It’s a War Zone! It’s a Zombie Apocalypse! Oh… Yeah… It’s Chinese New Year.

I’m in the midst of writing a blog update about my first night in Shanghai, but I felt the urge to post this update because tonight was the Chinese New Year. The Wikipedia page does a really good job of explaining it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_New_Year, but for those without the patience for that, I’ll just say that this is the most important holiday in China, and the actual festival goes on for a couple weeks. In short, this is a big freaking deal.

The past few days leading up to the festival have been interesting because most businesses have been closed – the few that are open are fast food restaurants like McDonalds and KFC or establishments that cater to ex-pats, with the exception of an occasional small market. This has made finding food difficult, but the upside is that the streets have been nearly void of cars, bikes, mopeds, and pedestrians. I felt as though I had strolled into a zombie apocalypse film as I walked through the streets to find lunch today; where there are usually thousands of unnecessarily loud people scurrying about, perpetual horns honking, and numerous mopeds trying to run me over on the sidewalk, there were few traces of life other than a pair of children playing badminton in the eerily empty streets.

This quiet and piece was welcomed for I knew that within a matter of days it would all be replaced with the noise and air pollution of eight million people and their respective modes of transportation. While I enjoyed the lunchtime walk, my silence was quickly stolen by the sounds of fireworks in the distance. By 2:00pm, the sounds of firecrackers could be heard as a somewhat constant white noise. By 4:00pm, it sounded as though I were holed up in a bunker in the middle of a war zone. This would go on for the next 9 hours until things started to die down around 1:00am. There are still several fireworks going off outside as I type this (it’s 3:00am now), but it has calmed down enough that I should be able to sleep with earplugs in.

What was most impressive about all of this, however, was the view from the top of my apartment building as the clock struck midnight. I assumed that the fireworks display would be rather exciting, but I don’t think I could have prepared myself for how fantastic it would be to see thousands of fireworks simultaneously fired amongst skyscrapers in the center of a huge city. I didn’t have a camera to record the scene, but the picture posted above is one I found online, and it’s from part of the city I’m in so you’ll have an idea of how intense it was. I also found video footage that somebody took of the fireworks display here in Nanjing in 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOswG9QAN6o

From the looks of their footage, it seems that they’re right in the same part of town as me, so this footage is actually pretty close to what I saw tonight. Skip ahead to about 3:00 in the video to get an idea of what kind of experience I had. Also, take note of the fireworks exploding right next to the cameraperson – since I was on the roof of a ten story building, this was happening to me as well because people were lighting off fireworks from the ground next to the apartment building. The whole experience was somewhat surreal, and I realize it’s very difficult to explain it in a way that makes it real for others, but suffice it to say, it was absolutely fantastic.

I’ll be posting another blog soon that details the reason I didn’t have a camera to document the fireworks this evening, so keep checking back and I’ll keep posting updates.

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!

Cholo Jeans, Dragon Shirts, and Rainbows: An Oregonian Lands in Shanghai

So, I have a blog now. I don’t really know much about blogging (believe it or not). But since the intent of this blog is mostly for updating the folks back home in Oregon, I think I’ll just ramble and story-tell and hope that some of you find it interesting.

On Wednesday, January 11th, 2011, I spent my last day in the United States. While I would have loved to have spent the day relaxing with family and friends, I instead spent it frantically packing up the last of my things, cleaning my portion of the house in which I lived, working out final details with my roommates, banks, and landlord, and attempting to enjoy a few final moments with my family and my partner. I obviously made it out in time to catch the plane, but I must say my parents were instrumental in helping me accomplish these final tasks, and Carolyn was there for hugs and support when I became overstressed.

After a long and stressful Wednesday, my parents, Carolyn, and I took off to PDX around 3:00am, Thursday the 12th, so I could catch my 6:30am flight. Once we had all had our hugs and goodbyes, I was off through security and onto the plane for my first leg down to LAX. While the plane ride could have been less comfortable, I decided I can greatly increase my comfort in the future by wearing fewer layers. You see, in order to maximize the space in my suitcase, I wore several layers of clothing which resulted in me feeling and looking like a marshmallow. This wasn’t a huge deal while I was still in Oregon where it was near freezing temperatures, in fact, it was rather cozy. But walking into LAX wearing three layers of pants, four shirts, and two coats where everybody else was wearing shorts, tank-tops, and flip-flops made it quite apparent how Oregonian I am, not to mention unbearably warm.

Navigating the LA airport in my marshmallow suit was a bit tricky and uncomfortable, but soon enough I was in the relentlessly long security line for international departures. When I finally got to the checkpoint, the TSA agent gave me a smile and nod and pointed to the rainbow patch on my laptop bag. He said he wished he could be so forthright, but that he was worried about such an upfront display of personal identity in his line of work. He joked about giving me a pat-down and then let me on my way. While this was just one simple and short-lived interaction, I was struck by the reality of this man’s situation. It evoked feelings of empathy for the man and feelings of anger toward the people and organizations responsible for the environment that provoked this fear.

To speed things up a bit, the flight was long – over 14 hours – and I was quite happy to step off the plane into the airport in Shanghai. One wonderful surprise is that my friend Steven took a train to Shanghai to pick me up so I would have someone to help me navigate my way after arriving. As I strolled through the arrivals archway wearing my cholo jeans and dragon shirt, he spotted me right away. We exchanged smiles, and once I passed beyond the gate, I was greeted with a bear-hug. We were soon on our way through the airport, chatting as though it hadn’t been nearly a year since we last saw each other. As we ventured through the Shanghai subway system with all my stuff, I felt strangely at ease, partially because I had been here once before, and partially because I knew I was beginning a great adventure of personal growth and learning.