Raughley Goes to China: The Year of the Dragon!

Today has been a very successful day.  Well, I already feel like I need to qualify that.  First of all, I slept until about noon (it’s a Sunday.  A glorious, glorious Sunday!).  First thing I did when I woke up was remember that I had a third email account that I hadn’t checked in months!  I logged in to find some PhD rejection letters (Boo!) and a letter from some Professors from a third school asking, “Hey, do you really want to come here?”  (I paraphrase, but that was the gist of it.)

I was a bit annoyed with myself for responding to the email so late and a bit nervous about my applications in general.  Very few things could shake my anxiety, but luckily those things were all close at hand.  1. Chocolate Cookies.  2. Star Wars.  3. Not wearing pants all day long.  Let me just say that today was a success on all fronts!  (It’s almost ten pm and I still don’t have pants on.  A day without pants is always a success in my book.  As I sit here at the end of the day, without pants on, I feel really very happy, despite the mildly distressing morning.  It’s amazing the difference no pants can make!

So as I mentioned once before (like five months ago when I last wrote), I have a secret trick for getting the most out of the New Year.  I said I would tell you my secret and, well, now that it has been the new year for almost six weeks I feel like you’re ready.

The secret is…

Travel!  No.  I don’t mean fly so that you hit New Years in every time zone–that would be silly.  Basically, the trick involves the Julian, Gregorian, and Chinese Lunar Calendars!

In the West, New Years is on January 1st.  Pretty straight forward.  The Orthodox Church follows the Julian Calendar, which is about 13 days behind.  Living in Georgia, this worked out well for me!

I went home for a short while for Christmas.  It was pretty great!  I got some iPod speakers, a nook, some gloves, and the flu.  Myles gave me that last one.  Jerk.  My first full weekend back in Georgia I spent the entire weekend miserable in bed.  I slept for basically three days, taking reading breaks between sleeps.  Joanne skyped me on New Year’s Eve to cheer me up and make me go out.  I got to “meet” her Swede!

With Joanne’s peer pressure egging me on, I decided to get dressed and head out into the night.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as I live about a one minute walk from Freedom Square, I assumed I would quickly encounter a crowd.  Instead, I found this:

A totally empty square. St. George's Christmas lights weren't even lit at first! Also, you see that bright light sort of above the buildings and to the left of the TV tower? That's a firework!

The last few minuets ticked down until midnight when all the sudden I heard gunfire from all directions.  It turned out to be Fireworks launched by everyone and his cousin in all the streets and alleys of Old Tbilisi.  Everywhere I looked I could see the pop of small rockets above the buildings and against the black backdrop of the distant hills.

See those stars against the sky? They're really just little fireworks. It was hard to get pictures of them because they were popping up left and right and fading quite fast.

I retreated to the safety of my warm bed and enjoyed the rest of a lazy three-day weekend.

About two weeks later Orthodox New Year rolled around.  This one was celebrated with even less fanfare.  By me, anyway.  I had just spent Georgian Christmas with my old Host Family and I was fighting off a new and different cold.  I had some movies and a nice book and I walked around a bit getting “Happy New Year!” texts from my Georgian colleagues.  The holiday came at a really busy time for me, alas, so it didn’t get the full coverage I wanted it to.  But let’s consider it well and celebrated.  I suppose that means that 2012, for me, lasted from January 1st until January 13th.  It was a good year and the world didn’t end, so I’d call it a success!

Finally, and most excitingly, there’s the big new year that I celebrated with two very close friends who live very far away.

Cristen and Marissa!!!

So, let me begin by saying that I schemed a devious way to get myself a whole bunch of free plane tickets this winter!  First of all, I’ve flown back and forth to Georgia so many times that I quickly racked up enough frequent flier miles to get myself a free ticket to Maine and back!!

Secondly, tickets from Tbilisi to Portland, ME are about equivalent in price to tickets from Tbilisi to Hong Kong!  This enabled me to get TLG to pay for my vacation to Hong Kong, China for the last part of January!

I arrived in Hong Kong on January 19th after a long flight from Istanbul.  For the sake of thematic unity, I’m going to skip the first few days of my time in Hong Kong and come back to those later (It’ll be good!  I got lost on a mountain!).

Cristen and Marissa and I, joyfully reunited for the first time in over a year, headed down to the broad boulevard to watch the Chinese New Year’s Parade.  I had arrived a mere four days before the end of the year of the Rabbit and the beginning of the…wait for it…Year of the Dragon!

The main Hong Kong parade was taking place close to the girls’ apartment and we headed down with high hopes for some Dragon Dances and fireworks and Chinese Acrobats!  We were sorely disappointed.

In what was probably the worst parade I have ever seen (That’s right–the Clam Festival in Yarmouth, ME has a better parade), we saw one Dragon balloon, two dozen Star Wars characters (okay, that part was kind of awesome), some “Street Sliders,” and some dancing children.  Sure, there was the Hong Kong Skip-Roping Club and the series of corporate floats advertizing Cathay Air and Thailand, but really it was just a terrible parade.  We left early and I got an awesome cheeseburger at Outback Steakhouse.  So good!

The next night, however, we were in for a treat.  Though the parade had been a bust, the fireworks were scheduled for the following night.  The perpetual fog of a mid-winter Hong Kong had me worried that the show might get canceled.  I needn’t have feared, however, and we headed out towards the harbor, beers in pockets and cameras in hand.

We followed the crush of people through garages, around buildings, and along fences until we found a pretty good vantage point.  A friendly, neighborhood Hong Kong policeman told us we couldn’t stay.  We took a few steps and heard an enormous boom as the fireworks began behind us.  We ignored the cop and stayed put for the duration of the show.

Though the Clam Fest has the Hong Kong parade beat, hands down, the fireworks for Chinese New Year were pretty epic.

Unfortunately there was a big ole building blocking part of the view, but nonetheless, it was like the Grand Finale for the Entire Time.
And it didn't stop for ages.
And of course it wouldn't be the Year of the Dragon without a TRIPLE DRAGON!!!
Now THOSE are fireworks.

And so, despite the disappointing parade, my trip to the Far East to see two of my closest friends in the world, around the world started with a Bang.

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