Negative news about China circulates quickly and often and colours people’s perceptions of China and Chinese people, so when something great happens I want to share it.
Since Spring Festival is a Chinese family holiday, it’s not the ideal time to do much with your Chinese friends as most of them are busy. Because of that and the unbelievable amount of fireworks (and car alarms) that go on for several days, especially in Tianjin, many foreigners find ways to “escape” during Chinese New Year’s Eve. Our NGO and many others plan their annual conferences during this time. We know a Dutch family who’s gone to Thailand for Spring Festival this year, and they invited us to house-sit while they’re gone. They have an actual Western-style house (rare in China!) on the edge of the city where it’s quiet (even rarer!), and we were more than willing to take them up on their offer.
Four or five nights away with a toddler means we had to pack out a lot of stuff, and it being over Chinese New Year’s means we also had to pack out food (lots of stores will be closed), so we crammed a lot of stuff into a taxi, including a borrowed $600 camera (our old camera finally died, and we’d borrowed a friend’s extra camera while waiting for another friend to bring one we ordered to her American address while she was in the States seeing family). The driver had to pull out half our stuff and rearrange, so things were moved around and stuffed places.
When we arrived we unloaded everything into a pile, said thanks, and he drove off. Almost right away we realized the camera wasn’t there. I ran to the entrance of the housing complex hoping to catch him, but he was gone. We called our friend to tell her we’d lost her really expensive camera for no good reason, and that we’d replace it. We’re not usually so irresponsible, and we felt horrible about it; we were supposed to be kicking off the beginning of a relaxing, romantic vacation but it was like a cloud had dropped on us. Being out several hundred dollars didn’t add to the mood either.
Petty theft goes up before Spring Festival because people are spending lots of money and, so our local friends tell us, the legions of migrant workers who are preparing to make their torturous train ride home are more apt to make a little extra money by any means that presents itself. They also sometimes have to fight for their wages from bosses who try to cheat them; it’s not too uncommon to see the occasional protests by migrant workers outside a constructions site, for example, during the lead-up to Spring Festival. Anyway, this didn’t even really count as theft, and we had no illusions that we’d ever see that camera again.
The next day, just a few minutes ago, I heard a car pull up but assumed it was the neighbours (the house is actually a duplex). L was upstairs not sleeping, and the doorbell rang. No way, I thought, and went to open the door. There was the driver(!), opening the trunk and explaining how he’d not seen it yesterday because it was stuffed in the back (taxi drivers usually have lots of their own stuff in the trunks). I thanked him profusely and gave him some money, and he said think of it as him 拜年-ing us. 拜年 means sending someone a New Year’s greeting or paying them a New Year’s visit, both of which are customary during Spring Festival. Chinese will send billions, literally, of New Year’s text messages as a means of 拜年-ing each other，and in the days following New Year’s Day they will go 拜年 relatives and friends by visiting their homes.
Anyway, we’re very thankful today for a kind-hearted, exceptionally honest Chinese taxi driver. Happy Chinese New Year to him, and everyone else, too!