Lunar New Year

For affluent Chinese family, Spring Festival is chance to see the world

In the final instalment of our four-part series on how people across the spectrum of Chinese society celebrate the Lunar New Year, a family of three shares their travel plans over the festival

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 10:33pm

Unlike the millions of Chinese people across the country who are spending their entire Lunar New Year holiday back in their hometowns, Cui Di and her family are spending most of it in southern Taiwan.

Travelling to new places is one of the family’s favourite activities. This year, Cui, her husband and eight-year-old daughter are visiting Kenting, Kaohsiung and Tainan after a brief reunion with their relatives in their hometown of Zhengzhou in Henan province.

“We’ve been to the northern part of the island before and this time we’d like to enjoy the scenery and experience the local customs in the south,” said Cui, 45, a stay-at-home mother who lives in Shanghai.

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Taiwanese will also be celebrating the Lunar New Year, also know as the Spring Festival, during the family’s five days there, but they are not concerned about the possibility of shops being closed over the holiday. While they have not planned any Lunar New Year-specific activities, Cui said they would be delighted if they encountered any festivities. “Travelling itself is full of various kinds of experience,” she said.

The family are members of China’s increasingly affluent middle class – well educated and exposed to different cultures abroad – for whom travel is an indispensable part of life.

Cui’s husband, George Tang Gang, 45, is the sole breadwinner. He earns about a million yuan (HK$1.13 million) a year running a Shanghai-based advertising firm and the family spends at least a fifth of that travelling.

“My husband and I are diehard travel fans,” she said. The couple, both Zhengzhou natives, were classmates in secondary school and studied liberal arts at different universities in Beijing.

“It was our dream decades ago to travel with our loved ones,” Cui said. “We not only get to see beautiful, breathtaking scenery, but also get to immerse ourselves in the rich culture and history of those places we visit.”

Unlike many other Chinese tourists, they do not do much shopping, preferring instead to visit sites of historical or cultural significance. They also never join tour groups, opting to make their way around on their own in rented vehicles.

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As a family, they have travelled to various parts of Europe, Asia and the United States as well as many mainland cities over the past few years.

Last year, they visited Xian in Shaanxi province in May to see the Terracotta Army, the famed legion of sculpted warriors from the Qin dynasty. In July, they spent more than two weeks travelling around Britain. They boarded a cruise to Japan and South Korea in August, and visited Cambodia and its ancient temples during the National Day golden week holiday in October. For Christmas and New Year, they travelled to the resort city of Sanya at the southernmost tip of Hainan province, as well as Shenzhen in Guangdong.

Their daughter, Selina Tang Siqi, has caught the travel bug from her parents. She gets excited about their sightseeing itineraries and packs her own luggage each time the family plans a trip.

Studying at an international school in Shanghai, which has more holidays than public schools, means the grade three pupil gets to travel more often.

“I don’t care if Selina remembers where she’s visited or what she’s seen,” Cui said. “I think that through travelling, she will learn how to get along with nature and with people from different cultural backgrounds. It’s part of her growing-up process.”

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Cui said the family made their travel plans at the start of each year.

“For 2017, [after travelling to Taiwan,] we plan to go to Hong Kong during the Ching Ming festival and to the southwestern province of Guizhou for the Labour Day holiday,” she said. “For summer, we will revisit Britain and also travel to Ireland this time.”

The family has yet to decide where to spend this year’s week-long National Day holiday, but Cui said it would be a Southeast Asian country. For Christmas, they plan to send Selina to a camp to learn how to ski.

Selina, who has been to the US several times, said she hoped to study there one day as she believed it was the most advanced country in the world.

Her parents also intend to send her overseas eventually as they dislike China’s education system, saying it focuses on cramming knowledge rather than guiding students to explore on their own.

Cui said the parents of Selina’s classmates shared their disdain for the system.

“I graduated from Renmin University of China in Beijing, one of the country’s best universities, but I feel awful about what we were taught in university,” she said, adding that the teaching methods and materials were outdated.

To ensure Selina grows up well-rounded, Cui and Tang plough a substantial amount of money into her education, enrolling her in a wide range of extracurricular classes including ballet, piano, painting, swimming and design.

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Cui said Selina is a keen learner. After they visited the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Salzburg, Austria, in 2015, she pestered them to buy her books about the famed 18th century composer and pored over them diligently.

“My daughter is critical about things she is told,” Cui said. “She is used to reading widely to prepare papers on topics assigned by her teachers.”

Cui said she often took her daughter back to Zhengzhou, where the girl’s grandparents live, so she would have a strong bond with her relatives and also learn more about the city. The trip to Zhengzhou from Shanghai takes just five hours by high-speed train.

Cui said the family were beneficiaries of China’s reform and opening up policy but she was concerned about the environmental pollution caused by the country’s rapid economic development over the past four decades.

“My hometown Zhengzhou is one of the cities with badly polluted air,” she said. “My parents live there and I’m really worried about their health.”

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Air pollution in the city reached hazardous levels over the past two months, with the air quality index remaining above 300 for days on end.

“If the government can’t solve the environmental problem, it will lose the public’s support,” Cui said.

The family took several packs of protective face masks with them on the trip back to their hometown this Spring Festival, she added.