A muted Lunar New Year, inside and outside Olympic bubble

Feb 7, 2022, 2:53 AM | Updated: 2:55 am
A resident wearing a face mask walks under red lanterns setup for the Lunar New Year holidays in Be...

A resident wearing a face mask walks under red lanterns setup for the Lunar New Year holidays in Beijing, China, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. As China gets back to business after a muted Chinese New Year holiday that coincided with the start of the pandemic-restricted Beijing Olympic Winter Games, the feeling inside and out of the bubble in this auspicious Year of the Tiger is that festivities for the most sacred and important holiday for the country were limited and underwhelming. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING (AP) — China’s capital city returned to work Monday after a weeklong Lunar New Year holiday that was muted by the pandemic — especially for the thousands of people inside the Winter Olympics bubble.

For volunteers and competitors at the Games, there’s no hong bao – red envelopes – with gifts of cash, no lucky tang yuan rice cakes with sesame filling, no dramatically-choreographed lion dance.

“I really wish that we could gather outside and watch some fireworks or something but due to the pandemic, we can’t really gather and do that stuff unfortunately,” said Vincent Zhou, a Chinese-American figure skater with deep ties to Beijing.

Across China, the pandemic has meant a subdued Lunar New Year for the third year in a row. The government discouraged residents of the capital from traveling home to visit family to limit the spread of the virus. Those who did needed two negative virus tests before heading back to Beijing and a third test within 72 hours of returning.

Jing Kefei, a 28-year-old webpage designer, said he had just taken the third test before heading back to work. The Beijing subway was crowded again and the roads congested with commuters.

“It’s the same as normal working days, except that we were ordered to take the nucleic acid test,” he said.

Also known as the Spring Festival, the new year’s holiday that fell on February 1 this year is the most important in China. Locally, it is faithfully celebrated with a singular focus of spending time with family for a week, though the celebration actually lasts most of the month, including the traditional Lantern Festival on February 15.

Chinese New Year is framed around one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. This year is the Year of the Tiger, an especially lucky animal in Chinese culture.

“My mom is the Year of the Tiger, so it’s very cool to just experience Chinese New Year here,” said Madison Chock, a Chinese-Hawaiian figure skater on the U.S. team.

The grandest display of the Chinese New Year revelry happened at the Opening Ceremony on Friday, when fireworks dotted the sky above the Bird’s Nest stadium, small cheerful children wearing Tiger hats did musical numbers, and other locals danced for hours to celebratory Chinese pop music as thousands of Olympic athletes took their turn in the parade.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach noted the ceremony’s theme in his address at the Opening Ceremony, typically the most watched event of the Olympics.

“May this encourage you to go faster, to aim higher, to become stronger – together. In this way you will inspire the world in this Olympic Year with the same ambition, courage and strength like the Year of the Tiger,” Bach said in a message to the athletes.

It’s clear the pandemic has complicated what grand celebrations may have been.

Xiang (Robert) Li, director of Temple University’s U.S.-Asia Center for Tourism and Hospitality Research, said the COVID-19 restrictions have hampered what could have been an extraordinary cultural tourism opportunity for overseas visitors here for the Olympics.

“Having the Winter Olympics to coincide with this actually gives China something to promote to help understand its culture. Unfortunately, the pandemic doesn’t help and the closed loop doesn’t help,” Li said. “Traveling during the pandemic, everything is against a very different backdrop.”

The Lunar New Year usually marks China’s busiest travel season. This year, China’s Ministry of Transport expects 1.2 billion trips to be made, a 35% increase from last year but lower than the 3 billion trips taken before the pandemic in 2019.

Wearing a red scarf, 49-year-old Chai Xiaoping arrived in Beijing on Sunday morning from the nearby port city of Tianjin after an anticlimactic holiday.

“In the past, my home was more lively and more festive with the family gathering for a reunion. But this year … we were separated into several clusters,” said Chai, “The pandemic messed it all up.”

Even without the pandemic, the festival has become less boisterous over recent years amid fireworks bans, a campaign against food waste and concerns among Communist Party members that conspicuous consumption could draw the attention of anti-corruption commissioners. In recent years, Chinese people had increasingly taken advantage of the holiday to travel abroad, although quarantine restrictions have since led many to stay home.

In a normal year, the domestic travel associated with Lunar New Year creates the largest human migration in a single turn, but inbound travel from overseas visitors isn’t an especially established tourism phenomenon, Li said.

A China visit for outsiders during Chinese New Year – a holiday that revolves around family – Li likened it to a foreigner visiting Thanksgiving in America with no family home to visit for the turkey dinner.

For Zhou, the figure skater, the fact that Beijing is like a second hometown to him with his grandparents and much of his extended family just down the road, it’s a missed opportunity to celebrate with them.

“The volunteers were very festive. They all said ‘Happy New Year’ – or ‘xinnián kuài lè’ – to all of us,” Zhou said. “They had brought in hotpot and Beijing Kaoya (Peking duck), so I had some of that, and I mean, the food’s been pretty good.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The Colorado River winds its way along the West Rim of the Grand Canyon in the Hualapai Indian Rese...
Associated Press

Grand Canyon starting water limitations after pumphouse outage

Grand Canyon National Park is starting water conservation measures on the North Rim due to an electrical failure involving the Roaring Springs pumphouse.
17 hours ago
In this photo provided by Dax McDonald, debris sits near railroad tracks after an Amtrak passenger ...
Associated Press

A look at recent Amtrak derailments and other crashes

An Amtrak passenger train struck a dump truck Monday at an uncontrolled crossing in a rural area of Missouri killing two people on the train and one in the truck. Others were injured. The crash happened just after noon near Mendon, Missouri. Several cars derailed. The train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago. The […]
17 hours ago
FILE - Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on Ma...
Associated Press

Manchin: Commission on veterans facilities to be dismantled

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A group of U.S. senators has agreed to effectively dismantle a commission tasked by the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out closures, downsizing and other significant medical facility changes nationwide, Sen. Joe Manchin said Monday. The West Virginia Democrat, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said there is […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Pennsylvania House targets colleges’ fetal research in bill

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A proposal to require Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities to promise they are not conducting research or experiments with fetal tissue from elective abortions was added to a state budget bill by House Republicans on Monday. The chamber voted 108-92, with three Republicans crossing party lines, for the amendment to legislation that […]
17 hours ago
FILE - Britney Spears and Sam Asghari appear at the Los Angeles premiere of "Once Upon a Time in Ho...
Associated Press

Britney Spears’ ex ordered to trial on stalking charge

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — A California judge found Monday that there is enough evidence against a man once briefly married to Britney Spears who showed up uninvited at the pop star’s wedding to go to trial on a felony stalking charge. After a two-hour preliminary hearing, Ventura County Judge David Worley ruled that 40-year-old Jason […]
17 hours ago
Abortion-rights advocate Eleanor Wells, 34, wipes her tears during a protest in Los Angeles, Friday...
Associated Press

California voters to weigh constitutional right to abortion

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California voters will decide in November whether to guarantee the right to an abortion in their state constitution, a question sure to boost turnout on both sides of the debate during a pivotal midterm election year as Democrats try to keep control of Congress after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
Canvas Annuity

The secret to guaranteed retirement income

Annuities aren’t really a secret, but they are so misunderstood that they might as well be. Once you understand what an annuity is and how it can benefit you, you could decide this “secret” is the perfect supplement to your retirement plan.
A muted Lunar New Year, inside and outside Olympic bubble