CHRISTMAS IN CHINA (2)
Before I get on to important matters such as our
Chinese Christmas, I want to tell you about my Outer Space Cup. As you
know, here in China we cannot drink the tap water. So everywhere I go, I
take a plastic bottle, which I can often fill up at bottled water dispensers
in the schools. Since it’s gotten so cold, I’ve developed the habit of
drinking hot water to stay warm. Filling my disposable plastic bottles with
nearly-boiling hot water tended to cause a melt down. So I finally went out
and bought one of the hard plastic Nalgene rip-offs that are so popular here
(because everyone else is drinking hot water too). Enter my Zeazi Outer
Space Cup 650ml. This is the best water container I have ever owned. It
has a wide mouth for easy filling and washing, and on top of that lid it has
a narrow mouth so I don’t dump water all over myself if I try drinking on a
lurching bus. Plus, and this is the true Chinese bonus, it has a built-in
filter so I can put loose tea leaves in the bottle and not worry about
swallowing them. All this for little more than a U.S. dollar. China is
On to Christmas. Despite all the preliminary snow and
cold cloudiness, Christmas weekend was bright and sunny and barely
freezing. By this time, all the snow had been carted away by the diligent
street cleaners, so our city was returned to its normal concrete winter
bleakness. Christmas Eve was a normal working day, but after school we went
to a spring roll restaurant with several of the Chinese teachers from our
school. The waiters and waitresses all wore Santa Claus hats and had
glittery stickers decorating their faces. Our Chinese friends ordered a lot
of seafood dishes, which I don’t really like, so I mostly ate the roast
pork slices which you put with raw scallions and some sauce and wrap in
a thin pancake (the “spring roll”). It was quite delicious.
I asked our Chinese colleagues what they normally do
for Christmas. It seems that Christmas celebrations here take quite a
different form than in the U.S. The best way to summarize Christmas in
China is to say that it is more like Valentines Day. Friends will go out
for dinner, couples will go to the movies and give each other chocolates,
and everyone goes shopping. It is not really celebrated in the home at
all. They said they don’t decorate their homes or do anything at home. No
family dinners, Christmas tree, stockings, presents, Santa Claus, or
Christmas Morning here. And definitely no church.
After the restaurant, we took a bus downtown where Zac
and I took advantage of the not-freezing-to-death weather to walk around
Victory square and take pictures of the giant Christmas tree made of red
lights. We then walked a few blocks to the
Zhongshan square branch of our school which was hosting the Future School
staff Christmas party this year. The school was very decorated with tinsel,
lights, beaming glittery Santa Claus posters, and an overly-decorated
Christmas tree. The party consisted mostly of everyone standing around
drinking, interrupted only by a few rounds of musical chairs and an attempt
at some complicated dating game that fell apart halfway through. We also
had a random gift exchange. Zac and I contributed two Zeazi Outer Space
Cups, and in return received a pair of gloves and a little martial arts
figurine that looks like a psycho baby wearing spectacles and wielding a
sword. I enjoyed the party because I got to visit with some of the friends
I’d made during my observation rounds to the schools. For some reason I
always make more Chinese friends than foreign friends. Hmm….
On Christmas morning we made apple cinnamon pancakes
for breakfast and had the pleasure of talking to our families who were still
back in Christmas Eve. It’s probably as close as we’ll ever get to time
travel. Zac and I haven’t bought each other anything
for Christmas for the past three years, so this year we decided to buy each
other half of an iPod. I wanted an mp3 player because I’m a bit bored at
work these days, and we’d been thinking about buying an external hard drive
to store all our photos on our post-China travels around southeast Asia.
So, just as Steve Jobs hoped, we came to the conclusion that we should
combine the two and splurge for an iPod. Although iPods are assembled in
China, they’re actually quite a bit more expensive here, so we used a little
of our guanxi (relationships) and asked our friend Charlie to help us.
Charlie’s nephew was coming to visit from Japan (where iPods are much
cheaper), so together they played the Santa Claus role and delivered our
iPod on none other than Christmas day. Charlie even wrapped it for us.
After lunch, we began our great cooking expedition.
Since we normally work every weekend, having a Sunday off was a great
luxury. We had decided to take advantage of the rare coincidence of having
the same day off as normal people, so I had invited 10 of my Chinese friends
(mostly former students from my adult classes) over to try some American
food. I had a selfish purpose for doing this of course. I was tired of
McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut being the sole representatives of western food,
giving the Chinese a good reason to look down upon American cuisine.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make a true Christmas dinner due to the lack of an
oven and several key ingredients. So instead, we cooked what we could. Our
menu consisted of the rather odd combination of beef stew, chicken noodle
soup, potato and sausage casserole, pasta salad, fruit salad, fried apples
with cinnamon (resembles apple pie filling), and chocolate no-bake cookies.
The problem with Chinese people is that they are
overly generous. Everyone who came to the party brought some fruit, snacks,
chocolate and a small gift for us. I was hoping to get rid of some of the
snacks we’d accumulated in our continuing experimentation of Chinese junk
food, but instead we ended up with far more than we could ever consume.
Some of our friends came early to help with the cooking, and they even
helped with the washing-up afterwards. I could not hope for better guests or
better friends to share Christmas with.
Our Christmas feast was interesting because the
Chinese people were confused by the western food in the same ways Zac and I
are often confused by Chinese food. Somehow the different presentation of
common foods can really throw you off. For example, one girl thought that
the no-bake cookies were ribs. They all thought the apples were potatoes.
For the pasta salad, I used bow-tie noodles I bought at a foreign-foods
store, and one girl asked what they were (she didn’t realize it was simply a
noodle in a different shape). But, thankfully, they all really liked the
food and seemed to figure out what it was once they tasted it. Now
hopefully they will spread the word about the real western food they ate,
and my mission will be successful.
After the meal, we retired to the living room and
played some games I had prepared. I am an English teacher at heart, so even
my party games tend to have an educational agenda. For the first game, I
had written out some Christmas words like mistletoe, sleigh, reindeer, etc.
on pieces of paper, along with the definition. For whatever word they were
given, they had to write two fake definitions, then they read all three
definitions and everyone had to guess which one was the correct definition.
They were actually really good at this game and their fake definitions were
impressive. The second game was a team game to see who could make the most
words using the letters from “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” The last
game was a simplified version of charades, where they had to act out nouns
like book, train, giraffe, rice, snow, etc. This game was hilarious,
although I had clearly underestimated their acting ability, because most
words were guessed within 10 seconds. Just as American children began
waking up and tearing open presents, our Chinese friends went home and Zac
and I retired for the evening, exhausted but content. All in all, our
Christmas in China was successful and immensely enjoyable.
We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and we wish
you the best for the New Year!