I don't remember anymore what I expected. Fireworks, certainly, but fireworks were a nightly event in China, so it went without saying. Something involving a dragon, maybe. Something exciting and new, that much I know.
I got something entirely different.
Paul, who was also teaching English in a sleepy little town, had joined me for Spring Festival. We cleaned every corner of my way too big flat, moved furniture around, and even put up the big wooden pictures with the man that's supposed to protect everyone from the demons on the door to the place. We put the paper scrolls around all the doors, and talked the whole time about what it would be like.
The night of, the whole city was quiet.
Understand, when I say a Chinese city was quiet, you better believe it was. Paul and I walked downtown and didn't see another soul. There was no noise except the incessant blaring of the canned music on the speakers that are liberally placed around the downtown. We didn't see another car. There were no fireworks.
We finally got to the only sign of life we saw all evening - the KFC. Jiangyan's KFC had opened up to huge long lines and excited fanfare. Every day my students were excited about the place, asking questions and when they could go, as though I could take them. It was always crowded, always packed, and that night, it was completely empty, except for a few disgruntled staff and two laowei, ordering hot chocolate because Paul was cold.
We sat in there, watching the complete lack of people on the busiest street in Jiangyan, and talked about Christmas (he was from New Zealand - like Phil, he went to BBQs and played in the hot hot ocean for Christmas, while I thought anything that didn't include three feet of snow and more coming down was surreal) and family and feeling excluded.
I think that conversation was the first time Paul mentioned leaving China.
We finished our hot chocolate and headed back a different way. We went through the streets to tiny you couldn't get a car through them, past houses that didn't have running water. The smell of incense was heavy in the air, and there were little altars set up near various houses. There were people here, and laughter, and lots of strange looks at the two pale people walking through the area like ghosts.
We got back to the school, and at midnight we sat alone on the school playground and lit our small supply of fireworks into the completely empty sky.