I have a LOT of catching up to do here.
From January 10th until now, my school gave us vacation time for the Chinese New Year. From January 17th to February 3rd, I was on a fantastic jaunt through Thailand and Cambodia, and I can’t wait to write all about that. But I also have neglected to talk enough about the Western Holidays which preceded this epic vacation, so I’ll regale you with a brief recollection of Christmas and (Western) New Years’ as celebrated by a tribe of 20-something expats in Southern China.
The Chinese teachers and administrators (not to mention students) start to feel really sorry for us around about mid-December. My kids started asking me every week whether I was going “home to America” for Christmas, and seemed quite shocked and upset when I told them I’d be spending the holiday in Shenzhen. Especially my juniors, bless their little cotton socks, who obviously have less grasp of the time and expense of a trans-oceanic plane voyage than do my older students. (I think they also were more inclined to feel sorry for me because I was letting them watch Home Alone for 2 weeks. Just a guess.) The teachers in our office gave Stephanie and me cards and boxes of tea and other goodies because they also felt bad that we couldn’t go home to be with our families.
And the administrators set up a special Chinese banquet (yikes) with the headmaster (double yikes, he’s a very important guy) at which they all got (as usual) quite drunk from baijiu and implored us to sing Christmas carols with them. Actually the best part of the evening was that the headmaster’s wife brought their 4-year-old son in at the end of the night, and that kid was absolutely precious. He was just learning the names of different fruits in English, and wanted to show off his knowledge with the dessert plate.
But wait. So this was all the week leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the Shenzhen Education Bureau threw us a party– which basically meant they rented out an entire floor of a hotel in Luohu, a bunch of Ed. Bureau muckety-mucks showed up for (another) banquet for a couple of hours, and then we were left to our own devices with a bunch of hotel rooms, many bottles of wine, and the single oddest spread of food I have ever seen in my life. I’ve written about Chinese banquets before, but this one really took the cake. There was the requisite chicken feet-and-mushrooms sort of thing, but coupled with a basket of chao mian (chow mein) in a basket made of puffy shrimp crackers next to little slices of coconut cream cake and spaghetti that (we deduced) was probably made with tomato sauce, ketchup, and a whole lot of cinnamon and nutmeg. Christmas spaghetti? I’m still at a loss on that one…
Luohu, and especially where we were staying, is a district know for its nightlife. After the banquet wrapped up (there was of course some truly awful Christmas caroling up on stage) we ventured out in search of a bar or club to crash; we were thwarted, however, because all of the bars and clubs in the neighborhood seemed to either be completely full, or have an absolutely outrageous cover for the night. You’d think a bunch of Westerners would be able to find somewhere to get some drinks on Christmas Eve, but no. Denied.
So we made the only logical move, and went to 7/11 and McDonald’s.
There was yet a gauntlet to be run, however; for stationed outside the Mickey-D’s just outside of our hotel was a group of possibly teen-age, possibly university-age young Chinese men with cans of “snow” (the fluffy white Silly String that you spray on your windows or indoor Nativities or whatever), and in order to get to the deep-fried deliciousness that awaited us, we had to get past the synthetic snowstorm first.
What ensued can be best described as a raging fake-snow fight, as CTLCers grabbed cans of the stuff proffered by delighted Chinese onlookers, and proceeded to have at the young men, who had until that point mostly just been ambushing unsuspecting pedestrians. The battle was fierce, wending its way up and down the plaza; some of us, after getting sprayed in the face and hair a few too many times, took refuge amongst a group of moto taxis away from the action, guarding the group’s beer and chewing the fat in a couple different dialects with the taxi drivers.
The rest of the night was much quieter; we returned to the hotel with our bounty and spent the evening wandering the halls to wish Merry Christmas to everyone. The Ed. Bureau had also given us goodie bags full of delights such as snap bracelets and bouncy balls that lit up on impact so there was, of course, an impromptu bouncy-ball bouncing tournament for a few moments down one of the halls. But most of us shuffled off to bed after that.
Christmas morning we checked out of the hotel and went back to (where else) McDonald’s for pancakes and hash browns; then after a brief shopping trip in Dongmen with a couple of buddies, I headed home to Skype with the folks from home for a bit. My actual Christmas dinner actually was quite nice– while grocery shopping I ran into a friend from the school, the piano teacher who showed me a traditional Chinese cold remedy when I was ill last October, and I invited her to share the beef stew I was making for dinner. We watched Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” in Chinese (that was interesting) and finished with strawberries dipped in chocolate. It was an odd, but nice, Christmas.
Of course the next day I basically left China for about six hours, escaping to my family’s gathering in Vancouver via Skype. Though I was sort of the paraplegic in the corner (everyone had to come talk to me, as I couldn’t really walk around and mingle; also the whole webcam thing freaked my brother out which was pretty funny) it was really nice to get to see everyone, and my father even kindly placed a glass of Oregon pinot noir and a small plate of apple crisp or pie in front of me so I could (almost) participate in the culinary delights that I miss so much about home. I also got to virtually participate in rounds of Apples-to-Apples and Outburst courtesy my mother who would hold up my cards to the webcam and submit whatever I typed back to her. The wonders of technology.
This has gotten absurdly long, yet again– so I shall return quickly to talk about New Year’s, and then on to The Grand SE Asia Tour!