A few weeks ago Matt and I celebrated the arrival of 2017 in a small cafe-bar in downtown Shanghai, with buy-one-get-one-free cocktails and pizza. We managed to eat without booking a table, and the streets were largely quiet at midnight.
It might have been a bit more lively on the Bund, but we found that December 31st is a bit of a non-event in China; most expats travel home – or elsewhere – for Christmas and the locals register the new year using a different calendar altogether…
Today, 28th January 2017, is the first day of Chinese New Year according to the lunisolar Chinese calendar; Xīn Nián Kuài Lè (新年快乐) – Happy New Year – everyone!
The Year of the Rooster
Each CNY is characterised by one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac and today we transition from the Year of the Monkey (animal #9) to the Year of the Rooster (animal #10).
People born in the Year of the Rooster are honest, energetic, intelligent and confident folk. So far so good, but any existing roosters (born in 1993, 1981, 1969…) may want to take extra care not to walk under ladders or engage in other risky behaviour – the year of your sign is believed to be one of the most unlucky years of your life.
Party like it’s… 2017 (in China)
For most people CNY means a week off work and catching a bus/ train/ plane (delete as appropriate) out of the city to visit family. Depending on your age, marital status and level of career success, this annual gathering may be something you look forward to or something that fills you with dread; I could write a whole blog post on this (and probably will at some point!) but here I want to talk about another CNY tradition – the Annual Office Party and Banquet.
Imagine the Annual Party is a pie, and you cut it into thirds; one part is a corporate ‘Thank-You’ to employees for a year’s hard work (complete with awards, gifts and an after-party), one part is a New Years’ Eve celebration (complete with rooster-themed team videos), and the remaining part is a crazy cabaret-style talent show (complete with near professional level acts and dances performed by employees).
My experience started off like this:
Internal Comms Manager: Emma, would you like to be the MC (compère) for the Annual Party?
Me (internally): Oh my god! I’ve never even held a microphone before; there’ll be hundreds of people and lots of VIPs. What if I look ridiculous? What if I say something ridiculous? Will I have to speak Chinese? In public? What will I wear? Will I have to dance? What if I fall over? What if I forget my lines? What if I have to dance, then forget my lines, then fall over, then say something ridiculous in Chinese?
Me (externally): Erm, okay.
Fast forward a few weeks and, well, this happened…
Between four of us we hosted – in English and Chinese – a fantastical, elaborate evening of toasts, performances, prize draws and competitions. And given I’ve never done anything like this before, I have to say that it went pretty well!
‘Passionate Red vs. Mysterious Black’
It took me a while to wrap my head around our theme for the evening, but essentially ‘Passionate Red’ represents the lucky colour of Chinese New Year, and ‘Mysterious Black’ was a homage to Friday 13th (黑色星期五)- the night of our party. Colleagues were assigned to either the Red Team or the Black Team depending on their functional area and dressed accordingly. This led to some pretty special outfits…
We kicked the evening off with a traditional Chinese meal -a wide variety of cold dishes on the tables to start, then wave upon wave of hot foods (not that the MCs had much time to eat; there was too much ceremony that needed mastering… my dinner consisted of 2 prawns and a mushroom), and of course some festive toasts to the New Year (we did find a bit of time to do a toast. Priorities).
And then we moved on to bit that everyone had been waiting – and rehearsing madly – for… the team performances!
There were four rounds of performances, with each round pitting a Red team group against a Black team group. After each round, the audience voted which of the two they wanted to send to the Finals…
The red versus black theme was wholly open to interpretation, resulting in eight colourful, crazy performances thematically linked only by their inclusion of red, black, and some form of creatively choreographed dance routine, a kind of mass homage to the cult boy and girl bands of the 1990’s.
Rock bands went head-to-head with Victoria’s Secret-style angels and James Bond was pitted against Snow White. On the same stage, we saw our colleagues transformed into Peking Opera stars, Storm Troopers and what I think was the Angry Birds (although I can’t be sure!). Some highlights below…
Voting was by QR code and after each performance a Mexican wave of i-phones rippled across the room.
The final vote was for Best Performance, and the four semi-finalists waited with baited breath and wine-in-hand for the winner to be announced…
5, 4, 3, 2, 1… The Amazing Tron Dance! This was a seriously spectacular performance which involved a total blackout and a group of dancers who had flourescent LEDs weaved around their outfits. They danced to techno music and had other group members (dressed entirely in black) help them perform maneuvers that made it look like they were floating and flying and so on. I have no idea how they managed to rehearse this in the office (!)
Best dressed was well deserved
Although you would have thought the four good looking folks below would have given them a run for their money!
I had a brilliant time, it’s unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced before and the effort and energy that people put into their performances and outfits was beyond impressive. It also had a kind of collective positivity that you don’t always get at events back home – it was a really great way to signify the transition of one (work) year to the next (work) year. I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll top this next year !
祝大家新春大吉 Happy Chinese New Year！