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Slithering Into the Year of the Snake

Slithering Into the Year of the Snake

Every now and then a zookeeper will let an animal out of their enclosure in a controlled and monitored process. What would happen if the zookeeper were to let every animal in the zoo out at the same time? Last week China had a holiday to celebrate Chinese New Year. When 1.3 billion people all try to have their annual vacation at the same time chaos is inevitable. Welcome to the year of the snake.

Chinese New Year sees Shanghai transformed with red lanterns and fireworks littering the neon lit streets. It is a chance for everyone to take a one-week vacation from work to spend time with family and friends. You would think that this would be the perfect time to unwind but the Chinese New Year stampede is far from it. I did not get much sleep over the break as I found myself seizing the opportunity to be a tourist and immerse in Shanghai’s nightlife. When I did manage to have a night to rest, the endless eruptions of fireworks led me to the same restless sleep that a soldier in an active war zone would enjoy.

Chinese New Year is celebrated as a holiday bringing you wealth, good fortune and longevity for the year to come. I thought it would be fitting to explore my time off from the perspectives of these three themes, as I have encountered all of them this week.

Ironically, I received my wealth from my unpaid internship. The lead up to our break saw the office, like a Christmas tree, filled with an abundance of gifts from and for staff, bosses and clients. The day we broke up I was spoilt with gifts and I even received some money in a red envelope for good luck.
Despite receiving so many fantastic presents I found the majority of my wealth came in the form of the office break up dinner and a lunch with the interns and our boss. On both occasions the other interns and myself were made to feel a part of our company’s family with laughter, singing and games often filling the room. It was a nice touch to have one of our bosses go out of his way to get to know us over lunch during the holiday period.

Good Fortune
Propitiously, I found good fortune during my time being a tourist in Shanghai. I left coins on and rubbed the belly of many Buddha statues scattered throughout various gardens including the Yu Yuan Gardens in the Old City.
I also visited the famous Jing’An Temple found in the heart of Shanghai which is home to many monks. At the temple I joined the pandemonium as visitors threw coins in the air trying to land them in small pots on a tower. The smaller the pot was the more luck it brought.
Finally I spent a day filling my suitcases at the fake markets. With secret rooms, aggressive bargaining and charismatic shopkeepers walking into the markets I felt like Alice falling into the rabbit hole. I found myself forgetting my budget as I always tried to buy something and improve my negotiation skills with every new shop.

Astonishingly, I witnessed longevity in the ancient cities I visited surrounding Shanghai over three consecutive days. It began with Chongming Island, this island is full of flora and fauna making a refreshing change from the pollution clouded skies of Shanghai. This continued onto the garden city, Suzhou, where some of the interns and I took a walk through the historic streets getting a feel for a smaller city’s way of life. Finally the program took us to the ancient water city, Zhujiaojiao, where I walked down streets more than 1,700 years old and took a Venetian like boat ride along the river.

Running around in the zoo that was the Chinese New Year celebrations has left me exhausted yet satisfied. I feel that this time away from the office has given me a better chance to explore and gain further insight into the puzzle that is Shanghai and the Chinese way of life. The short break from work has shed and the year of the snake has begun. With it I hope that this year will continue to provide me with more great experiences.

Rob Soros
Scholarship recipient for Public Relations Internship in Shanghai, China

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