Not a noob, flummoxed nevertheless — Chris’ frustration with China’s confusing holiday schedule
Chris Toepker is a contributor to Ministry of Tofu. He hails from the United States, has been living in greater China since 1990 and has recently relocated to Beijing.
After so many years in greater China, I thought I had things straight. Sadly, my first-time, full-time working in Beijing apparently presents many new opportunities to learn. So, while I’m not shocked at the surprise, I can’t seem to wrap my mind around the confounding New Year holiday schedule!
Before getting started, let me just say this is not my first new year in China. I’ve been in greater China for a couple decades, living and working in the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Still, most of the living (and therefore paying attention to holiday arrangements) were not in the mainland. Nevertheless, I thought I new what time it was. Sadly, my calendar was off.
It unfolds like this: On Dec. 29 (Saturday) we worked and were told we’d be given the following Monday (not an official holiday) off. That makes some sense. Trade a non-working weekend day for a working weekday and receive a three-day holiday. Terrific!
Funny thing was, on the January 2, I went to the office. Walking over though, I couldn’t help noticing how empty the streets were. Not many cars, no one honking endlessly, very few pedestrians. Seemed strange, but who knew? Maybe denizens of The Jing just party that much harder for the new year? Non-noobs see the mistake already.
Still, when the whole office building was pretty much dark I had my first glimmer that I was the odd man out. When 10:00 o’clock rolled around and not a single other person came in, it seemed clear: I was the fool. So, I checked some websites in English and Chinese, which oddly reported a mix of either January 1 or January 1-3. Any way I cut it, I had the day off.
So, after enjoying the day, but keeping my doubts, I came by the office on January 3 too. Still dark, and I had learned my lesson, so I skipped merrily by, all the while wondering “why the heck take these days off, return for one Friday (January 4) and then take a weekend?”
So, Friday morning I come in and finally there are my colleagues, and then things get stranger because I begin to hear them making plans for meetings on Saturday (January 5). I can hear you far-away readers wondering along with me, “What?!?!” Yes. Saturday. After being “given” January 2-3 off, we were required to come to work January 4-11.
No matter how I look at it, I can’t accept the “given.” They were traded, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
I wish that were the end of it, but then I asked about Chinese New Year (CNY, in early February this year). Turns out we’re getting the same gift then too! You see, the official holiday falls on February 9-11 (Saturday-Monday) and everyone will be “given” February 9-14 off. But then will have to work February 15 – 22 straight.
I’ve asked all my colleagues (I’m the only foreigner in the office) about it firstly because I wondered how’d I’d missed it. Certainly, there was no announcement. What I learned was, this is just the way things are. No one felt the need to explain it. Secondly, because I wondered if they’d thought the situation over, especially when a holiday falls on what is already a holiday (like CNY falling on a Saturday).
The reactions came in increasing easier to understand flavors. Firstly, I can’t understand the common “we strictly follow the national guidelines” because that just makes no sense. It’s a Catch-22 because the national guidelines are *also* to take weekends off. Secondly, I can kind of understand the “that’s just how we’ve always done it,” but have little patience for things that are just habit. Thirdly, I can allow for the folks who told me, “well, everyone else is off and I was working when they were not or vice versa, it would be no fun. So, I just go with it.” Finally and clearly, the response closest to my heart was “yeah, now we have to work eight straight days. Nice, huh?”
The far sadder thing was, based on my experience in other…dare I say “more civilized”?…China, my real expectations for the Chinese New Year holiday were much grander. Indeed, given the mass migration and the long factory closing and all the rest I’ve very familiar with, my tickets were already booked for the whole week off. That is to say, February 9 to 17. So, it looks like I’ll be burning through my vacation days really early this year. What is the New Year equivalent to “bah! humbug!”????
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