Chinese New Year attracts one thousand students

By Olivia Garber

During a celebration this weekend that drew more than 1,000 visitors, loneliness was a common… During a celebration this weekend that drew more than 1,000 visitors, loneliness was a common theme.

The Chinese Student & Scholar Association hosted the Spring Festival Gala Saturday afternoon — an event that celebrated the Chinese New Year this week. And though the crowd kept rolling in during the seven-hour event — which included dinner and a number of performances — many attendees reiterated a longing for their family.

Shang Gao, a graduate student in Pitt’s school of education and president of CSSA, compared the traditional Chinese holiday with Christmas — it’s a time for families to get together. But for many of the Chinese students in attendance, home is more than 10,000 miles away.

Gao was among 70 people who organized the event to help students assuage the homesickness and celebrate the biggest Chinese holiday.

Of course, it was also something they expected.

The Spring Festival has a habit of being sold-out, and this year was no different. Gao said that the event was something that students have come to expect.

People began filing into the William Pitt Union ballroom around 3:30 p.m. to drink Chinese bubble tea and play games.

Decking the place out with Chinese flags and red decorations, organizers converted the ballroom into a venue for the festival.

By the time dinner started two hours later, the line to get into the ballroom stretched to the TVs in the Union lobby.

Although the majority of participants were Chinese and Chinese-American, students of other nationalities attended as well.

Gao said that the cultural event had a lot to offer those who were not familiar with the Chinese holiday.

Because of China’s growing prominence in the U.S. — Gao cited China’s economy, the second largest in the world, President Hu Jintao’s recent visit and a building presence in Hollywood — she said the event was an opportunity for Americans to learn more about Chinese culture.

“I don’t think they know enough about this country,” Gao said about students unfamiliar with Chinese culture.

But Gao said there was another incentive for students to come.

“Everyone loves Chinese food,” she said.

One box full of rice, tofu, chicken and vegetables was free for undergraduate students who registered for the event, and although it didn’t include all the traditional foods of the holiday, it did feed the hundreds of people who attended.

Justin Li and Joseph Lu, a pair of Pitt students from China, said the event was similar to celebrations in China, but both would have preferred to be with their families. And with the huo guo, or hot pot.

Lu said he missed the traditional Chinese meal for the celebration, which includes a variety of meats and vegetables that are cooked in a large container of boiling water.

Though the event couldn’t bring huo guo to Pitt, it did deliver some Chinese performances to the ballroom.

The gala included 13 performances, but before any of the acts began, the organizers played a video that asked Chinese students what they missed most during the Chinese holiday.

The common response: my parents.

Weiqi Li performed a song called “Wa la la” that mostly concerned how he missed his family during the holiday.

In addition to stanzas that told his parents not to worry, the Chinese song also covered some topics that all Pitt students could empathize with.

“Pida jintian you xia xue le,” or, “It’s snowing at Pitt today,” he sang.

The crowd chuckled at that one.

More than 500 people were crammed into the room, and about 50 had to stand along the walls.

Linda Rong, a teacher at Pitt’s Confucius Institute, alternated between leaning against the wall and sitting on the lap of her friend.

Rong, who also volunteered during the event, said the performances were similar to those in China.

Each province in China would have its own gala, and each would include singing, dancing, comedy and xiao pin — a drama of current events.

Rong helped translate for the people around her when the emcees did cross-talk in Chinese between performances.

She said cross-talk is a comedic repartee between two people.

Although a lot of the dialogue was in Chinese, some of the visually dynamic performances did not require any translation.

The first performance, called Dragon dance and kong fu, involved children in traditional garb executing elaborate martial art demonstrations and flag movements.

When they walked through the crowd after finishing, most audience members cheered “hao bang le” — “excellent, wonderful,” — when the children walked by.