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Published: December 25th 2010
Most people in America refer to this time of year as “Christmas”.
Most people in China would call it as “Christmas” too, even though there are probably more careful SUV drivers in China than there are actual Christians. No matter though, Christmas is still a big deal here. You know how street corner flower stands spring up just before Valentine's Day? Same thing happens here at Christmas, except with apples. Christmas in China is when people exchange brightly-wrapped, red apples. Even I received apples. Three, to be precise. Go figure.
It is no secret that I like Christmas about as much as I like bot flies. And being far away from the commercialized, American Christmas routine is really not all that bad. I do miss my family, friends and my dog, (not in that order) and I really I miss going out for Sweet & Sour pork on Christmas day. (A dish that is associated with southern China, and is not available here.)
I got asked a lot by my middle-school pupils as to why I had no desire to be home for Christmas. The Chinese are happiest in large family groups and they are perplexed by old
curmudgeons like myself who prefer to live like a hermit. I answered that question with “I would rather be here in Weishan with y'all”, which seemed to satisfy them. That's a lie; nobody in their right mind would rather spend their Christmas correcting the pronunciation of words with the letter “r” coming from kids with that much acne.
It was hinted that the English Club was going to have some sort of expanded event for Christmas day. It certainly seemed likely enough, considering the run-up the week before. The IARs made announcements about the forthcoming event to my classes. A bunch of Middle-school students (who are not even our pupils) were invited and it looked like it would end up being quite a shindig. Santa suits were ordered. The IARs had the silly idea that I would dress up as Santa and stand outside various local schools to pass out fliers so that we might rustle up more paying customers. (I refused. No way was I dressing up as Santa and standing on a street corner in freezing temperatures. No way.)
Christmas decorations are easily available here (Hell, they're made here!). A couple of artificial Douglas Fir trees were procured, along with Christmas tree lights, ornaments and enough garland to wrap a Buick. Santa's image in cardboard was hung in our windows for the passing motorists to admire.
We had a quick meeting the day before to discuss the schedule. After all, the English teachers (there is now an additional teacher, but that's another story) are the main draw for the place and we were kind of interested in what the activities would be. We already knew that a lot more people than usual were coming and that plenty of decorations had just been purchased, but we had not been told anything regarding activities, entertainment, food or drink. Turns out, there weren't any plans. It was up to us
to be creative and they had just neglected to tell us. We learned all this 12 hours before the event.
The other Teacher (henceforth to be known as “The Aussie”
) and I scrambled to come up with something. I downloaded Christmas-type videos, music and images. We decided upon “Pin The Tail On The Reindeer” and “Egg & Spoon” races for games (replaced raw eggs with a rubber balls; we have a dry, cold winter here and frozen eggs on the concrete outside would have been a pedestrian bummer.). I obtained “Mr. Bean's Christmas” and some vintage Christmas-themed cartoons.
Apart from the usual chaos, it went off more or less as planned. We had about triple the usual number and we were well above capacity. I wore a button-down white shirt, a bright red necktie and a Santa hat. The Parents in attendance seemed to enjoy it, the kids had a blast and candy canes were consumed by all. I posed for dozens of photographs. Photographs with my students, photographs with their parents, photographs with random children (who liked the idea of getting their picture taken with whomever that portly, middle-aged American dude was) and the best one yet: a photograph taken with the grizzled driver of a three-wheeled cart who was just there to fetch one of my students.
Oh, and I have now said “cheese” enough to last me quite awhile.
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