A different kind of Chinese New Year

My wife's grandma is from Shanghai, so this year we spent Chinese New Year there. We had a "reunion lunch" in Singapore with my side of the family and then hopped on a plane to Shanghai so we could have the reunion dinner with hers. At the reunion dinner, the entire family gets together for a feast. It usually goes on for a couple of hours; people really fill up on seconds and thirds.

This was the first time I'd experienced Chinese New Year outside of Singapore, and it was a real eye-opener. The reunion dinner in Shanghai was about what I expected, although I think China's one-child policy has created families that are a lot smaller than they are in Singapore. In Singapore the previous generation had huge families with my parents families consisting of seven sisters and four brothers. They really knew how to give birth back then!

Shanghai was a bit smaller at the reunion dinner, but it is after the reunion dinner where things got crazy. The most obvious difference was the fireworks. In Singapore, you can't set off your own fireworks and any you see will be organized and set up by the government/cultural board. In Shanghai however fireworks were going off for hours, especially after the stroke of midnight. Take a look at this video we took from the apartment.

It's easy to understand that kind of celebrating as they only have two holidays a year in China: National Day and Chinese New Year. Some people within the country journey for 60 hours, by car, bus and train just to spend three days with family so this could explain why they go all out when they get reunited!

The (superstitious) customs in Shanghai were similar to those in Singapore. No use of scissors, brooms or mops during the 2 week window was permitted or you might chase away the "God of fortune". Wear bright colors and lots of red to bring more luck. Spend lots of time with friends and family eating, drinking and gambling to welcome the New Year with a bang. Games like Asian-style blackjack or Thai baccarat and other (huge action) Asian gambling variations are the game of choice. Gambling at the start of the year is supposed to help/gauge your fortune during the year but really it's just an excuse to go crazy. And believe me, people do go crazy. The minimum bets often start at $5 early in the night but can increase to $500 by the end. One night a friend of mine dropped six figures just being the banker!

Every Chinese New Year, as long as you're married, you're supposed to give money away in red envelopes to the younger generation when they pay respect to you & wished you well. Previously that was really enjoyable when I belonged to that generation (under 30 and unmarried). But from this year on every Chinese New Year will also be a time for my pockets to become slightly lighter!

What I like about the Chinese New Year is how it brings everyone together. Friends and relatives I grew up with will fly from every corner of the world to be with their family and friends and this is when you can catch up with everyone. During Chinese New Year, everything comes to a standstill. All offices, markets, businesses close so It's really easy for people to switch off and spend time with family, rather than working through a day off like they might at some other time of the year.

And especially with my life - flying around, playing poker at hours that aren't normal, playing on European time or American time - having these holidays is really helpful for me to catch up with friends and family. Different kind of Chinese New Year or not, I always look forward to the coming one.

Oh and according to the gambling sessions I've had so far I think I'm going to be lucky this year. So far I've had a good start.

Bryan Huang is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

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Bryan Huang
@PokerStars in Bryan Huang