The Israel Philharmonic is making a quick visit to the Far East to celebrate New Years in China, Taiwan, Korea and Thailand. Surprisingly, modern China is full of Christmas and New Years symbols, from Santa Klaus and “Jingle Bells” to an authentic New Years concert “direct” from the Vienna’s Musikverien at the Great Hall of the People conducted by Zubin Mehta.

The holidays are completely detached from their original religious meaning; instead they serve as a good reason to celebrate a new era in China.

With the orchestra visiting Guangzhou, Beijing and Shenzhen, we are only scratching the surface of the most prosperous and modern part of China. In the background is the constant noise of building; banging on steel and pouring of concrete; the work going on 24 hours a day, even over the 3 day holiday. From our hotel, the work lights blaze into the night while floor after floor are added at a nearby building site. From our hotel in Guangzhou, we saw older neighborhoods of 2 and 3 story apartments waiting to be leveled to make room for the next skyscraper.

China is a vast land, and we are seeing only the most developed “crust”. There’s a strange mix of old and new but the conflict between the symbols of prosperity, McDonald’s and Mercedes, and quality of life, remains a mystery to us as tourists.

For a look at the “old” China, one has to go down to the Pearl River where groups of older women go through the steps of folk dances, couples practice tai-chi, or the occasional group of middle-aged warriors battle with ceremonial swords.
On the street, one sees only young people. The evenings belong almost solely to young couples strolling in the artificial parks with neon lily ponds, light chains in the trees and a horizon of the last bits of downtown space.