Is it the zombie apocalypse or Chinese New Year?

Updated: 2012-02-07 13:16

By Joseph Christian (China Daily)

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Is it the zombie apocalypse or Chinese New Year?

The chilled January wind swirled dust across our path as my Dutch friend and I walked down a side street just east of the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

It's a street that is usually bustling with students and street vendors, but that night only a couple of old ladies and fruit sellers were around.

Two days before Chinese New Year, the streets of Beijing were anything but normal.

"It looks like Europe," my friend said to me, as we turned the corner on our way to a local restaurant.

"Yeah, it is sort of nice without all the people, but I think it would end up being a bit boring after a while," I responded.

We both have lived in Beijing for a number of years, yet this was the first Chinese New Year either of us had actually stayed in Beijing.

I anticipated that Beijing was going to be deserted because for the last three years I have been part of the mass exodus that leaves the city every Spring Festival. It was just odd to experience it firsthand.

The next day, my wife was coming back from work on a bus.

She asked me to meet her at a stop near our house so we could go to the supermarket together to get things to prepare for our Chinese New Year's feast.

Usually, thanks to Beijing's thick-as-smog traffic, it would take her nearly an hour to get home - but not that day.

By the time I got dressed and literally ran to the bus stop - 15 minutes at tops - the bus had already passed.

I liked the fact that there was no rush hour, but my brain had a hard time accepting the fact that at 6:30 pm there wasn't a line of horn honking cars.

As I waited for the next bus, I started to get a bit weirded out.

Apart from me, there was no one around except some creepy guy digging in the garbage can for plastic bottles. He turned and looked at me, but his ratty jacket hood threw a shadow across his face, obscuring it from my view. He grunted. I quickly looked away.

I started to think I was in the beginning scene of some zombie apocalypse movie.

Where was everyone?

My fears of a zombie invasion were relieved as soon as I walked into the supermarket.

I thought Saturday afternoon at Carrefour was bad, but this had it beat hands down. Everyone and their mother were pushing through isles, filling their carts with mounds of food.

I have a bit of a sweet tooth, and normally my wife doesn't like it when I get a bunch of sweets. But today she was practically encouraging me to buy them.

"It's Chinese New Year. You are supposed to buy whatever you want so you can be happy," she told me, as she filled up our cart with her favorite snacks.

I said to her: "You know we're going to go traveling in a few days, and we will never eat all this stuff."

She looked crossly at me. "It's Chinese New Year!" she said. "That doesn't matter!"

I looked around. Obviously, she was right.

After the crowds at the supermarket, it was strange as we made our way back home through Beijing's deserted streets.

The next day, I rode my bike around a bit in the afternoon to pick up some drinks and see what some local streets looked like without traffic. It was almost deathly silent. Even the buses were empty.

When I got back home and started helping my wife prepare for our Chinese New Year feast, thoughts of a zombie apocalypse once again entered my mind.

It was just too quiet outside.

I think I could have put up a basketball hoop on the Third Ring Road and played a pickup game without worrying about getting hit by a car.

But as midnight approached and the fireworks began to explode in every direction with deafening booms, I once again was put at ease.

There was no zombie apocalypse. It was just Chinese New Year.

Beijing was still filled with people. You just needed to know where to look.