Bridget Rooth, founder of a Beijing-based translation company, says she likes to celebrate Spring Festival with friends. File Photo
The excitement of a traditional festival makes one expat see China on a big scale, says Todd Balazovic
For many of China's residents, Spring Festival is a time to reconnect. This is when people travel vast distances through rigid temperatures to reunite with family, some for the first time in more than a year.
While rigorous efforts are often made by Chinese families to make it home for the holidays, for the country's rapidly growing number of foreign residents, returning to one's home country is not always an option.
Instead, thousands of expats each year choose to stay in China and adopt Spring Festival traditions of their own.
For Bridget Rooth, Founder and CEO of English Trackers, a Beijing-based translation company, the holiday means embracing the good-natured and family-oriented spirit of the festival.
The 45-year-old British mother of three, one son and two daughters, has celebrated at least five spring festivals during her seven years in Beijing and has developed her own traditions when it comes to the lunar festival.
"We always like to celebrate with our Chinese friends," she says.
Rooth says she has spent most of her spring festivals around a dinner table with Chinese friends, making dumplings and eating good food.
"It's great to have all our friends, Western and Chinese, in one place and it's good for the kids to experience the culture of the holiday," she says.
While Rooth will stay in Beijing this year to avoid the heavy holiday traffic of the festival and catch up on work after a busy Christmas holiday, she will still celebrate with her children.
Staying in the capital during Spring Festival is like a holiday in itself, she says.
"The city empties out and everything becomes calm. The traffic also becomes much lighter and it's easier to get around."
She says her most memorable Spring Festival celebration was easily the first time she experienced the holiday in 2004.
"It was quite amazing and exciting. We went to Ditan Park to watch the fireworks and had Taiwan-style hotpot. After that, my children all received a hongbao," she says, referring to the red envelopes filled with money often gifted to children and relatives for the lunar new year.
But Rooth's favorite aspect of the holiday is the sheer volume of fireworks set off on the first day of the celebrations.
"It's just amazing that night when it all goes crazy. The fireworks, the quantity of them is just overwhelming. Every year you think to yourself 'here we go again' but then it impresses you all over again," she says.
"It's big China - everything's on a big scale."
Buying and lighting their own fireworks has become an eagerly anticipated tradition for her family, Rooth says.
"Back home, it's always the local municipality that puts on the shows, you never get to light your own. It does not have the same excitement as lighting your own cardboard box and watching the rockets fly out," she says.
"My son gets so excited every year, he can't wait to get the big boxes of fireworks."
While she may not be going all-out this year, she says she hopes to use the period to spend time with her "Beijing family", her friends living in Beijing.
"Even if you don't travel during the holiday, it's nice to get everyone together when everyone has a few days off. It gives you time to cook and really enjoy each other's company."
Rooth, who moved to Beijing in 2004 to work as a communications officer at a foreign law firm before opening her own translation company in 2008, says she has big plans for the Year of the Rabbit.
With business in China booming, she says she hopes to use this year to expand her translation business to include a bigger Chinese clientele.
"Asia is the world's future. The whole business culture is evolving," she says.
"I think it's going to be a great year for my company and a great year for me to get Chinese clients. Plus, it's my eighth year in China - so that's got to be lucky."
(China Daily 02/02/2011 page5)