick to not spilling was to hold a spoon in one hand underneath the food as I moved it from the pot to my plate.
After dinner we returned to the sofa to watch a CCTV special celebration for Spring Festival and to look at photos of my trip to Morocco last fall - my new friend had said earlier that she would like to go to Casablanca one day. They enjoyed looking at pictures of my trip and of my family. The pictures of my sister and me on camelback were especially popular. Grandfather laughed when I told them that the French word for camel is 'chameau' - it sounds like the Mandarin word for desert.
Today I am off to explore a new part of the city.
Xin Nian Yu Kuai!