During Chinese New Year celebrations, Omeida Language College has organized a few activities for both Chinese and international students to celebrate the arrival of the Year of the Dog. It’s the first occasion, for many of us, to immerse ourselves in the heart of the Chinese culture in one of the most powerful moments of the year.
Our Eve of the big celebration begins in front of the Chinese Academy on Thursday 15th of February (the 31st of December according to the lunar calendar) at 10 am. There are at least fifty of us, ready to challenge one of the most ancient Chinese arts: bargaining. The first task of the day is to split into groups and buy the necessary ingredients to prepare two core meals: dumplings and hot pot.
Every group has one or two things to buy and is led by a Chinese whom westerners, like myself, trust blindly in the bargaining phase. Jaimie, the Chinese girl in my group, barges through the market dodging stalls she doesn’t trust, until she finds the right one with whom she contracts with without budging one inch.
They talk and gesticulate for a couple of minutes and it’s one of those moments I blame myself for not studying the language (I’m just a volunteer here). At the end Jaimie wins. We had a limit of 100 Yuan for 5 kilos of nuts and seeds but we only spent 73. Nice shot!
Before we come back to school with our loot, we have a little walk through the market. In these streets that looked all alike until a day earlier, now colors, voices and smells vivasciously alternate one another. Visitors walk, some slow and some fast, and criss-cross each other like hair in a braid without mysteriously ever clashing.
It may seem chaotic at first sight, but if you look carefully you can see that everything has an order, a rhythm, and logic. An exact sequence of steps that has been repeated for centuries. If you want to know China you have to visit its markets.