A muted Lunar New Year, inside and outside the Olympic bubble | Radio WGN 720

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

For volunteers and competitors at the Games, there are no hong bao – red envelopes – with cash gifts, no tang yuan lucky rice cakes stuffed with sesame, no lion dance so choreographed spectacular.

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

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

Jing Kefei, a 28-year-old web page designer, said he had just passed the third test before returning to work. The Beijing subway was crowded again and the roads congested with commuters.

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

Also known as the Spring Festival, the New Year festival which falls on February 1 this year is China’s largest. Locally, it is faithfully celebrated with a singular purpose of spending time with family for a week, although the celebration actually lasts for most of the month, including the traditional Lantern Festival on February 15.

The Chinese New Year revolves around one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. This year is the year of the tiger, a particularly lucky animal in Chinese culture.

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

The biggest display of Chinese New Year festivities came during the opening ceremony on Friday, when fireworks dotted the sky above the Bird’s Nest stadium, cheerful little children wearing tiger hats performed musical numbers and other locals danced for hours to festive Chinese pop music. thousands of Olympic athletes took their turn in the parade.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach noted the ceremony’s theme in his remarks at the opening ceremony, usually the most-watched event of the Olympics.

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

It is clear that the pandemic has complicated what the great celebrations may have been.

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

“Making the Winter Olympics coincide with that 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, it all takes place in a very different context.”

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

Dressed in a red scarf, Chai Xiaoping, 49, arrived in Beijing on Sunday morning from the nearby port city of Tianjin after a disappointing vacation.

“My house used to be busier and more festive with the family gathering for a reunion. But this year… we were separated into several groups,” Chai said, “The pandemic ruined everything.

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

In a normal year, domestic travel associated with the Lunar New Year creates the largest single-tour human migration, but inbound travel by foreign visitors is not a particularly established tourism phenomenon, Li said.

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

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

“The volunteers were very festive. They all said ‘Happy New Year’ – or ‘xinnian kuai le’ – to all of us,” Zhou said. “They had brought hot pot and Beijing Kaoya (Peking duck), so I ate some, and I mean, the food was pretty good.”

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