We moved into our new flat in Fuxingmen in February. It’s pronounced Fooshingmun, and ‘men’ means gate, or door. Metro Line 2 is like London’s circle line, and nearly all of its stops end in ‘men’. Next stop is Fuchengmen. Viz readers should live around line 2. These ‘men’ are the old gates to the city. In the middle you have Tiananmen, which roughly translates as Gate of Heavenly Peacemaking, although its a slightly different meaning to the literal gates around the Viz line. Of course Beijing has grown far beyond this old border now, but the road layout and place names still show the history.
Our new home is on the 18th floor, and we were just in time: Chinese New Year arrived, with shock and awe resembling Baghdad ’03. I’d been here the year before for New Year, and I knew how much the Chinese like to let off fireworks. But I was low down in the Hutongs then – this time I had a great view across the city. The fireworks lasted for two days without a single letup, and then on and off for the rest of the week. The night time sky was orange, and the noise was incredible. Some were going off nightly and daily (why???) right outside our window. The Great Worrier thought the glass was going to give in at any moment.
Traditional new year food is Chinese Dumplings. Along with Hot-Pot (too good, needs a book written about it) these really should make an appearance in the UK, and kill the image of Chinese food as nothing but greasy noodles, egg fried rice and prawn crackers. I don’t know where that UK Chinese takeaway food comes from. Not had anything remotely like it here yet, that’s for sure.
The dumplings are not English style dumplings, they are more like large Italian Ravioli I guess, with a multitude of excellent fillings. You stand around a table covered in flour, making them together, talking about the weather or the price of tofu, pinching the sides to seal them up like little cornish pasties. Then they are fried or steamed, and you dip them in soy sauce, chilli and vinegar. Or ketchup and brown sauce if that’s your thing. Then you just keep eating. When you finish eating, you cook some more and eat them. When they are done well, they’re addictive. Tried to buy frozen ones. No good.
When the day’s eating is finally over, like all good family festivals, you sit round the telly for some good wholesome entertainment. In the evening there are huge variety gala shows live on TV, featuring comedy sitcoms performed on stage, with singing, dancing and magicians. Not really my thing, and not just ‘cos I can’t speak Chinese. It all looked a bit dated to me, but the staging is impressive, the numbers of performers make it some operation. Its very popular. I am assured that it is required viewing, a tradition just like Xmas Wizard of Oz once was. Maybe Saturday night with Jim Tarbybruce and the London Paladium is a more apt comparison, although I’m sure the jokes are better.