Feb 12, 2010

Beijing empties out before lunar new year

In China, lunar new year is like Christmas, Thanksgiving, regular New Year, plus Kwanzaa and Fat Tuesday rolled in to one. Lunar new year eve, the main event, falls this Saturday night.

During the past week, Beijing has gradually become emptier and emptier. It's starting to look like The Langoliers, or like downtown Detroit.

Those familiar with Beijing might say that the reason the city has emptied out is because it is a town of transplants (外地人), like New York and San Francisco are. Most people living in Beijing are not from Beijing. You'd suspect that most migrants and out-of-towners have already left for their new year's train journeys back home.

I made that speculation until I dropped by the local Beijing Wal-Mart after a pretty calm day in the office. I had to pick up some sorghum booze to give as a new year's gift, as well as some grapefruit and German weissbier, so Wal-Mart was the best choice.

It turns out that all the people in Beijing are still around. They're all hanging out at Wal-Mart. The place was a complete madhouse. The population density of Wal-Mart has to be like 2 or 3 people per square yard. No joke. You couldn't do a pirouette without unintentionally whacking someone. Good luck trying to push a shopping cart. (Those in the know stick to the little plastic baskets instead.)

Despite the crowds, everyone I encountered was civil and friendly. I didn't have any problems with items being out of stock, and the checkout lines went quickly. Wal-Mart China seems to have their act well-coordinated.

[Photos from Life]


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