Foreign expats embrace Year of the Rabbit

More foreigners living across China are exploring traditions and cultures as the pent-up travel demand has been unleashed.

This year marks the Year of the Rabbit – a gentle and beloved animal that signifies vitality, wit, caution and good luck in the Chinese zodiac.

It is the first Spring Festival since China adjusted its epidemic response measures. More foreigners living across China are exploring traditions and cultures as the pent-up travel demand has been unleashed.

Passenger trips for this year's Spring Festival travel rush are expected to reach 2.1 billion, almost twice as much as last year or 70.3 percent of the 2019 reading, according to the Ministry of Transport.

Travel and experiences

Having been living in China for over 10 years, Muhammad Faisal, a Pakistani, experienced the Spring Festival travel rush in quite a special way.

Wearing a railway uniform and holding a detector, Faisal conducted safety checks for travelers entering Tianshui South Railway Station in northwest China's Gansu Province. Some travelers looked at him in surprise when realizing that he was a foreigner, and he responded with a warm greeting in fluent Chinese.

"I feel lucky to participate in China's 'chunyun' in this way," he said. The 29-year-old works as a railway staff member – doing safety checks, answering inquiries and organizing boarding and disembarking.

On the Chinese Lunar New Year's Day, El Batoul Nejjaoui from Morocco sent well wishes to her Chinese friends as spectacular fireworks lit up the night in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Nejjaoui has been living in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region for four years, working as a cultural messenger between China and the Arabic world by translating Chinese films and books into Arabic. She has celebrated several Spring Festivals and experienced many festival activities such as making dumplings, paper cutting, guessing lantern riddles, and writing spring festival scrolls.

"This year, I want to visit new places in China and also do some shopping," said Nejjaoui, adding that she expects to perceive a different China through travel during this special holiday.

While Nejjaoui explores Guangzhou, Muhammad Wagiyanto, an Indonesian student at Ningxia University, is on his first trip to Beijing, hiking the Great Wall and touring the Palace Museum.

"I heard Beijing is a city with a long history and colorful cultures, and it's absolutely true," said Wagiyanto, who has video called home to share his travel experience with his family in Indonesia.

Special family reunions

Albida Sultana, 20, had never visited China before she arrived just two months ago from Bangladesh. She said that Chinese New Year's Eve, which fell on January 21 this year, was a day full of joy and surprises that she would treasure "both in diary and memory."

"That day, our university arranged lunch for us, providing dumplings, a variety of dishes, fruits, juice, nuts, seeds and chocolates. I tried all the dishes and they were so tasty," said Sultana, who is studying at Ningxia Medical University.

Among the festival traditions, the feast on Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve has always been the highlight. Families gather together and eat sumptuous dishes. "That's why we hold such celebration activities," said Ma Xin, deputy director of the university's international education school.

Ma said that there are more than 400 international students from 32 countries and regions studying at the university, and over one-third have stayed on campus for this year's Spring Festival holiday. Busy studying for a postgraduate degree in orthopedic surgery, Muhammad Saad from Pakistan is among those who have stayed behind.

"Having been in China for over 10 years, I spent the most important part of my youth in China, which attaches me to this country and builds up my interest in the Chinese culture. I badly miss my family at this special moment," the 32-year-old student said. "Thanks to our university, I have joined such celebrations many times, and I like this special family reunion."

For Fetra Harisoa, from Madagascar, celebrating the Spring Festival in her husband's home county of Lichuan, east China's Jiangxi Province, is a ritual she would never miss.

Going to market fairs is Harisoa's favorite errand during the Chinese New Year holiday. Her typical day in Lichuan always begins with visiting the fairs to stock up on Spring Festival snacks and knickknacks, such as couplets, candies, peanuts and melon seeds.

"I love spending time with the whole family. During the Spring Festival, we can also taste many local specialties, such as dumplings, rice noodles and a variety of desserts. It is precisely because of this that I fell in love with the Chinese New Year," she grinned.

More traditions in villages

This year, Sebastian Hahn is celebrating his ninth Spring Festival in his girlfriend's hometown, a village in Danzhou City, south China's Hainan Province.

In the village, Hahn has experienced a totally different new year, making rice dumplings and going to street fairs. Hahn was surprised to walk into a crowded market and smell the fascinating aromas of fresh fruits and local snacks.

"Chinese New Year should be like this!" he said. It was so traditional and lively, which I never saw before, he added.

Traditionally, Spring Festival is a time when people working in cities travel back to their hometowns for family reunions, which means rural villages often have the most festive moods.

US national Tommy Coleman has been living in Hainan for 12 years and calls himself a "new Hainanese." He said he was lucky to spend a special Spring Festival this year with people from the Li and Miao ethnic minority groups in Hainan's Maona Village, Wuzhishan City.

Wuzhishan is famous for tea leaves, so Coleman and his family naturally sampled the local black tea. They also took part in traditional bamboo dances with locals, enjoyed the local tradition of a long-table banquet, and lit fireworks.

"We learned a lot about Li and Miao minority culture, tried many delicious local delicacies, and rang in the new year with friendly local villagers and their families. It's a Spring Festival we will never forget," he said.

Special Reports