More Chinese going abroad for Lunar New Year

More Chinese going abroad for Lunar New Year
Chinese travelers wait to board trains to head home few days before the Lunar New Year at the Beijing Train Station on February 4, 2015.

The approach of Spring Festival could be easily detected in overseas Chinatowns shortly after the clock rang in 2015. Although the new year of the traditional Chinese calendar starts on Feb 19, Asian restaurants, groceries and supermarkets in large foreign cities around the world were stocking up on seasonal goods of all kinds, from red lanterns to Spring Festival scrolls, for local Chinese residents to do their Chinese New Year shopping.

Still, there are nostalgic voices among Chinese who complain that the lively Spring Festival mood that prevailed before the 21st century seems to be fading, even though standards of living were not as high back then.

Traditions such as spending Chinese New Year's Eve with the family and sitting at dinner tables graced by a traditional spread have made way for new practices, they say, as many Chinese families have opted to spend Chinese New Year overseas in recent years.

This will be the third year that Wei Wei, a 34-year-old college teacher in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, will travel with his architect wife, Yu Shuli, and spend Spring Festival in a foreign country, after they had a pleasant time doing so in 2013.

"It is too cold in Hangzhou in the winter. That was the biggest reason why my wife and I wanted to spend the new year elsewhere, preferably somewhere tropical," Wei said. "We were surprised that when we mentioned our plan to our parents, they agreed without hesitation. They also feel that the Chinese New Year has become a mere formality."

With approval and support from the older generation, the couple decided to arrange a trip to Bangkok and Chiangmai in Thailand during Chinese New Year in 2013.

"Thailand is the perfect choice for us, because it not only meets our aim of spending the holiday somewhere warm with tasty exotic dishes, especially fresh seafood, but also because it is less costly in Southeast Asia," Wei said.

The couple "got addicted" to the idea and decided to continue the new practice.

"We went to Singapore and Malaysia last year and will go to Thailand again this year, but this time we will visit Phuket island," he said. "We will fly on Feb 19, after having the Chinese New Year's Eve dinner with my parents and parents-in-law."

Wei's story is typical of a fast-growing number of Chinese families who choose the alternative way of spending the traditional holiday.

More Chinese are willing to travel overseas than stay at home during the upcoming Spring Festival, according to a recently released survey by Ctrip.com, China's leading online travel agency.

About 40 per cent of the respondents said they had plans to go abroad during this Spring Festival. For the first time, the figure exceeded that for domestic travel (37 per cent) during the holiday.

The finding was echoed by the number of travel bookings on Qunar.com, a popular travel search engine. According to Liu Haibo, Qunar's flight ticket specialist, the number of travelers who made overseas travel bookings during the 2015 Chinese New Year witnessed a huge surge, with a year-on-year increase of 350 per cent.

But with Spring Festival approaching, those with last-minute travel plans might realise that ticket prices have skyrocketed. Some tickets have even doubled in price during the holiday period.

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