Ok, here is a question for everyone. What is the busiest holiday travel season on earth? It should be easy, because the number of travelers for the correct answer is about 50 times greater than the #2 answer. If you guessed Christmas - YOU'RE WRONG!!! It's Chinese New Year. The number of holiday travelers in China alone last year in the month of February was estimated at over 2 billion. So the next time you are traveling at Christmas and think it is really crowded, imagine what it would be like if every single person in the United States took seven trips during the month of December.

I have been learning about CNY now that we are here in Singapore. It is celebrated by billions of people, and most of Asia around the Pacific rim shuts down for almost a week. I didn't know much about it and I suspect most people in the US don't. It is quite embarrassing to find out how self-absorbed Americans are.

A few basics. Chinese New Year is sometimes referred to as Lunar New Year, because the Chinese calendar is based on the moon rather than the sun. So New Years Day moves around in the month of February (like Easter in the west). This year, New Years day was on February 18. Some of the new year customs in the west come from CNY traditions. Staying up late on New Year's Eve comes from an old Chinese superstition that a monster comes while you sleep. So you stay up late and he can't get you. Shooting off fireworks also comes from an old superstition. The fireworks scare away monsters.

There are some other interesting superstitions associated with CNY. It is considered bad luck to sweep the floor during New Years. You might sweep away the good luck for the year. Sorry dear - I can't clean house today. It is also considered bad luck to buy books or get a haircut during New Years. Apparently it has to due with Mandarin or Cantonese words for those things which are homonyms. It's a bummer about the books, but it is considered good luck to eat candy or any sweets. Man, am I going to be lucky! The celebration of New Year officially is about two weeks long, but actually covers about six weeks (kind of like Christmas in the US.) We had a fantastic view of fireworks over Marina Bay right from the balcony of our apartment. They set them off at midnight on New Year's Eve, and have had fireworks the last two nights at 9:00 pm. Don't know how long they'll keep them up, but it's a pretty good show.

Monday and Tuesday are public holidays here in Singapore. In China, hp shut down for the whole week. Most stores were closed. We got caught off guard, because we came back from our week in Phuket on New Year's Eve. We got home and raced to the market to stock up on food for the two days of holiday. It was just closing. But it turns out that some restaurants have been open, and even some stores, although most have had limited hours. There is a lot of partying going on. In our apartment complex on New Year's Day there was a big party down in the common area. When I looked out at 2:00 am, it was still going strong.

I guess the major tradition is the reunion dinner. Wherever you are, you are supposed to return home for a large family dinner over the New Year holiday. That is what prompts all the travel. A more modern tradition is to have the reunion dinner, but to have it somewhere away from home. That could be at a restaurant, or it could be on holiday. When we booked our trip to Phuket, we just squeezed it in. The day we returned, every hotel on the island was booked solid for the next week, way in advance, with people off for the new year holiday.

Decorations are a big thing. All of the shopping centers have been decorated for weeks. Our apartment complex has quite a few decorations on the outside, in the lobby, the guard station, even in the car park. Orchard Road looks pretty festive, and there are two big parades planned for this coming weekend. We didn't do much decorating ourselves, because first we were getting our surface shipment, so our apartment was in total disarray (that'll be another post soon). Then we had our trips. So today I finally bought one decoration and hung it from the light fixture in the living room. Pretty wimpy, but at least we have something.

Today we walked through Chinatown. There were more decorations there, although not as much as I expected. We did find the Chinese market and we bought some great stuff. Sandy got some really nice clothes that she can wear to work but that definitely have an oriental look. We also found some pretty watercolor paintings of various scenes in Singapore. We talked to the artist about where they were painted. Sandy and I got one and Shannon got one for her room.

The picture of me on the street is just for Scott. Hey - is that enough Chinese writing for you?

Each year of the Chinese calendar is associated with a different sign of the Chinese zodiac. This year is the year of the pig. So there are pig pictures, cartoons, figures, etc. everywhere. Prosperity is associated with the pig, so this is the year of prosperity (McDonald's has a special promotion this month - you can order a Prosperity Burger). But the Year of the Pig has fire and water as it's two basic elements. Since they don't mix well, there can be conflict and troubles in the Year of the Pig. So be careful.

Here is wishing everyone

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Happy New Year!