The Chinese do not take vacations in the same way that we do in the West. We each slot our own time away from work, carefully scheduling that time to not conflict with the holidays of our co-workers or colleagues. Due to school holidays of our children there are busier seasons and slower seasons, but with the exception of a few days around Christmas and New Year, overall life and business goes on as usual with little interruption. Not so in China.
In China there are 3 major holidays, and on those 3 occasions the country basically shuts down and everyone goes home (literally). Vacation time in China is family time, and the 3 holidays are:
Chinese New Year
This holiday lasts for an official period of 9 days, but in fact everything seems to come to a standstill businesswise for more like 16 days. The holiday is scheduled to begin on the first day of spring in the lunar calendar, which can fall anywhere from the middle of January to the middle of February. Don’t ask me how the first day of spring can possibly fall in the heart of the two coldest months of the year. I don’t know and no Chinese person has been able to explain it to me. But that’s when it happens and that’s when everyone in China goes home for 2 weeks to be with their family. And that’s when most expats in China, unless they have a Chinese family by marriage, hunker down for a long, boring period of forced rest.
Labor Day (May 1st)
This holiday lasts for 1 week (although many Chinese seem to stretch it out a few days longer), and once again everyone travels home, with few exceptions.
National Day (October 1st)
This vacation recognizes the founding of the People’s Republic of China by the Communists in 1949. Again, for 1 week everyone in China goes home for the holidays.
Remember those dates, because if you accidentally find yourselftraveling in China on one of these occasions you’re in for one of the most trying times of your life. It will take you days to get a train ticket and when you do you’ll be packed in so tightly with so many Chinese travelers that hell will quickly take on a whole new meaning for you. Forget plane tickets, and don’t even think about taking a bus.
If you should find yourself in China during any of these holiday periods here’s a list of things you can do to fill your time:
1. Read those 4 novels you brought with you, from cover to cover, for the 6th time since arriving in China 2 years ago.
2. Rewrite your will for the 6th time since arriving in China 2 years ago.
3. Write that long explanatory letter to your ex-wife (Father, Mother, etc.) as to why you came to China 2 years ago to escape from her and then tear it up for the 6th time since arriving.
4. Try to learn to cook on a Chinese gas burner with a Chinese wok for the 6th time since coming to China 2 years ago.
5. Become a practising Bhuddist.
6. Go sit and drink by yourself (or with the other Gui Lao losers) in the local watering hole, where even the usual Chinese ladies who work there for commissions on the drinks they persuade you to buy them while they pretend to find you handsome and entertaining are absent, having gone home for the holidays.
7. Practise your karaoke routine so you can really wow your Chinese friends when they return from their holidays.
8. Take up calligraphy as a hobby.
9. Fall into a deep 7 to 14 day trance.
10. Plan ahead and hit the beaches of Thailand 3 days before the holiday begins and don’t come back til 3 days after it’s over, for the best holiday of your life.
I’ve tried most of the above and number 10 is the one I most highly recommend.
If, on the other hand, you have acquired a regular Chinese lady companion and you’re invited to go home to meet her family, subject to the caveat below, don’t hesitate,because you’re in for a surprisingly fun and entertaining time, especially if she’s patient enough to translate for you endlessly and even more so of you’re willing to learn to play mahjong. But be sure to take lots of warm clothes if you are visiting anywhere even slightly north of the South China Sea, because the first day of spring can be damned nasty cold in most parts of China, and many Chinese folk have no heating in their homes.
CAVEAT: BE WARNED, when she takes you home to meet her family she is tacitly announcing to them that the two of you intend to marry, and your failure to later do so will be seen as a massive betrayal by all concerned.