HOW TO: Shenzhen Spring Festival/Chinese New Year

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By 2016 most hackers have some idea that China shuts down for a month every year. If not, learn it: from some time in January to some time in February the world’s largest country and manufacturing capital, one of the biggest economies, closes shop. Nothing is made or shipped.

While the whole country celebrates, Shenzhen is uniquely populated entirely by migrant workers from the north who leave for Spring Festival. All the teenagers who live in dorms and build your iPhone make a once yearly trek to see their families. The mass exodus from Shenzhen to northern China is billed as the worlds largest human migration. Its documented in “The Last Train Home”.

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It starts slowly at first. You see a few people dragging luggage down the street, then a few more. Suddenly they’re everywhere.

Continue below for fireworks, gambling, the great migration, and how to deal with suppliers during Chinese New Year.

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Everyone has a bag of water, food, and snacks. This is what they’ll subsist on until they reach their hometown in a few days.

smuggle-shop

Here a young couple stops at shop that sells baby formula, food, and shampoo smuggled from Hong Kong. Anything from here makes an impressive gift back home. Just to the left, out of frame, there’s a woman fighting with a restaurant owner. She says the food made her husband sick and she wants 100RMB ($16USD), likely a New Years scam for a few dollars to get back home.

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Random charter buses show up on every street. And then it goes silent.

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For three solid weeks the infrastructure that supports 12-15 million people simply ceases to exist. First the factory labor goes: catching early buses and trains, some for 3-5days of travel. Without factories the couriers don’t have work, so all but the biggest delivery service stops working.

There’s no buyers or sellers in the market, so our local late night BBQ place is empty and closes for two weeks. All the hardware stores, salons, stationary shops, everything, completely closed. Its a ghost town out there, McDonald’s is about the only thing open.

If you work with China you need to take Spring Festival seriously. Rushing a last minute order or production before Spring Festival is just incomprehensibly stupid. Yet every year people desperately flail about trying to get something done a week or two or three before the holiday, even people who should know better.

Worse, there’s always a couple who offer to DO ANYTHING OR PAY ANYTHING!!! Yeah, anything except properly plan your production. Even a month ahead of the holiday nobody wants to take on new jobs. Offering to PAY ANYTHING!!! is incredibly insulting to suppliers, they value relationships and cooperation (and the once-a-year chance to see their family).

A half billion workers will ride filthy, feted, crowded, stinking trains for 5 days to visit some hellish frozen northern Chinese coal-burning village where families nag them to make more money, get married, and pop out a baby. Yeah, they don’t care about your damn Kickstart deadline.

Smart people know: the last order before Spring Festival is taken October 10th, after China National Day.

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So what to do in an empty Chinese mega city? Fireworks, while technically not permitted in Shenzhen, are everywhere. Kids and teenagers sell fireworks in the food streets from Styrofoam coolers.

They’ve got the good stuff. Snap-pops and sparklers at the low end. Rolls of 780,000 firecrackers and 38 shot mortars at the high end. There’s even a concierge lighting service.

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Wear safety glasses and ear plugs. Even the humble snap-pops are 10 to 20 times more powerful than those in America, they can easily make your ears ring for a few minutes if you empty a few thousand into a condom and throw it on the street.

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Locals play a game call Fish, Shrimp, Crab. Bet 5RMB ($0.80USD) or more on the fish, shrimp, crab, gourd, coin or cock. A dealer shakes three dice with these same symbols. If your symbol comes up you win 2x, 3x, or 4x your bet.

Betting is frowned upon so tables fold up quickly during regular police patrols, but it generally seems to be tolerated. We never gamble, because math, but “he hei hoi” is an interesting local cultural experience that goes well with beer and fireworks.

Spring Festival. Think of it as Christmas and New Years all rolled into one, then stretched out for a month. There’s kitschy decorations and annoying repetitive holiday muzak. There’s annual traditions involving food, alcohol, and vice. There’s visiting family you don’t like in far away places you’d rather not be. And never, under any circumstances, does anything get done before or during the holiday.

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