For me, my Year of the Horse gift-giving began at 6:30 a.m. for my morning swim at the pool.
After grabbing the first big bag of candy, I hustled out the door to hail a taxi across town to the Meng Zhui Wan natatorium.
My taxi driver was quiet and rather gruff. I soon found out he’d been driving all night, not able to enjoy the holiday eve festivities with his family.
“How’s business?” I asked.
“So-so,” was his bland reply.
It’s always quiet on NY’s Eve. Plus that morning, I figured everyone was sleeping in after watching the Chinese countdown-to-midnight galas on national TV stations.
When it came time for me to jump out of the taxi, my hand went into my bag and I pulled out a fistful of candy which I placed on the front seat next to him.
“Xin nian kuai le! Happy New Year!” I gleefully said in both Chinese and English.
My driver’s tired face lit up with a huge smile.
“Xie-xie, xie-xie!” he said, then added a hesitant English “Thank you!” for good measure.
I waved goodbye and off he sped, already a candy in his mouth.
New Year’s Greeting Number 1 a success!
It was time to move on to my next recipients, the gate attendants at the park entrance. These two elderly men have all-night vigils, sitting in a small cubicle next to a bicycle parking area to make sure no unsavory individuals enter the area. They take turns standing at the entrance, as is their duty.
I entered with a slight, impish jog to the desk they often sit at. The two curiously looked on until I showered the desktop with goodies.
“Xin nian kuai le! Happy New Year!”
The two beamed, and I, too, as their “xie-xie!”s followed me on my way down the walkway toward the pool.
Same went for our park cleaners, out sweeping the sidewalks and emptying trash cans into their bicycle propelled carts. Their hands were full and rather dirty so I was quick to stuff their pockets full of sweets.
“Xin nian kuai le! Happy New Year!” came out my well-practiced phrase.
I had to chase down a few of them as they were spread out a bit, causing their nearby colleagues to laugh at my playful antics.
Everyone was giggling , very pleased to be remembered for their Spring Festival and adamant that I shouldn’t be filling their pockets with any more candy, which I did anyway.
“You have children? Grand-children?” I said in Chinese. “You can treat them!”
Next stops were the entrances to our two swimming pools, one facility outdoor (the frigid unheated water for our hardy winter swimmers) and the other indoor (the comfortable heated pool, which is my preference). The staff always greet us, helping with our card swipes across the machine and later handing out our locker keys.
You can imagine how their sleepy demeaners quickly changed once the candy came out of my bag as I approached them.
“Happy New Year!” I repeated again, adding an extra handful.
“Too much! Too much!” the women laughed but I noticed their fingers were already picking away to see which prettily wrapped candies they’d try first.
It was obvious both groups of employees from the outdoor and indoor pools were very excited o be remembered on New Year’s Day.
No One To Be Left Out
Nor was I about to let the lifeguards go away empty-handed.
After my 2-hour work-out, I eagerly sped back to my locker to bring out the rest of my stash to bestow upon our deck hands. We have 7 lifeguards on duty at one time, from ages 20 – 45, all male. I quickly made my way around the 50 meter pool to each one, positioned at his station.
Food is not allowed within the pool area but this was a special occasion. Every guard gratefully accepted my presents, with a “Xin nian kuai le!” from me and an English “Happy New Year!” from them.
I even had enough left for those in the women’s locker room. Anyone who keeps to a rigid exercise schedule by swimming on such a prestigious holiday deserves a little extra reward. What better reward than candy?
Good Luck for All; Bad Luck for One
According to my Chinese friend, the first day of Chinese New Year is to be full of good thoughts and a new, positive attitude toward life. All those negative feelings and unfortunate happenings of the past are to be swept away. No one is to be angry or upset on that first day or it will follow the person throughout the next 12 months.
Being able to add to everyone’s happiness with my candy give-away was just one way to make sure everyone’s Day 1 good mood stayed intact to carry them through for the rest of the year.
Unfortunately for one, that good luck fell flat.
We had a rather harrowing incident at the pool after one male swimmer 3 lanes over from mine became irate when someone accidentally ran into him. We had quite a crowd at the pool that New Year’s morning, some being the veterans who came every day and a few others who were fairly new to the pool scene.
Whether our guy was a newcomer or a regular, I have no idea but his shouting and snarling words toward several in his lane took on a very nasty turn. When he started in with the slapping, gesticulating wildly and water splashing at his bewildered lane mates, the lifeguards stepped in.
It took a good 20 minutes to calm down this character who, obviously, should have stayed home that morning. Probably a bit too much celebrating (i.e., drinking) to welcome in the Year of the Horse made him a bit overly touchy.
I’d have given him some candy to make him feel better but my goodies were in my locker and I had yet another hour before I finished. Besides, the damage was already done. Whatever good luck he came to the pool with I figured was long gone by now.
Here was definitely one in our midst doomed to live out a year of troubles and unhappiness.
The Horse, Now Settled Into 2014
Almost 2 months have passed since my candy hand-outs ushered in the Year of the Horse. Our chilly weather and dreary, overcast days are now beginning to brighten with sunshine and flowering oriental trees. People are already trading in their winter garb for spring attire. Layering is still a must but I’ve noticed everyone’s layers are peeling away, bit by bit.
My candy baskets are back to their usual cheap varieties. No sense in splurging just for me. I’ll save that for next Chinese New Year, something I’m already eagerly anticipating.
From China, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day.