Chinese New Year celebrations

Empty Beijing

I wrote earlier about the Beijing atmosphere in the runup to CNY, “Beijing is ready for Spring Festival”. Here how I spent my Chinese New Year celebrations.
Streets empty with the sidewalks filled with lovely fake leaves. With all my friends gone to their “laojia” (hometown) and my Chinese family not having the usual Julong dinner, I was left to my own.

Groovy Schiller’s was however open as always with John taking good care of us. I had my chili con carne and a nice beer, and I was not disappointed. Then back home for CCTV.

The (in)famous Spring Festival CCTV Gala

Every year I watch the Gala on CCTV, said to be the most watched program in the world and a main component of Chinese New Year celebrations. For a foreigner who is not fluent in Chinese it is a bit of a self-inflicted pain to watch the 4 to 5 hour show, from 8 pm, to nearly 1 am. It gives a picture of the present state of mind in China. Overall it must show happiness, satisfaction with everything and how great China is. No hint of unhappiness is allowed.
So, my take is biased due to my poor Chinese.

Too many comedy skits. Too much overload, kitsch, dizzying effects, every inch of the screen has to be filled with gimmicks and heavy colors and stuff moving around. As far as I could see no foreign face at all, in the audience and performers, contrary to other years.
For the feedback of Chinese watching the show; see below. How do they evaluate the quality and content of the gala? China for the Chinese. But in Brussels it is allowed and popular to have CNY events, unlike in China where Christmas is “not welcome as it is not Chinese”.

I wonder how much the whole show cost. All the preparation and all the shooting of videos, I feel pity for all those who had to go through many hours of shooting for just a few seconds of footage shown.
After midnight some foreigners singing some weird French songs. Not impressed. Actually the after midnight show was better than the gala in my eyes.

Sample of Internet comments

Howard Zhang (LinkedIn)(Journalist, China Pundit)
This is a rather negative view:

Chinese Central Television (CCTV) 2024 Lunar New Year Gala – a yearly propaganda show normally features cheesy comedies, patriotic choirs and Pekin operas, this year featured a North Korean style “show of force” – soldiers in full combat gear marching on stage with marshal music blaring, while background screen displayed missile launching and fighters taking off from aircraft carriers for attack sorties.
Called “Decisive Victory”, the show is a marked departure from normal years and is obviously OTT (over the top) considering Lunar New Year is a time of family gathering and merry making.
This oddity can only be interpreted as a not so subtle message that Xi and his propaganda team want to send to the outside world. Dogged by a failing economy and bubbling discontent at home – even in the upper echelon of society, Xi is standing his ground and ready for battle – to achieve a “decisive victory”.

Spring Festival Gala Review by Chinese Doom Scroll
“It actually wasn’t that bad!”
Excerpts from a guest post by the excellent substack Chinese Doom Scroll.
Open the link for a detailed overview of the Gala.

“Every year, CCTV produces a Spring Festival Gala show. Originally, I was pretty pessimistic, since the last couple of years have been pretty…disappointing, to be honest. But scrolling around on weibo today, I found a lot of people saying that this year’s show is really good—at least, the best one we’ve had in the last five years.…
“I do have to say though, I did, in fact, enjoy this year’s Spring Festival Gala. There was propaganda, of course, but it wasn’t as thick and concentrated and nonstop as, say, the 2021 Spring Festival Gala. And there were genuinely a lot of high-quality, impressive performances. And I really love this trend of having lots of music and rap performed in local Chinese dialects. I’m a total slut for obscure dialects, I hope this trend continues.”

Finally friends to meet

I had a nice dinner in QMEX (Sanlitun) with a Chinese friend on 10 February and then on 11 February an unplanned get together with Belgian friends, again in Groovy Schiller’s. An evening of beer and wine, the place was fully packed.

Yeah Susan was busy creating romantic pics… see one sample here!

Old China Hands lunch 2 February 2024

Nice turnout

The Old China Hands lunch 2 February 2024 fell on one of those in-between dates, as many people started traveling again for pleasure or business. But we scored 32 attendants, better than expected!

As usual a crowd eager to chat and taste the excellent food from Morel’s Restaurant. The restaurant again scored high in Beijing, see the two accolades they received. The CHAO sign is given to only very few Westerns restaurants.

The next lunch is planned for Friday 1 March.

If you see the Dragon, say HI, he is my friend!

One OCH interviews other OCH

I already had mentioned David in the post “Old China Hands lunch 5 January”.
Oh well, he is again making noise! Jason Smith interviewed The Trains Guy aka David Feng on The Bridge Podcast to get his insights into the future of train tech in China.

As Elon Musk’s Hyperloop One shutters its operations, China is making Maglev and Hyperloop a reality.
Watch the Full One Hour Interview in the YouTube Link
and also on PlayerFM.
The interview with China Global TV Network. 51 minutes is also on CGTN.

Beijing is ready for Spring Festival

Mass migration

Beijing is ready for Spring Festival while the biggest world mass migration starts with Chinese people traveling to celebrate Chinese New Year with their families, or simply going on vacation.

I never leave Beijing during the “Golden Week” of October 1, May 1, Spring Festival (the holiday period for Chinese New Year). Railway stations and highways (certainly), and airports (sometimes) are plain chaos. Meanwhile Beijing is ready for Spring Festival for those clever people who stay and will enjoy a quiet city.

Fairs Open with Festive Shopping Experiences in Beijing

Shopping for festive goods at fairs is an essential part of this holiday. Beijing offers a variety of options, combining both modern and traditional fairs to explore.
Over 300 merchants at the Workers’ Stadium are offering a diverse array of products till 6 February. These include a wide range of traditional festive goods like bacon, dried fruits and nuts, as well as tea and even furniture. There are also specialties hailing from various regions across China, such as rice from Wuchang, oysters from Rushan, coconut powder from Hainan, beef jerky from Inner Mongolia, as well as exotic products like Russian chocolate, Ugandan coffee, Ghanaian cocoa butter, and Moldovan red wine.

Both my wife and I went exploring the market. I tasted the BBQ skewers at the stands outside of the covered market. My wife bought a full trolley of sausages, seaweed, and pressed donkey head (my daily breakfast).
Another famous fair is at the National Agricultural Exhibition Center, also until 6 February, I did not visit as I guess it is pretty similar.
The traditional “Beijing New Year Goods Fair” is a treasure trove of agricultural and other products, ranging from dried mushrooms from northeastern China to seafood delicacies from southern China, and from beef and mutton from Inner Mongolia to tonic products from Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan. And also nuts, snacks, sweets, pastries, tea, seafood, and more from various provinces and cities across China.

Festive decorations

Taikooli in Sanlitun is featuring Legoland and yes there is a Lego Dragon!

Our Worker’s Stadium Avenue has festive decoration including images of leaves projected on the sidewalks.

That is in the Chaoyang section, the Dongcheng section seems to have a smaller budget… and less lights…

Facebook is a heaven for scammers

No action

Facebook is a heaven for scammers and when one lodges a complaint, Facebook will ignore it. I have met several fake profiles on Facebook of people who finally turn out to be scammers. Some are very clever and build their profile with a lot of details and for a longer period. Many steal pictures from the Internet, such as Instagram, to look genuine.

Facebook is known for ignoring reports from readers and stating “We have reviewed your reports. This does not go against our community standards.”
Searching the Internet it is obvious this is the common response from Facebook.
I found myself 3 fake profiles and none was removed by Facebook. Making a report also does not give you the right space to explain what is fake and why.
I was wondering if I should simply leave Facebook; I did not (yet) as some of my (real) friends post there and there are some interesting groups. So, one can only be very careful when accepting new “friends”.

The latest fake profile

His name (of course can be a female impostor too): “Mikel Woods”.
He was trying to be interested in what I was doing, with small talk. Then recently I got very suspicious when he was asking for my mobile number to help him by voting for him on some platform. I suggested he send an email. No, it must be a mobile.

So I Googled it.
Why would someone want to send a code to your phone? After requesting your cell phone number, the scammer sends a verification code by text message and asks that you send them the code to prove your identity. Once the code is provided, the scammer goes on to create a Google Voice number linked to your cell phone number, often to be used for additional scams.
So, that seemed pretty clear.
I did then an image search of the “guy” with his dog. It turned out the real one is Dr Garth Daviss.
I submitted my report and got the usual Facebook answer.
The only think I could do was to block him/her.
You are warned. Facebook is a heaven for scammers
Just this week “Mark Zuckerberg accused of having ‘blood on his hands’ in fiery Senate hearing on internet child safety”. Add to that, aiding scammers.


Visit to Beijing by PM De Croo

Intense program

I was honored to be present on 11 January 2024 for the visit to Beijing by PM De Croo.
The reception was in the afternoon with H.E. Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium, H. E. Hadja Lahbib, Minister of Foreign Affairs and H.E. Mr. Bruno Angelet, Ambassador of Belgium.
See below details of the program as I managed to figure out on my own.
Contrary to the traditional protocol to introduce the local Belgian community we were ignored by the large delegation composed of many Belgian government officials, businesspeople and journalists. Nobody was interested to have feedback from us on the business environment. The PM kept busy with the dozens of journalists.

The PM actually mentioned in his speech the project I did in the eighties, Yaomeng Pingdingshan Power Plant, the first soft loan to China. I was in charge of the project from 1980 to 1988.
I had wanted to mention to him how I received his father in 1986. On 3 November 1986 I welcomed Belgian ambassador Jan Hollants Van Locke and Herman De Croo, Minister of Foreign Trade.

See also the official reception for the opening of the Beijing office on 26 October 1981.
Also Renaat Morel was not introduced to the PM. All while President Xi Jinping mentioned Morel’s restaurant to the PM later on.

I did have the chance to meet again H.E. Jan Hoogmartens, Bernard Dewit and the author Veerle De Vos (I have her book).


– 11 January afternoon – inauguration of the new embassy – attended by H.E. Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium, H. E. Hadja Lahbib, Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Mr. Bruno Angelet, Ambassador of Belgium and H.E. Wang Yi, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and Foreign Minister. Performance by Peter Ritzen and Liu Guangyu (we had dinner later together). Unveiling of the nameplates for three spaces in the new building, honoring three figures that played a crucial role in Belgian-China relationship: Father Ferdinand Verbiest – Tian Bao Courtyard (Panda Garden) – Qian Xiuling Hall.

– 11 January evening – dinner and panel discussion in Kempinski Hotel for the Belgian business people, panel by Joerg Wuttke (and possibly others but none of us).
– 12 January 2024 – Belgian PM De Croo and Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lahbib met with Chinese and Belgian entrepreneurs during an event organized by the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) and CCPIT in Beijing.

– 12 January 2024 (afternoon) – PM De Croo and Minister Lahbib had a meeting with the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Zhao Leji, then with the Premier of the PRC Li Qiang, and then with the President of the PRC Xi Jinping. The Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the whole business delegation were also invited by Premier Li Qiang for a banquet during lunchtime.

= The Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Belgian ambassador also visited the Forbidden City, closed for the public.

Results of the visit

Overall the impact was positive and it is certainly a boost for Belgium-China relations.
I collected many of the media articles, English, Dutch and Chinese (with Google translation). Anybody interested contact me. See the overview: mediaarticles
The import of Belgian pork meat is now again allowed.
The hoopla around the import of Belgian endive was a bit of a joke.
The vegetable that we call witloof or chicon or endive is mostly translated in English as “endive”. More about this famous vegetable in my post.
Indeed Renaat Morel launched in China the culture of endive around 1997, in Northeast China. He also imported samples of the transport containers with blue paper – to cover the endive that cannot have light so it remains white.

Since then we all enjoy endive and the famous Morel dish of endive au gratin. Just this week I had it served as a salad in the Sichuan Mansion during a Chinese banquet.
While citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia, Ireland and Switzerland will now be allowed to enter China without a visa, Belgium did not receive the same favor.