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Springtime is a season of senses awakening

Updated: 2021-03-09 08:20 ( China Daily )

As a child growing up in a suburban town in the Northeast of the United States, the arrival of spring had little meaning for me.

Sure, we had a weeklong spring vacation from school, but the operative word there was vacation, not spring.

For the kids in my neighborhood, the arrival of spring was a non-event. There were two important seasons: winter, when we could go skating and sledding or build snow forts, and summer, when we could f-i-n-a-l-l-y make proper use of the beach about 100 meters east of my family home. Spring and autumn were just technical details, weeks and weeks of waiting for the good times' return.

And, even though the beginning of autumn was a clearly demarcated event-summer vacation abruptly finished, and it was back to school for an eternity of 10 months-spring had little to distinguish it. It might still be bone-chillingly cold for weeks to come, and despite the days' getting longer, the process was so gradual, who could tell?

Admittedly, spring later developed its own attractions for me-"In the spring a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love", as the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson noted-however, it was not spring itself, but the other stuff that got my attention.

In short, I never thought much at all about spring… and then I arrived in China. I had been in Beijing for about three months when my first Spring Festival rolled around, and it could hardly be ignored. Aside from the random bursts of fireworks at any time day or night, what stood out most for me was that the capital seemed to ooze itself empty.

It was as though the teeming crowds and streams of cars and trucks commonly seen in the capital had all gone into hiding. It was eerie. My puzzlement cleared up when I returned to work. My colleagues explained that Chinese traditionally travel, if necessary, to visit their families during Spring Festival, and that many Beijingers were not natives of the capital.

I also got my first inkling of something about Spring Festival that never ceases to amaze me. Regardless of when the holiday is set to begin, there is an almost immediate and drastic change for the better in the weather. Spring really does arrive.

Even this year-which has largely been an exception to the rule with wintry weather stubbornly persisting for weeks-had a notable example. So notable, in fact, that The Washington Post thought it was worth reporting.

"It's only February, but it feels like May in Beijing," it wrote about the "temperatures some 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) above normal" on Feb 21, just nine days after Spring Festival began on Feb 12. "Beijing's temperature shot up 78 degrees Sunday, the highest ever observed between December and February by 10 degrees."

I can't begin to fathom how the ancient Chinese could devise a system for the millennia that would almost always accurately predict when the season would shift year after year after year. But they did. In light of that, maybe it's time the US retires Punxsutawney Phil. Never heard of him?

Phil is a groundhog who comes out of his burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, every year on Feb 2 under the hopeful gaze of large crowds and news services. If he sees his shadow, he scampers back inside to wait out six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, it will be an early spring.

Then again, Phil predicted more wintry bluster this year. Maybe he earned his keep.

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