With one holiday period coming to a close, another looms on the horizon: Lunar New Year. That means three things in my mind: nice weather, a beautiful holiday with great food, and that I had better get all my orders for electronic parts for the next few months out immediately. In fact, I should have done it last month but I’m a bit closer to the source than many of you are.
In any case, Lunar New Year affects our ability to order neat gadgets at a time of year when some of us have received a little money to spend. So I thought I’d take a moment away from hacking to share with you how important this holiday is to much of the world so we can manage our expectations for quick global shipping accordingly.
Holiday Time: Comparing East and West
The Christmas through New Year period in the West spans about a week, and businesses are typically only completely closed for a few days, even if many employees take some of their accrued holiday time around then. It’s also always on a fixed Gregorian calendar date, which is convenient as it’s the calendar used by businesses in most (but not all) of the world.
On the other hand, it’s common for businesses to completely shut down for two weeks during new year celebrations in Asia, and some factories can easily be closed for a month. It’s expected (but not required) that employees receive an extra month’s pay at this time, as well as take all of their holidays in one block to go and visit their family.
So imagine that’s you. You’ve got one big holiday a year, an extra month’s salary, and you haven’t seen most or all of your family for some time. There’s also a huge rush to finish everything before the holiday, an epic journey home, and a bit of a mess recovering from it all afterwards. It’s every holiday we have in the West rolled into two weeks. Most people I know speak about it with simultaneous joy and stress, but the bottom line is that it’s very important to a lot of people.
The new year itself occurs on different dates depending on the specific country. There are two broad groups of new year periods in Asia: the ones originating from the Chinese calendar, and the ones based on the Theravada Buddhist calendar.
Lunar New Year (The Big One)
In 2018 Lunar New Year falls on February 16, with companies closing a little earlier and opening later to allow their staff to make the journey to their hometowns and back. This takes up to a week each way, not so much because of transit times, but because the demand for transportation is somewhere around 50x the capacity. This forces many travelers to leave early, return late, or make trips with odd stopovers. It also represents the largest annual human migration, and the scale is staggering. In 2017 it represented about 3 billion trips — in China alone. About 83% of these will be by land (often bus or train), and you need to secure your tickets at least 3 months in advance to avoid issues (e.g. scalpers). While times are changing, in the past large cities like Shenzhen simply became ghost towns.
On top of all that, Lunar New Year is a pretty common time to switch jobs, so your supplier may have a labor shortage on top of work to catch up on after the holidays. In other words, if your order doesn’t clear China by Feb 1 this year, then you might wait a while.
In Vietnam, where I live, the process is similar (although the transit system seems less overburdened). I’ve never seen people leave work a full week in advance of the holiday, although a few days seems typical. Ho Chi Minh City empties out, and business grinds to a halt for a bit over a week.
If you’re planning to travel to the area, this is actually not a good time unless you are visiting family and friends. That goes double if you’re planning to check out the electronics markets, although if you catch the tail end of the holiday you might be alright. I did this in Shanghai one year and while some things were closed it was still great.
Theravada Buddhist New Year
Many people know this as ‘Thai New Year’ (Songkran), and it occurs yearly on April 13. Several other countries in Southeast Asia also hold their new year holiday at this time although in some areas the date can vary by a day. Overall this holiday is less likely to disrupt anything you’re ordering online, but it can come up so it’s worth remembering.
If you have regular suppliers in Asia (e.g. not just DX or AliExpress), be sure to wish them a happy new year, even just with an email. The way to do this varies by country and Wikipedia will help you find the correct thing to say. If you’re nearby, there are some types of gifts given between clients and suppliers this time of year. If you wish to give one or if you receive one and are unfamiliar with the traditions that surround it, you’ll want to look that up as well.
For those of you celebrating Lunar New Year, we wish you security, good health, and prosperity.