SHANGHAI — The Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is an annual holiday in China that celebrates the end of one lunar year and the beginning of another. The Lunar Calendar has a twelve year cycle with one of twelve animals being the animal of the year. 2019 is the Year of the Pig, symbolizing wealth. The celebration, which includes families gathering together, special meals eaten on specific days, and religious traditions, lasts for fifteen days. A large amount of people leave the big cities to join family in their hometowns resulting in what is known as the largest human migration on the planet. An estimated three billion trips were made this year. Though many left the massive metropolis for the week, I arrived in Shanghai, a city that in recent years has seen a large population increase and rapid development, for the first several days of the Spring Festival.
Although there is an abundance of construction sites for high rise residential buildings dotted throughout the city, I wanted to capture the old, maze-like alleyways and small neighborhoods that are filled with hardworking people that have lived in the city for years and do not appear to have a massive supply of what the Pig symbolizes.
It was a pleasant afternoon as the last day of the year began with families and friends spending quality time together enjoying a relaxing afternoon playing games in the park and beginning the yearly traditions.
One tradition that is common around this holiday is burning fake money and chocolate gold coins. This money is meant to burn and be passed on to deceased relatives. These offerings are believed to bring their ancestors fortune and good luck in their afterlife.
Preparations for the nights meal commenced early as the few stores that remained open provided meat from a variety of animals and many people started the food outside their doors.
While I was wandering this neighborhood, warm smiles (sometimes with a cigarette included) were everywhere.
A friendly attitude flowed throughout the community, doors stayed open, and invitations inside for a conversation with broken English were common.
I was fortunate to be taught by them, learning about their lives and how they celebrate the holiday. After just a short time, it no longer felt like I was observing the holiday, but rather celebrating it alongside those I met.
As stressful as holidays can sometimes be making sure everything will be prepared on time, everybody was in a holiday spirit making it contagious.
After spending all afternoon around the mouth watering dishes being cooked for the final meal of the year, my stomach was growling at me. Though many restaurants close for the week, I spotted a big steaming pan with a hard working chef on the sidewalk cooking irresistible dishes.
I ordered a delicious plate of braised pork belly and enjoyed the magical moment of eating dinner on a low plastic stool in the presence of some locals. There’s just something about it.
Getting back to the point, it would have been easy for those I met this day to ignore me and make me uncomfortable exploring their home and holiday, but it was quite the opposite. I will forever cherish this day as I hope this scene does two things. First, I want this to be an encouragement for people to truly learn about others that come from unfamiliar parts of the world, because we’re all not that different and we can all gain a little something. And second, I want to spread the impact that keeping an open door and giving, rather than taking, whether that be time, help, or money, can have on people.
Later, I bought a dessert from a woman on the sidewalk, but was unable to get a photo of her. However, what I thought was just a tiny gesture, appeared to be otherwise. As I bought a delicious doughy concoction from her, which I still don’t know exactly what it was, I told her to keep the change from the cash I gave her. It was not a large amount by any means, but the ear to ear smile that immediately struck her face and enthusiastic thank you was a mental photo I will never forget as I saw what this meant to her.
At this point, the sun was set for hours and I was still coming across doors that remained open.
What started as a curiosity about this holiday turned into me gaining a pig of knowledge and learning the obvious fact that the Shanghainese people I encountered that day have something pure in them that deserves to be recognized.
Over the course of this trip, I chose to shoot in black and white. The city gave me a feeling of emptiness, like the people there were looking for something more. They needed some color in their life, so I took the color out.
Jack Sirek is a photographer for The Daily Cardinal currently studying abroad in Hong Kong for the second semester of his junior year at UW-Madison.