China Calendar Of Events

China's festivals follow the traditional lunar calendar, and to increase confusion, some minority calendars operate according to different traditions. For conversion to solar/ Gregorian calendar dates, try the websites www.est-direct.com/china/lunarcal.php, or www.mandarintools.com.

The Chinese tourism industry is increasingly inventing festivals to try to boost business. Unless indicated below, be wary of any festival with the word "tourism" in its name, for instance.

January

Spring Festival (Chun Jie), or

Chinese New Year, is still the occasion for large lion dances and other celebrations in Hong Kong, Macau, and Chinatowns worldwide, but in mainland China it's mainly a time for everyone to return to his or her ancestral home and feast. Fireworks are now banned in larger cities. Temple fairs have been revived in Beijlng, but are mostly fairly low-key shopping opportunities without the color or professional entertainers of old. But in the countryside there's been a gradual revival of stilt-walking and masked processions. Spring Festival is on the day of the first new moon after January 21, and can be no later than February 20.

Monlam Festival is held throughout the Tibetan world (including at Xiahe and Langmu Si). Monasteries are open to all, and there are religious dancing, the offering of torma (butter sculptures), and the "sunning of the Buddha" when a silk painting (tangkha) is consecrated and becomes the living Buddha in the minds of believers. Typically, the festival culminates in the parading of the Maitreya Buddha through the town. Fourth to 16th days of the first lunar month (Jan 25-Feb 6, 2004; Feb 12-24, 2005). Check dates with Qinghai Mountaineering Association (& 0971/ 823-8922). In Tibet check with FIT (& 0891/634-4397; www. tibet-travel.com/).

Kurban Bairam (Gu'erbang Jie), also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, is celebrated by Muslims throughout China. It marks the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice everything to God, even his son Ishmael. Celebrations in Kashgar involve feats of tightrope-walking in the main square and wild dancing outside the Idkah Mosque. The 4-day festival is held 70 days after the breaking of the fast of Ramadan, on the 10th day of the 12th month (Dhul-Hijjah) in the Islamic calendar. It falls on February 1, 2004, and shifts earlier by 11 days each year. February The Lantern Festival (Deng Jie) perhaps reached its peak in the late Qing dynasty, when temples, stores, and other public places were hung with fantastically shaped and decorated lanterns, some with figures animated by ingenious mechanisms involving the flow of sand. Many people paraded through the streets with lightweight lanterns in the shapes of fish, sheep, and so on, and hung lanterns outside their houses, often decorated with riddles. There are some signs of the festival's revival, including at Pingyao in Shanxi Province, and at Quanzhou in Fujian. The festival always falls 15 days after Spring Festival.

March

Hong Kong Sevens Rugby Tournament, Hong Kong. Known as "The Sevens," this is one of Hong Kong's most popular and one of Asia's largest sporting events, with more than 20 teams from around the world competing for the Cup Championship. A 3-day pass costs HK$750 ($97). Contact the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union at & 852/2504 8311 or www.hk sevens.com.hk. Fourth weekend in March.

April

Tomb-Sweeping Festival (Qlng-ming) is still a public holiday in Hong Kong and Macau, frequently observed in Chinese communities overseas, and celebrated in more rural areas of China, as a family outing on a free day near the festival date. It's a day to honor ancestors by visiting and tidying their graves and making offerings of snacks and alcohol, which often turns into a picnic. April 5.

Sisters' Meal Festival (Zimeifan Jie), Taijiang, Shidong (Guizhou). Celebrated with lusheng (windinstrument music) dances and antiphonal singing, this is one of the prime occasions for young Miao men and women to socialize and find marriage partners. Elaborately dressed Miao women prepare packets of berry-stained glutinous rice to present to suitors. For exact dates, check with CITS Kaili (& 0855/ 822-2506; www.qdncits.com). 15 th day of the third lunar month (usually Apr).

Water-Splashing Festival (Pdshui Jie), Jinghong, Xishuangbanna. Extremely popular with Chinese tourists, the festive Dai New Year is ushered in with a large market on the first day, dragon-boat races on the second, and copious amounts of water-splashing on the third. Be prepared to get doused, but take heart because the wetter you are, the more luck you'll have. April 13 to 15.

Luoyang Peony Festival, Luoyang. Over 300 varieties of China's best peonies, first cultivated in Luoyang 1,400 years ago, are on display at the Wangcheng Park (Wangcheng Gongyuan), which is awash in a riot of colors from red to violet and every shade in between. April 15 to 25. Weifang International Kite Festival, Weifang. The kite capital of the world hosts the largest kite-flying gala in China, as hundreds of thousands of kite lovers from around the world take over the town for several days of competition and demonstrations. April 20.

Hong Kong International Film Festival, Hong Kong. More than 200 films from more than 40 countries are featured at this 2-week event, including new releases, documentaries, and archival films. Tickets cost HK$55 ($7.15). For more information, call & 852/2734 2903 or 852/27349009; or check www.hkiff.org.hk. 2 weeks in April.

Sanyue Jie (Third Month Fair),

Dali. This biggest festival of the Bai people had its origins over a thousand years ago when Buddhist monks and adherents gathered to celebrate the appearance of Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy) to the Bai. Today's festival has become more secular as the Bai and other minorities from elsewhere in Yunnan gather in the foothills of the Green Mountains (Cang Shan) for 5 days and nights of singing, dancing, wrestling, horse racing, and large-scale trading. Ask CITS for more information on the precise dates (& 0872/219-1985). Fifteenth day of the third lunar month (usually mid-Apr or early May). Cheung Chau Bun Festival, Hong Kong. This weeklong affair on Cheung Chau island is thought to appease restless ghosts and spirits. Originally held to placate the unfortunate souls of those murdered by pirates, it features a street parade of lions and dragons and Chinese opera, as well as floats with children seemingly suspended in the air, held up by cleverly concealed wires. The end of the festival is heralded by three bun-covered scaffolds erected in front of the Pak Tai Temple. These buns supposedly bring good luck to those who receive them. HKTB organizes tours of the parade; call & 852/ 2508 1234. Usually late April or early May, but the exact date is chosen by divination.

Saka Dawa festival is held throughout the Tibetan world, celebrating the Buddha passing away and thus attaining nirvana. Koras (circuits) of holy lakes, mountains, and buildings are undertaken by the faithful. See the contact info for the Monlam Festival (Jan), above. Eighth to 15th days of the 4th lunar month (May 26-June 2, 2004; Jun 15-22, 2005). Western Journey Festival (Xiqian Jie) marks the day in 1764 when the Qianlong emperor forced the Xibo people to move from their homeland in Manchuria to Qapqal County (southwest of Yining). Celebrations are marked by the devouring of a whole sheep cooked with coriander, preserved vegetables, and onions. Wrestling, horse riding, and archery contests evoke the Xibo's warrior ancestry. The festival is held on the 18th day of the 4th lunar month (late May to mid-June). June

Dragon Boat Festival (Longzhdu Jie), Shidong. With over 40,000 celebrants, this Miao minority festival, which bears no relation to the Han Dragon Boat Festival, commemorates the killing of a dragon whose body was divided among several Miao villages. Over the course of 3 days, dragon boat races are held in Shidong and nearby Pingzhai and Tanglong. For exact dates, check with CITS Kaili (& 0855/822-2506; www.qdncits. com). Twenty-fourth to 27th day of the fifth lunar month (usually June or early July).

Dragon Boat Races (Tuen Ng Festival), Hong Kong. Races of long, narrow boats, gaily painted and powered by oarsmen who row to the beat of drums, originated in ancient China, where legend held that Qu Yuan, an imperial adviser, drowned himself in a Hunan river to protest government corruption. His faithful followers, wishing to recover his body, supposedly raced out into the river in boats, beating their paddles on the surface of the water and throwing rice to distract water creatures from his body. There are two different races: The biggest is an international competition with approximately 30 teams, held along the waterfront in Tsimshatsui East; the following weekend, approximately 500 local Hong Kong teams compete, with races held at Stanley, Aberdeen, Chai Wan, Yaumatei, Tai Po, and outlying islands. Contact HKTB at & 852/2508 1234. Fifth day of the fifth moon (June 22, 2004) for international races. On the mainland, the festival is still celebrated at places connected with Qu Yuan, such as Zigul, Yichang, and Changsha. July

Jyekundo Horse Festival, south of Yushu, Qlnghai. Khampa nomads gather for a spectacular 10-day celebration involving racing, exhibitions of equestrian skill, and horse-trading. Starts on July 25.

International Motorcycle Tourism Festival, Yinchuan. People from China and abroad ride/transport their motorcycles to Yinchuan. Motorcycle stunts and contests, exhibitions, and tourism activities (beware the last) make up the core activities of the festival. Visit www. ycmtf.org/english/about_us.htm for details. Held between June and August.

Lurol Festival, Tongren (Rep-kong). This marks the Sino-Tibetan peace treaty, signed in A.D. 822, with fertility dances and body piercing in honor of a local mountain deity, and has a pagan feel. Check with Qlnghai Mountaineering Association, & 0971/823-8922. The 16th day of the sixth lunar month (Aug 1, 2004; July 21, 2005). August

Naadam, across Inner Mongolia, including Hohhot (at the racetrack, Saima Chang, and the Hulun Buir Grasslands, outside Manzholi). The festival features Mongolian wrestling, archery, and horse and camel racing, and occurs when the grasslands turn green. That's usually mid-August, but can be as early as July. Dates differ from place to place, and they don't coincide with (the People's Republic of) Mongolia's Naadam festival, which is tied to their National Day and always occurs from July 11 to 13. For dates and exact locations outside Manzhouli, call CITS (& 0470/ 622-2988).

Qlngdao International Beer Festival, Qlngdao. Over a million visitors descend on this seaside resort for its famous annual Bavarian bacchanal, which features everything from beer tasting and drinking contests for adults, to amusement-park rides for kids, to go-karting for the kid in the adult. Last 2 weeks of August (proceeding to the 1st Sun in Sept). September International Shaolin Martial Arts Festival, Song Shan. Some patience, Grasshopper, may be necessary to negotiate the crowds of serious pugilists and Bruce Lee-wannabes who show up to trade fists and demonstrate some truly jaw-dropping, gravity-defying martial arts skills. For details, call CITS (& 0371/288-3442). Second week of September.

Mid-Autumn Festival (Tuanyuan Jie) is widely celebrated in Hong

Kong, Macau, and Chinese communities overseas, but in mainland China the last remnant of the festival except among literary-minded students is the giving and eating of yueblng (moon cakes), circular pies with sweet and extremely fattening fillings. Traditionally it's a time to sit and read poetry under the full moon, but pollution in many areas has made the moon largely invisible. The 15th day of the 8th lunar month (usually Sept).

International Fashion Festival, Dalian. China's most famous fashion event is the Dalian Guoji Fuzhuang Jie. The 2-week gathering of mostly Asian garment producers offers an opening parade, a series of glamorous fashion shows held in the city's best hotels, and the sight of leggy models strutting downtown streets, making it worthwhile for non-industry visitors, too. Mid-September.

Confucius's Birthday, Qufu. China's Great Sage is honored with parades, exhibitions, and musical and dance performances that re-enact some of the rites mentioned in the Analects (Lun Yu). If you wish to stay over during this time, book your hotel well in advance; decent accommodations are hard to come by then. September 28.

October

Tsongkapa's birthday is celebrated throughout the Tibetan world. The birthplace of the founder of the Geluk order of Tibetan Buddhism, Kumbum Ta'er Si (south of Xlning) sees the liveliest festival. Religious dancing, mass chanting, and "sunning the Buddha" can be seen. Check with Kumbum (Ta'er Si; & 0971/223-1357). 20th to 26th days of the ninth lunar month (late Oct to early Nov). November International Festival of Folk Songs and Folk Arts, Nanning.

Many of Guangxi's minorities, including the Zhuang, the Miao, and the Dong, gather for a colorful week of ethnic song and dance performances that some have criticized as being mere "urban re-enactments." A visit to a village to see the minorities in their own environment is highly recommended, but if you're short on time, this explosion of song and dance will have to suffice. Check with CITS (& 0851/ 690-1660; fax 0851/690-1600; [email protected]) for exact dates. First half of November. Rozi Heyt (Rouzl Jie or Kaizhai Jie) marks the end of the month-long Fast of Ramadan, and believers are keen for a feast. Presents are exchanged and alms are given to the poor. In Kazakh and Tajik areas this is often celebrated with a "lamb snatching" competition. A dead lamb is contested by two teams mounted on horses or yaks; the winning team succeeds in spiriting the lamb out of reach of their rivals. The festival is held for 4 days after the first sighting of the new moon in the 10th month (Shawwal) of the Islamic calendar. November 25 in 2003, moving backwards by 11 days each year.

December Miao New Year Festival, Xijiang, Langde (Guizhou). The Miao New Year is celebrated with songs, dances, bullfights, and lusheng competitions. For exact dates check with CITS Kaili (& 0855/8222506; www.qdncits.com). End of the 10th lunar month (usually Dec). Ice and Snow Festival, Harbin. Every year, tens of thousands of people travel from as far south as Guangdong and brave freezing cold to see the Ha'erbin Bingxue Jie. The city's streets come alive with elaborate ice sculptures equipped with internal wires that blaze to life at night. Most impressive is the Ice and Snow Palace, a life-size frozen-water mansion with multiple levels erected every year on the banks of

5 Travel Insurance

Check your existing insurance policies and credit-card coverage before you buy travel insurance. You may already be covered for lost luggage, canceled tickets, or medical expenses. The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the cost and length of your trip, your age, your health, and the type of trip you're taking.

Purchase insurance from a broker, or directly from an online or telephone-based insurer, as it is invariably considerably cheaper than that sold by travel agents, banks, foreign exchange operations, or insurers at the airport. TRIP-CANCELLATION INSURANCE Trip-cancellation insurance helps you get your money back if you have to back out of a trip, if you have to go home early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Acceptable reasons for cancellation can range from sickness to natural disasters to a government department declaring your destination unsafe for travel. Insurers usually won't cover vague fears, though, and in 2003 SARS wrong-footed many travelers. MEDICAL INSURANCE For China, purchase travel insurance with air ambulance or scheduled airline repatriation built in. Be clear on the terms and conditions—is repatriation limited to life-threatening illnesses, for instance? While there are advanced facilities staffed by foreign doctors in Beijing and Shanghai, and excellent facilities in Hong Kong, in most of China a hospital visit is to be avoided, the Sungari River. From late December to whenever the ice begins to melt (usually late Feb).

if possible. Foreigners unfortunate enough to end up in provincial facilities do tend to get special treatment, but you are unlikely to consider it special enough. You may also face a substantial bill, and you will not be allowed to leave until you pay it in cash. You must claim back the expense when you return home, so make sure you have adequate proof of payment.

LOST-LUGGAGE INSURANCE On U.S. domestic flights, checked baggage is covered up to $2,500 per ticketed passenger. On international flights (including U.S. portions of international trips), baggage is limited to approximately $9 per pound, up to approximately $635 per checked bag. If you plan to check items more valuable than the standard liability, see if your valuables are covered by your homeowner's policy, or get baggage insurance as part of your comprehensive travel-insurance package. Read the policy carefully—some valuables are effectively uninsurable, and others have such high excess charges that the insurance is not worth buying.

If your luggage is lost, immediately file a lost-luggage claim at the airport. For most airlines, you must report delayed, damaged, or lost baggage within 4 hours of arrival. The airlines are required to deliver your luggage, once it's found, directly to your house or destination free of charge, although don't expect that necessarily to work with domestic Chinese airlines.

6 Health & Safety

STAYING HEALTHY from low hygiene standards. Keep

GREATEST RISKS your hands frequently washed and

The greatest risk to the enjoyment of a away from your mouth. Only eat holiday in China is one of stomach freshly cooked hot food, and fruit you upsets or more serious illnesses arising can peel yourself. Avoid touching the part to be eaten once it's been peeled. Drink only boiled or bottled water. Never drink from the tap. Use bottled water for brushing your teeth.

The second most common cause of discomfort is the upper respiratory tract infection or cold-or flu-like symptoms in fact caused by heavy pollution. Many standard Western remedies or sources of relief (and occasionally fake versions of these) are available over the counter, but bring a supply of whatever you are used to. If you have sensitive eyes, you may wish to bring an eye bath and solution.

If you regularly take a nonprescrip-tion medication, bring a plentiful supply with you and don't rely on finding it in China. Feminine hygiene products such as panty-liners are widely available, but tampons are found mainly in Hong Kong.

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