Hello Uncle Foreigner

Christmas

Jan 5, 2017

Santa comes to the MixC

Christmas 2016

This year, I took up the family mantle and played Santa for my new school. We took over the nearby mall for a variety show with singing, dancing and a short play — and because I’m the resident westerner, most of the acts were written, choreographed or conducted by me. Merry Christmas, China!

Dec 28, 2015

Merry Christmas, from Lijiang!

In which Peter and Emily attend a party

Xmas from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Our school threw a little party for the kids this Christmas. And Santa was there. It was lots of fun.

Dec 31, 2013

Three times Christmas in Luzhou

We learn that we know nothing and stuff blows up

Our festive apartment
Some little toys from the kidsA cross-stitch from the teachers I taughtA print from a studentTraditional Chinese parasolsThe bare-bones before shot of our apartment
Most of the decor in our apartment is gifts from students. Below, the apartment in a barer state.

Formerly, I thought Christmas for the Chinese was just about shopping and sales, but our friend Chris just told us that it’s also tradition for people to give apples to each other, because the words for apples and for Christmas Eve (which is translated as “Peaceful Night”) sound alike. So you give apples to your friends and family to wish them peace. Chris said that the practice is so common that apple sellers jack their prices in the few days before Christmas. Peace can be pricey.

There were no apples for us this year, but one early December afternoon our friend Tina tracked us down in the hallways between classes to give us her gift, a beautiful hand-painted umbrella. “It’s very small,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of money.” We told her that we loved it, because that’s the truth, and we gave her a big hug.

This year, the one thing Peter and I really wanted for Christmas was the Dragon Boat of Meat from our favorite beef hot pot restaurant across town. Instead, we spent Christmas Eve having (a perfectly nice) dinner with our bosses, and Christmas night waiting in the rain and not getting picked up by cabs. But on Boxing Day, we made it.

The Dragon Boat of Meat

The Dragon Boat of Meat is spectacular. It is also a carpaccio — a fact that had to be repeated and mimed several times by our bemused servers before we understood that we were supposed to eat it raw. We basically know nothing about anything. Peter actually kept cooking it on the sly even after we were positive that it was supposed to be eaten as is, because he wasn’t crazy about the uncooked texture.

Boxing Day was also when the mall in the center of the city blew up, though we didn’t learn about that until the following day, when we tried to go shopping there. We needed a new laptop bag. Actually, we had a weird lunch first, at a tofu soup place we like. They refused to bring us beans or turn on the table-top burners, but they didn’t want us to leave either. It was only slightly more confusing than usual.

After lunch, we walked out to the main road and saw the fire trucks and soldiers. Little boys in big coats, actually, guarding the smoking wreckage. The road was cordoned off to vehicular traffic and hundreds of gawkers crowded the sidewalks. “Well, we’re not going shopping.”

Local rumor, we found out later from Chris, is that one of the restaurants was doing something dodgy with their cooking equipment. Whatever it was, it caused an entire city block to blow up. Many people were hurt and four people died. Reportedly, people in the movie theater thought that the explosion was some kind of 3D effect. This is my worst fear, justified.

Life goes on, though, and four days later traffic is mostly back to normal, and the spectators are down to a minimum. Tofu soup still doesn’t have any gas, and the local McDonald’s remains shuttered; I suspect the underground damage to the gas lines is pretty extensive. But we bought a computer bag elsewhere, which I’m sure is what you were worried about most.

The movie theater blew up!

Dec 26, 2012

Middle Country Christmas wishes

“Did you know there’s a church?”

Luzhou's church

Yesterday and today, we got many kind wishes of “Merry Christmas” from our Chinese friends and students. Not everyone is clear on the details, but everyone knows that Christmas is part of our culture and that the time to celebrate is now-ish. It’s very thoughtful.

Alex even called for a Christmas chat (which, speaking your second language on the phone is really difficult, so props to him). During our talk he asked if we knew that there was a church in Luzhou — which interestingly enough, we had just stumbled upon about a month ago while doing some city wandering.

“Do you think they had many activities today?” he asked.

I’m pretty sure they were pretty busy, I told him.

Dec 24, 2012

Surprised by Christmas in Luzhou

Santa shops in China

Buying a new coat
Peter, wearing his new winter coat, in Bao-en Pagoda plaza

For Christmas, we have today and tomorrow off, but we didn’t really plan on doing anything beyond vegging and puttering. Christmas isn’t a Chinese holiday, and we weren’t going to get a big tree or make a big deal for just the two of us.

But, though Christmas isn’t really celebrated, it is recognized — with sales! On our Saturday afternoon provisions run into the city, we were ambushed by the sights and sounds of Christmas deals. Stores on Middle Road were festooned with be-Santa-ed signs reading “Your Text Here Merry Christmas Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet!” Peter, again, got really lucky with a winter coat that caught his eye; price tag 399RMB [US$64] which rung up as 239RMB [US$39].

Peter Santa
This time, Santa’s sack is full of coal for some good ex-pat teachers.

Finally fully realizing we were on holiday, we stopped for an afternoon beer at a place we just noticed that overlooked Bao’en Pagoda Plaza in the center of the city. Below was all hustle and bustle, and we took a long minute to be relaxed and happy.

In the supermarket — our next stop — listening to the strains of a Chinese version of “O Holy Night,” we’d decided that we caught the Christmas spirit. It was decided: we’d go home and watch “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” which, it turns out, with its focus on commerce and thrift, is a pretty Chinese Christmas tale.

Before returning to the countryside, we had one more stop. We swung by old apartment to pick up some charcoal for our grill (stay tuned). And then, while we were hailing a cab, we caught a glimpse of Santa.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Jan 2, 2012

Christmas in China

It’s time to party

Santa is watching
More Christmas sights around Luzhou here.

We’ll get to New Years, but first I wanted finish up Christmas, which they do actually celebrate here. It’s mostly a secular holiday, though around 7% of the Chinese population is Christian (our head teacher’s mother is one), and they celebrate as you would expect by going to church. But for most people, Christmas Eve is a good excuse to party. So much so that our school bumped up curfew so that the kids had to be home early. (We did run into some of Peter’s students at karaoke, however, having a raucous time.)

Kids give each other presents, our friends told us, and adults throw parties and do karaoke. There are also massive sales, leading up to and after the holiday. (We bought our new toaster at a Christmas sale.) Santa is everywhere, saying Marry Histmass among other things. Like many things here, it’s surface-level familiar, but totally alien at the same time.

Dec 25, 2011

Christmas Eve in Luzhou

We throw our first party

A small party in our living room
Take a look at our Christmas Eve photo album.

Our teachers have been very kind to us at Christmas. Tonight, they threw us a pot luck party at our apartment - we provided the alcohol; they liked the sangria and gamely took tiny shots of Jack Daniels. We finally performed “Just Like Heaven” — I was sick when we were supposed to perform it at a school-wide assembly — and they loved it.

After dinner, we went to karaoke at one of the places by the river. We had a private room, and they asked me to sing every English-language song. Peter also helped me sing one song. It was very silly fun. And it made for a nice foreign Christmas.

Dec 23, 2011

An apple for the teacher

Merry Christmas

Our students know it’s Christmas this weekend, and it’s also nearing the end of term. So this week a couple of our kids have given us apples as a gift! Cliches are true!