Two extremes – how the rich and poor spend their Chinese New Year

Two extremes – how the rich and poor spend their Chinese New Year

Photo Credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters
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One of the biggest annual celebrations around the world is upon us. February 8 marks the start of the Lunar New Year in China. Also known as the Spring Festival, it is the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar, akin to Christmas in the West. An important time of family reunions and catching up with old friends, it is also a huge consumer holiday, as people usher in the year of the monkey.

Spending during this season in 2014 on shopping and dining was around 610 billion yuan – about $100 billion. This is almost double the amount American shoppers spent over the Thanksgiving weekend. The festival is celebrated by everyone and, in a country of extreme wealth that is also home to 7% of the world’s poor, the way that it is celebrated varies greatly.

There are a few things that all Chinese citizens have in common though. Most buy gifts for their parents and elderly family members, and 65% of respondents in a survey last yearshowed that clothes were a favoured item. Other significant areas of spending are decorations and fireworks, party goods, transportation costs and New Year’s dinner.

Another Spring Festival custom is to give friends and relatives money in red envelopes known as hongbao for good luck. China’s internet companies began to capitalise on this two years ago, with the popular messaging app WeChat launching a way to share money through messaging. Last year saw 500m yuan ($80m) transferred using the app, which we can only expect to increase this year as other apps offer the service too.

The long journey home

No matter how far away family members may have migrated across China, they are expected to make the journey home. As a result, Chinese New Year is believed to be behind the largest movement of people in the world. Up to 2.91 billion trips are expected to be made this year via road, railway, air and water, up 3.6% from last year, according to the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planner.

Spare a thought for the 100,000 migrant workers stuck in Guangzhou train station in the heart of China’s manufacturing region due to train delays, as they try to make their long journey home for the holiday.

Migrant workers are the backbone of China’s low-cost and labour intensive economy. They make up an estimated 278m workers who have migrated from rural parts of China to work in the big cities and for many, Chinese New Year is their only holiday. It’s often the only chance they have to spend some time with their entire family, including children who are left with their grandparents.

Migrant workers also bring home their hard earned cash, which is vital to the local rural economy. Earnings from the big cities enable families to move into new and better homes, send their children to school, purchase livestock and other home additions such as new flat screen TVs.

The other half

A growing number of wealthier Chinese opt to avoid the New Year chaos and social obligations by travelling abroad for their holidays. Last year 5.2m left mainland China over the holiday. The most popular destinations are other countries in East Asia, as well as the US and Australia.

Chinese tourists are well known for spending big abroad. China is the biggest outbound tourism spending country, with vast amounts spent on luxury goods. Many Chinese consumers consider foreign products to be of superior quality and better designed than their domestic competitors – Hermès handbags, Burberry trench coats and Patek Philippe watches are often top of Chinese tourists’ shopping lists.

In 2015 Chinese consumers spent more than US$100 billion on luxury goods, accounting for46% of the world’s total. Around 80% of these sales are made abroad. Attracted by the weaker euro and Japanese yen, Chinese consumers are increasingly opting for Europe and Japan, instead of their traditional shopping hotspots of Hong Kong and Macau.

So as well as seeing the largest migration of its citizens as they crisscross the country, Chinese New Year sees a surge in spending by its elites both inside and outside of China. This feeds into the crucial shift the country is making from having an economic growth model driven by manufacturing to one based on consumption and services, of which tourism and entertainment are crucial elements.

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Brahminical faculty and Dalit goondas: Conversations at the distressed Hyderabad University campus

Brahminical faculty and Dalit goondas: Conversations at the distressed Hyderabad University campusPhoto Credit: PTI
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By the third day, even the mundane started taking on meaning, or at least provoking questions. So it was with the sign that read “Regular Lunch” with a hand-drawn arrow pointing to a dining hall. Innocent no doubt, though occasion for a little head-scratching – what’s an “irregular lunch” then? But was there another way to read it: a subtle sign of discrimination perhaps? You folks of one type this way, you other folks over there?

No matter how far-fetched, in this climate, such trains of thought came easy.

It began with one of the first few people I met on the campus of the University of Hyderabad – G, a member of the staff. (Like some others, he wanted me to say no more to identify him than that much.) Otherwise genial and helpful, he turned serious as he himself brought up the protest that had shut down the campus. “These people, they are all Dalit goondas. What else can we expect from them?”

We discussed that a bit, but desultorily. What was there to say to someone who would so summarily dismiss an entire protest?

The story

Rohith Vemula’s suicide hangs over his sun-baked University like a cloud that won’t burst. His name, visage and lines from his eloquent suicide letter are everywhere. “Justice for Rohith” marks bus-shelters and hostel walls and road surfaces. (One stretch of road had “Resist Saffron Surge” in enormous letters). “Missing” posters feature the absent Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile. Some embellish his image into a rodent-like caricature; others are placed, meaningfully, above a “Ladies Toilet” sign and a “Sports Shooting Range” board. Several students turned up at my writing workshop wearing gags as a statement of protest. Several more wrote and spoke – heartfelt, passionate – about Vemula, what this tragic episode had come to mean to them, their wish that they could have done more, understood more.

Like G, most people I spoke to were eager to recount the episode. They invariably started from months earlier when an ABVP leader posted some less-than-complimentary remarks about campus Dalits on Facebook. Thirty students from the Ambedkar Students’ Association, or ASA – including Vemula – visited him that night. By nobody’s telling was this a friendly pow-wow. But whether it was a shouting match or worse, events then took on a momentum of their own. They went something like this, though not necessarily in this order: the ABVP leader claimed to have been assaulted; he was admitted to a hospital; he (or his mother) complained to local Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Bandaru Dattatreya; Dattatreya wrote a letter to Minister of Human Resource Development Smriti Irani alleging that University of Hyderabad was a hotbed of “casteist” and “anti-national” sentiment; a university inquiry absolved the ASA students; Irani’s office wrote to the University five different times over two months asking what action it had taken against the ASA students; another university inquiry suspended five of them including Vemula; they protested by settling into tents on campus; Vemula took his own life on January 17; the protest then engulfed the entire University, shutting down classes for two weeks; various politicians, including Rahul Gandhi and Akbaruddin Owaisi, arrived on campus.

With some variation, addition and omission, everyone offered up essentially this story.

Divided campus

Yet to this outsider, it seems to have utterly divided the campus. If you agreed with the protests, there were those like G to brand you “lazy” at best and a “Dalit goonda” at worst. If you fretted at the shutdown of classes, there were those who would accuse you of being “elitist” and an “upper caste sympathiser”.

People on both “sides” told me about a team of professors who arrived at the protest site on January 21 to attempt a dialogue, only to be driven away with this chanted slogan: “Brahminical faculty go back”. One side saw this as reprehensible. But R and P (names withheld again), presumably on the other side, told me that these professors had “a record of being Brahminical”, and if the label fits …

If professors deserve that label, do protesters similarly deserve the “Dalit goonda” label?

And all through my few days there, three other currents flowed like a river in spate through the campus.

One, the feverish hand-wringing about the “politicisation” of the tragedy, referring to the arrival on campus of Gandhi and Owaisi and others. Yet somehow that earlier letter written by a politician named Dattatreya occasioned no such hand-wringing. What else was that but politicisation?

Two, the wrangles over Vemula’s caste that disturbed, for example, even some who wanted classes to resume. Rather than address the concerns this sad episode raises, there were strenuous attempts to suggest that Vemula was not a Dalit. That by itself tells a tale of how deeply rooted caste is in us all. As an off-campus Hyderabad friend, Harimohan Paruvu,wrote on his blog, “What does it make us, whom [Vemula] left behind?”

Three, the anguish of the “middle-grounder”, expressed eloquently in a short essay on Facebook by a faculty member, Anjali Lal Gupta. Was it no longer possible to consider nuance, to listen, to attempt dialogue? Where was the space for people who wanted those things – who believed they lived them – and yet were met with scorn for merely speaking about them? M, a student I met, actually wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke of how her good friends from just two weeks earlier now sat apart from her in their classes.

Speaking at the protest site on February 2, the thinker and writer Yogendra Yadav summed up the import of all this. The real impact of this wrenching upheaval on the University of Hyderabad campus, he said, would not be evident in a few days or weeks. Instead, it will be judged by what the campus is like in 20 years.

Indeed. What will we, whom Vemula left behind, be like in 20 years?

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Tabla for Two: From Kabul to Washington with the audacity and chutzpah of a jazz trio

Tabla for Two: From Kabul to Washington with the audacity and chutzpah of a jazz trio
Photo Credit: tablafortwo.com
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In Washington DC, a musical duo who blend ancient Afghan talas (beats) with Bollywood songs, ghazals and a new-fangled approach to playing tabla are beginning to make waves across concert halls in the USA. A chance but clearly fateful meeting connected and inspired Masood Omari, a refugee from Kabul with Abigail Adams Greenway, a colourful Pennsylvanian artist, to form Tabla for Two the subject of this week’s Sunday Sounds.

Camel Caravan Waltz

Play

In a time that seems so distant as to be mythical, Afghanistan was not known as the most dangerous place on earth. And in that time there was no more recognised image of the country and its people than the camel caravan. Silhouetted humps swaying rhythmically and mirroring the very mountains of the Silk Road. So famous were the camels that when in the 1860s a very young Australia needed a reliable way to explore and map the vast dry interior of the continent, they turned to the karawan drivers of the Hindu Kush. This mesmerising composition by Masood Omari in classic waltz metre is a perfect introduction to Tabla for Two’s musical approach – grounded in traditional sensibility, structurally lithe and slightly haunting.

Penda Shutam (Old Afghan song)

Play

Masood fled Afghanistan when he was 15 and settled in Islamabad.

“My father was an educator in Ghazni, but the family moved to Kabul where I was born, because he was tagged for death.”

“My family was not musical but my brother studied with the great UstadFateh Ali Khan. He’s a fine singer and lives in Holland. Music is a gift from God. It is so beautiful. My uncle was a tabla player, and I used to play along on water pails.”

Omari studied under an Afghan master of the Punjab gharana, Ustad Arif Chishti, from whom he received his gurnami. Unusual for most tabla players, Masood’s sings as he plays. His earthy voice fits perfectly the cadence and sound of this old Afghan love song.

Abigail Adams Greenway claims she was not seeking a musical career when she met Masood.

“I have been a visual artist for many years but was laid low by a debilitating health issue. My life essentially stopped. I was unable to return to painting and art for 3 years.”

When she was strong enough to engage again, one of the first people Abigail met was a Pakistani truck painter from Peshawar who was in Washington, sponsored by the Smithsonian. A friendship grew and eventually Greenway asked Ghulam to paint her car in the style of a Pakistani lorry.

Counterclockwise

Play

Soon after, Abigail met Masood, who was visiting from Boston, at a small Afghan curio shop. With a long-standing love of music she was overjoyed to discover that Masood was a classically trained tabla player. Inspired, and no doubt eager to grab life fully once again after a long difficult patch, Abigail began studying tabla with Masood.

“I jumped in whole-heartedly, practicing every day, sometimes up to 18 hours!”

“We are interested in teaching sound and beat,” Masood told me. “The tabla comprises of the Baya (bass) and the Daya (treble) drum. Abigail plays three Daya and I accompany on regular tabla and dholak and other things! The approach is quite innovative.”

This piece represents the “new” sound Massod and Abigail are pursuing. Called Counterclockwise because the three Dayas are played in a counter clockwise motion adding to the rhythmic complexity and structures.

Pardesiyon se naa ankhiyan milana

Play

Masood loves to compose but admits it can be challenging.

“Especially for 17 and 11 and 13 beat taals. These are old beats that have fallen out of style. No one really sings them any more.”

One thing that is always sung, from Kabul to Washington, is old Hindi film songs. As a composer Masood is especially drawn to the often elegant compositions of some of Mumbai’ greatest filmi composer duos, such as Kalyanji-Anandji. Accompanied by Abigail on the harmonium, Masood gives an expressive and imaginative interpretation of the 1965 hit from Jab Jab Phool Khile that mixes Dari with the original Hindi lyrics.

Hai Sharmaauun kis kis ko bataauun

Play

Tabla for Two’s take on these old filmi songs is both reverential and subversive. In the tabla and harmonium, resides the evocative, eternal sound of the subcontinent. But step back just a bit and you can get a glimpse of the sleight of hand. What was originally a rather raucous “item” number in a mela is slowed down, into a heartfelt love ballad. Abigail plays the harmonium to great effect, treating the instrument as a drone of sorts, hardly moving her fingers beyond two or three keys. Masood’s voice is as lonely as the dusky hills in which the duo sit.

In Table for Two I catch the audacity and chutzpah of a jazz trio. “Just” a couple of musicians with basic instruments playing their hearts out while reconfiguring the sound’s original purpose. That they are but two makes the magic even more delightful.

Tabla for Two: From Kabul to Washington with the audacity and chutzpah of a jazz trio
Photo Credit: tablafortwo.com
16.6K
Total Views

In Washington DC, a musical duo who blend ancient Afghan talas (beats) with Bollywood songs, ghazals and a new-fangled approach to playing tabla are beginning to make waves across concert halls in the USA. A chance but clearly fateful meeting connected and inspired Masood Omari, a refugee from Kabul with Abigail Adams Greenway, a colourful Pennsylvanian artist, to form Tabla for Two the subject of this week’s Sunday Sounds.

Camel Caravan Waltz

Play

In a time that seems so distant as to be mythical, Afghanistan was not known as the most dangerous place on earth. And in that time there was no more recognised image of the country and its people than the camel caravan. Silhouetted humps swaying rhythmically and mirroring the very mountains of the Silk Road. So famous were the camels that when in the 1860s a very young Australia needed a reliable way to explore and map the vast dry interior of the continent, they turned to the karawan drivers of the Hindu Kush. This mesmerising composition by Masood Omari in classic waltz metre is a perfect introduction to Tabla for Two’s musical approach – grounded in traditional sensibility, structurally lithe and slightly haunting.

Penda Shutam (Old Afghan song)

Play

Masood fled Afghanistan when he was 15 and settled in Islamabad.

“My father was an educator in Ghazni, but the family moved to Kabul where I was born, because he was tagged for death.”

“My family was not musical but my brother studied with the great UstadFateh Ali Khan. He’s a fine singer and lives in Holland. Music is a gift from God. It is so beautiful. My uncle was a tabla player, and I used to play along on water pails.”

Omari studied under an Afghan master of the Punjab gharana, Ustad Arif Chishti, from whom he received his gurnami. Unusual for most tabla players, Masood’s sings as he plays. His earthy voice fits perfectly the cadence and sound of this old Afghan love song.

Abigail Adams Greenway claims she was not seeking a musical career when she met Masood.

“I have been a visual artist for many years but was laid low by a debilitating health issue. My life essentially stopped. I was unable to return to painting and art for 3 years.”

When she was strong enough to engage again, one of the first people Abigail met was a Pakistani truck painter from Peshawar who was in Washington, sponsored by the Smithsonian. A friendship grew and eventually Greenway asked Ghulam to paint her car in the style of a Pakistani lorry.

Counterclockwise

Play

Soon after, Abigail met Masood, who was visiting from Boston, at a small Afghan curio shop. With a long-standing love of music she was overjoyed to discover that Masood was a classically trained tabla player. Inspired, and no doubt eager to grab life fully once again after a long difficult patch, Abigail began studying tabla with Masood.

“I jumped in whole-heartedly, practicing every day, sometimes up to 18 hours!”

“We are interested in teaching sound and beat,” Masood told me. “The tabla comprises of the Baya (bass) and the Daya (treble) drum. Abigail plays three Daya and I accompany on regular tabla and dholak and other things! The approach is quite innovative.”

This piece represents the “new” sound Massod and Abigail are pursuing. Called Counterclockwise because the three Dayas are played in a counter clockwise motion adding to the rhythmic complexity and structures.

Pardesiyon se naa ankhiyan milana

Play

Masood loves to compose but admits it can be challenging.

“Especially for 17 and 11 and 13 beat taals. These are old beats that have fallen out of style. No one really sings them any more.”

One thing that is always sung, from Kabul to Washington, is old Hindi film songs. As a composer Masood is especially drawn to the often elegant compositions of some of Mumbai’ greatest filmi composer duos, such as Kalyanji-Anandji. Accompanied by Abigail on the harmonium, Masood gives an expressive and imaginative interpretation of the 1965 hit from Jab Jab Phool Khile that mixes Dari with the original Hindi lyrics.

Hai Sharmaauun kis kis ko bataauun

Play

Tabla for Two’s take on these old filmi songs is both reverential and subversive. In the tabla and harmonium, resides the evocative, eternal sound of the subcontinent. But step back just a bit and you can get a glimpse of the sleight of hand. What was originally a rather raucous “item” number in a mela is slowed down, into a heartfelt love ballad. Abigail plays the harmonium to great effect, treating the instrument as a drone of sorts, hardly moving her fingers beyond two or three keys. Masood’s voice is as lonely as the dusky hills in which the duo sit.

In Table for Two I catch the audacity and chutzpah of a jazz trio. “Just” a couple of musicians with basic instruments playing their hearts out while reconfiguring the sound’s original purpose. That they are but two makes the magic even more delightful.

[“source-Scroll”]