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HOW TO: Shenzhen Spring Festival/Chinese New Year

Posted on Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 in Shenzhen by Ian

aeon2

By 2016 most hackers have some idea that China shuts down for a month every year. If not, learn it: from some time in January to some time in February the world’s largest country and manufacturing capital, one of the biggest economies, closes shop. Nothing is made or shipped.

While the whole country celebrates, Shenzhen is uniquely populated entirely by migrant workers from the north who leave for Spring Festival. All the teenagers who live in dorms and build your iPhone make a once yearly trek to see their families. The mass exodus from Shenzhen to northern China is billed as the worlds largest human migration. Its documented in “The Last Train Home”.

luggage-dragger-1

It starts slowly at first. You see a few people dragging luggage down the street, then a few more. Suddenly they’re everywhere.

Continue below for fireworks, gambling, the great migration, and how to deal with suppliers during Chinese New Year.

luggage-draggers

Everyone has a bag of water, food, and snacks. This is what they’ll subsist on until they reach their hometown in a few days.

smuggle-shop

Here a young couple stops at shop that sells baby formula, food, and shampoo smuggled from Hong Kong. Anything from here makes an impressive gift back home. Just to the left, out of frame, there’s a woman fighting with a restaurant owner. She says the food made her husband sick and she wants 100RMB ($16USD), likely a New Years scam for a few dollars to get back home.

bus

Random charter buses show up on every street. And then it goes silent.

luggage

For three solid weeks the infrastructure that supports 12-15 million people simply ceases to exist. First the factory labor goes: catching early buses and trains, some for 3-5days of travel. Without factories the couriers don’t have work, so all but the biggest delivery service stops working.

There’s no buyers or sellers in the market, so our local late night BBQ place is empty and closes for two weeks. All the hardware stores, salons, stationary shops, everything, completely closed. Its a ghost town out there, McDonald’s is about the only thing open.

If you work with China you need to take Spring Festival seriously. Rushing a last minute order or production before Spring Festival is just incomprehensibly stupid. Yet every year people desperately flail about trying to get something done a week or two or three before the holiday, even people who should know better.

Worse, there’s always a couple who offer to DO ANYTHING OR PAY ANYTHING!!! Yeah, anything except properly plan your production. Even a month ahead of the holiday nobody wants to take on new jobs. Offering to PAY ANYTHING!!! is incredibly insulting to suppliers, they value relationships and cooperation (and the once-a-year chance to see their family).

A half billion workers will ride filthy, feted, crowded, stinking trains for 5 days to visit some hellish frozen northern Chinese coal-burning village where families nag them to make more money, get married, and pop out a baby. Yeah, they don’t care about your damn Kickstart deadline.

Smart people know: the last order before Spring Festival is taken October 10th, after China National Day.

fireworks-shenzhen

So what to do in an empty Chinese mega city? Fireworks, while technically not permitted in Shenzhen, are everywhere. Kids and teenagers sell fireworks in the food streets from Styrofoam coolers.

They’ve got the good stuff. Snap-pops and sparklers at the low end. Rolls of 780,000 firecrackers and 38 shot mortars at the high end. There’s even a concierge lighting service.

safety-glasses

Wear safety glasses and ear plugs. Even the humble snap-pops are 10 to 20 times more powerful than those in America, they can easily make your ears ring for a few minutes if you empty a few thousand into a condom and throw it on the street.

heheihoi4

Locals play a game call Fish, Shrimp, Crab. Bet 5RMB ($0.80USD) or more on the fish, shrimp, crab, gourd, coin or cock. A dealer shakes three dice with these same symbols. If your symbol comes up you win 2x, 3x, or 4x your bet.

Betting is frowned upon so tables fold up quickly during regular police patrols, but it generally seems to be tolerated. We never gamble, because math, but “he hei hoi” is an interesting local cultural experience that goes well with beer and fireworks.

Spring Festival. Think of it as Christmas and New Years all rolled into one, then stretched out for a month. There’s kitschy decorations and annoying repetitive holiday muzak. There’s annual traditions involving food, alcohol, and vice. There’s visiting family you don’t like in far away places you’d rather not be. And never, under any circumstances, does anything get done before or during the holiday.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 at 11:39 am and is filed under Shenzhen. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “HOW TO: Shenzhen Spring Festival/Chinese New Year”

  1. gyre says:

    really cool write up. I have encountered the ponderous wait for some things coming from Shenzhen. Now I have a better understanding. And thanks for putting into perspective the travails those folks have to make to go home. I puzzled by the guy that drives 100 miles each way to work every day. Is it really worth it? I’m grateful that I can find such a great life with so little to give up in return.

    That has to be quite eerie and amazing to experience the mass exodus every year. I’d love to someday take the Shenzhen tour!

  2. Drone says:

    Hi Ian, Very interesting…

    This is quite similar to the mass exodus that occurs here in Jakarta at the end of Ramadan. The starting date rotates yearly with the Islamic calendar. The term is “Balik Kampung” or roughly “Return to the Village”. Everyone vanishes for at least week and leaves me all alone here to do donuts in my car right smack in the middle of Jalan Sudirman ;-) Attempting any sort of travel at the beginning or end of the exodus is pure insanity as far as I’m concerned. People you barely know will hit you up for handouts to “help” them at this time – and be very angry if you don’t give it up. Sigh.

  3. J. Peterson says:

    Great writeup.

    I like this image https://goo.gl/d1c7VW

    Pretty well sums it up.

  4. mart says:

    Did you see the photos from Guangzhou station? Glad I wasn’ part of it

  5. Stephen says:

    The Fish, Shrimp, Crab game is exactly the same as the game known in the West as Crown and Anchor. The odds against winning are very bad.

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