Expats embrace traditions and superstitions to meet Chinese New Year

Updated 2017-01-26 09:18:18 Global Times
Terry Crossman gets his hair cut at Gulu Bazz.

Terry Crossman gets his hair cut at Gulu Bazz.

Ammerman looks at himself after his haircut.

Ammerman looks at himself after his haircut.

Visibly shaking in the cold wind, Britney Caraway from the U.S. sat as still as she could as the hutong barber trimmed her tresses. Despite only being in Beijing for a month, Caraway thought it best not to tempt bad luck in the new year.

According to Chinese tradition, if you cut your hair during Spring Festival, it will give your uncle bad luck, so most Chinese get their hair cut before the start of the new year. Caraway had hers cut seven days before Spring Festival.

"I saw a hair cutting event flyer in a WeChat group, which said it's bad luck to cut your hair during Spring Festival. I don't want that, so I decided to cut my hair now because I want good luck," Caraway said.

It was not until she got to the event that Caraway realized the luck was not for her, but for her uncle.

"I have a few uncles. I guess I should talk to them and tell them I did a really good thing for them and ask for some red packets," she said, laughing.

Organized and hosted by Badr, the owner of Gulu Bazz, formerly known as Cuju, the event is in its second year. In 2016, 14 people had their hair cut. This year, 21 people came.

"I have been in China long enough to know the tradition. It's an interesting tradition that locals still respect. It's interesting for foreigners to follow along," explained Badr, who has been living in China for 13 years.

"For us, it's also a great opportunity to get together, drink some beer and have a good time."

Following superstition

Although not a strong believer in superstition in general, Caraway saw getting her hair cut as a way of embracing Chinese culture.

"I don't really believe in superstition, but it's fun to go along with because we don't have this kind of thing in the U.S.," Caraway said.

"It's fun, new and something Chinese."

Terry Crossman from the U.S. has been living in China for 35 years. His knowledge of Chinese culture is so vast that it would not be a stretch to call him an old China hand.

"The Chinese word for a haircut is jiantoufa. The fa character by itself also means to get rich, so people think that cutting one's hair in the new year is bad luck because jian means to cut, and they might be cutting their wealth," Crossman explained.

"That's the tradition in the southern part of China. I learned it when I was living in Hong Kong."

Sipping his beer and fighting the barber's cape around his neck, which kept blowing into his face because of the cold, strong wind outside, Richard Ammerman looked right at home.

"The cold will help your hair stand up, which makes it easier for the barber to cut it," he said.

"Besides, I can't feel my ears anymore because of the cold, so if the barber cut me or something, I won't really feel it."

Another advantage of having one's hair cut outside on a windy day, according to Ammerman, is that the wind helps blow the cut hair off your face. He especially enjoys the final part of his haircut when the barber would use a hair dryer to blow warm air at him.

"It's the same feeling as sinking into a hot spring in the cold weather. I wish they had five of these to blow at me," he laughed.

For Crossman, having his hair cut outside is a part of the local culture and tradition.

"It's very Chinese; we don't have that in the U.S.," Crossman said. "I always try to get my hair cut on the street. I live in the Houhai area, and there is a woman who cuts hair very well for 10 yuan (.45). You can get your hair cut while looking at the beautiful scenery of Houhai. It's very enjoyable."

Other new year traditions

As foreigners spend a longer time in China and integrate into the local community, they are also embracing other Spring Festival-related traditions.

Caraway ate Chinese dumplings on Xiaonian, the 23rd day of the 12th month of the Chinese traditional lunar calendar.

"They say it will help you fight a cold," she said. "Well, I had a cold, and I did feel much better after I ate the dumplings," she laughed.

Ammerman has already embraced quite a few traditional Chinese customs to celebrate the new year, such as going to temple fairs to have some Chinese snacks, playing games and listening to Chinese songs - although he still can't sing one.

Ammerman also loves firecrackers. Every year, he straps a bunch of firecrackers to his tricycle and drags them around as they go off.

"It's really cool. You can hear the firecrackers go papapapa," he laughed.

Crossman, who has been living in China the longest among the group, has also embraced many traditional Chinese customs to celebrate Chinese New Year.

For example, he cleans his apartment on Chinese New Year's Eve in preparation for the start of the new year, as is the custom.

"I do it every year. I also put up Spring Festival couplets and a red lantern on my front door and take pictures of it," Crossman said.

"Maybe I can host a photo exhibition when I have more of those pictures."

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