Monday, January 16, 2006

People here are preparing for a weeklong Chinese New Year celebration, which kicks off with New Year's Eve dinner with family and relatives Saturday Jan 28.

According to two of my teachers, one of the surest signs that New Year is approaching is the spike in crime in urban centers like Beijing. The city has a growing number of migrant workers, all of whom head home to their villages for the holiday. They are under heavy pressure to bring back money and gifts, my teachers said, regardless of whether they actually have jobs.

One of the Hanzi characters I was reviewing this week is "xiao tou," or petty thief. But xiao tou are not simply pickpockets; they also climb the balconies of five-story buildings and break open windows to steal cameras, jewelry and money, according to local press reports. One thief climbed to the top of a building and was pushed off the balcony by the would-be victim, who was then jailed for killing the would-be thief.

My teacher's neighbors heard a thief try to break in when they were awakened by their barking dog. They were afraid to call police, who might not arrive in time, and they didn't know how many thieves were outside their door. So the neighbor and her husband started yelling loudly at each other hoping the thief or thieves wouldn't know how many people lived in the apartment and might be frightened off. It worked.

Another sign of the approaching New Year, according to the EastSouthWestNorth blog, is the prominent advertisement of adult diapers. For people who have to ride overcrowded trains with overcrowded toilets (or worse) on the long journey home.