Today is my first lantern festival in China, and after missing Chinese New Year due to illness I really wanted to go see some of the festivities.
I found out that Millineum Park was having a big lantern festival celebration complete with giant dragon displays and amazing fireworks. Thinking, cool I can do this, I bundled up, gathered the camera and headed to South Gate to catch a cab. It was 545pm.
While waiting for a cab fireworks erupt a block or so away. Unlike in the US you can actually purchase the big guns, you know the kind you see at 4th of July shows that they have secruity surrounding so you cant touch them, and you can buy them in large quantities and shoot them off anywhere. I pull out my camera and try to film, but by the time I got the glove off and bag with 4 layers of security open and camera turned on, of course they stopped. Ever hopeful I kept it out and wasn’t disappointed.
Standing in the freezing cold, dark street, I was still trying to find a cab. Finally at 610pm a sweet lady cabbie picked me up and proceeded to try to take me to the park. And that is where the adventure really began.
We tried to go the most direct route only to discover it is closed and has police barracades blocking it. Well you should never tell a Chinese person they can’t do something because where there is a will or an unpaved path through old hutongs, there is away.
After driving through this maze of hold homes we finally reach that street, only to drive a few blocks and find another road block, and thousands of people on foot, all headed in the same direction. The lovely lady felt it was too far and to confusing for this laowai to hoof it so she proceded to find another path way but it was through a new apartment complex and the road was paved. After a few wrong turns and dead ends we finally reached as far as she could go and we parted ways. It is now 645pm.
I begin to follow the masses to the entrance of the park. Along the way I see all sorts of blinking accessories that reminds me of Mardi Gras. With the amount of people converging I feel like I am at Mardi Gras in the French Quatrer, minus the boobs and beads.
At 700pm, I finally reach the gate only to see it is blocked off by military men (very handsome I might add) I discover through my broken chinese that you had to purchase a ticket to enter in advance to be able to get in and see the lanterns. Oh. Oh well.
So trying not to panic, I decide to see what all the crowds are watching. I head out across the street to discover I am across the lake from Long Ting. Oh what a beautiful site! It is all lit up and you can see many firework shows across the lake. I filmed for a few minutes then looking up I noticed that it was a beautiful full moon. I also saw tradtional paper lanterns being lit and sent flying through the air. It was incredibly beautiful sight.
At 730pm, I decide that I am getting cold and tired so I head toward the thining crowds thinking I could catch a bus or a cab back to the campus. I was wrong. No bus or cab was being allowed because of the masses of people, and if you have seen the way they drive here you would be greatful!
I proceeded to walk down and around the lake, to long ting entrance, but still no cabs. The police have the area blocked here too because the night market is also going on.
So I walk down long ting road to the main road. Along the way I am again reminded of Mardi Gras when I spot several people on their balconies of the old style buildings. Very cool.
I get to the main street, but no sign of a cab, so I see the lights of KFC and decided to wait a little while and have a coke. It is now 810pm.
I walk across the insanity that is the traffic and get on the side of the road that is headed in the direction of campus. I try to find a cab but they are all full, and I am not on the right street to catch the bus back to campus, so I start walking in that direction. And walking, and walking, and still no cab.
Now at the street that the bus pick up for campus is, I head down in the direction of campus to the bus stop, only to discover the buses stop running after 8pm and it was now 855. At least there were fireworks everywhere, right?!
Great, so I try to hail a cab, but alas they are all full. At 930pm a nice cabbie who has a passanger stopped and asked where I was going and said “get in its on my way” (in chinese) so I did. He is so nice that he didnt just take me to the south gate but he took me all the way to my dorm front door. I give him a the money plus a nice tip for being so cool.
I am finally home and it is almost 10pm. I am frozen (it was 20F plus windchill) and tired. Curious I looked up the distance I walked tonight. A rough estimate is about 5-6 miles. SERIOUSLY? I walked 5+miles? Damn, I really am in better shape then when I arrived in August. I could barely walk 5 blocks.
So, as I looked at the pictures and videos I took, I couldn’t help but wonder…was it worth it?
Damn straight it was!