好久不见 (hǎo jiǔ bù jiàn – “long time no see”), everybody. I should apologise for not updating for so long, but if I did that be prefacing every post with the same thing, and that’ll get boring pretty quickly.
Recently China celebrated the Lunar New Year, which is a much bigger deal here than the traditional western “get pissed and pass out” version of New Year. It generally means 7 days of near-constant fireworks and firecrackers. Here’s a video I took last year – it’s 8 and a half minutes long but the first minute will give you more than enough of a taste.
Now, imagine that every day for 7 days, from the moment it gets dark until the wee hours of the morning. Well, in actual fact, the only really intense nights were the first night, the 5th night (which belongs to the God of wealth and fortune, meaning the more fireworks you set off that night, the richer you’ll be the next year), and the last night. However, I’ll still be happy if I don’t have to hear another firework for the next 51 weeks.
The effect was pretty amplified since our apartment is on the 14th floor, which is at about the height that most fireworks blow up.
Anyhow, for Chinese people, New Year is traditionally a time to go home and spend the week with your family. Many people in Shanghai don’t get the chance to, as they would miss out on a week’s salary, as well as having to spend a lot of money that they don’t have on travel expenses and gifts. Speaking of gifts, with the majority of Chinese parents obsessed with marrying off their children (to the extent that every Sunday in People’s Park in Shanghai they have a ‘marriage market’, a whole area of the park filled with fliers advertising their children like commodities), the best gift a young Chinese bachelor can bring home is a pretty girl worthy of marrying.
I’ve probably spoken of my love of a Chinese website called Taobao (淘宝网), which is pretty much the Chinese equivalent of eBay, only a couple of thousand times better. Taobao has everything you could possibly want, and over Chinese New Year, took that claim a step further, advertising “temporary girlfriends and boyfriends”. That’s right, plenty of sites were offering a type of escort service for your parents’ peace of mind: for a certain price, you could bring home the perfect would-be spouse to meet mama and papa.
Prices for locals in Beijing weren’t too bad: 8 RMB (about 80p) per hour for your hired love to accompany you to a family dinner, 15 RMB (~£1.50) to go to a party or shopping together, 3 RMB (~30p) for a handshake with the parents, 5 RMB (~50p) for a hug, and 10 RMB (~£1) for a kiss.
However, those in other cities usually went on a day-to-day basis: hiring your future bride or groom in Guangzhou went for about 1,500 RMB (~£150) a day.
From an article on indiatimes.com:
Software engineer Hu Xiaofei said he spent 6,000 yuan (about £600), more than half of his year-end bonus to rent a girlfriend for a week-long stay at his family home in the countryside of central Hunan province.
“My parents want me to marry early, but I can’t find a girlfriend easily. So I might as well hire one to make them happy,” Hu said.