This semester I have finally come to learn what is meant by the holiday season. And by holiday season, I mean the average Christian(ish) American holiday season. I am holidayed out. And not in a good way.
While this semester has been weird in and of itself, due to the historic Salmonella Incident, and all its repercussions, we also as a group felt like we didn’t have enough time to teach everything we have been told to teach, especially as every couple of weeks (or so it felt), another holiday came along to ruin our fun.
First was Halloween. We were given warning and had enough time to gather together plenty of Halloween based words to teach them. We also had to dress up ourselves, unfortunately. But we rose to the challenge. And actually, it was fun, even our usual degradation of dancing in front of the kids. Who all turned out to be adorable in their little outfits. They really got into the spirit of it, even if it was in much more of a US way of any outfit goes. By my count, there were approximately ten Elsa’s, a couple of Anna’s, a plethora of superheroes; easily enough to form the Avengers and the Justice League, a minion, a cupcake, and a couple of demon things.
I personally was a Generic Female Superhero. The school wasn’t going to spring for a Supergirl costume, so instead of the S on the front, it was a diamond shape with the word “Superhero”, written inside. Just so they company who made it could prove that it wasn’t actually a Supergirl costume and it is in fact a total coincidence that it looks almost exactly the same. I was also a ghost for a brief period. Yes, I did wear a sheet and a mask. No, I couldn’t see. Yes, it did fall off during the dance show. No, I don’t have pictures. I’m glad you didn’t ask, so I could give you all that information unsolicited.
On the day, as well as the unrecorded (thank goodness) show we put on, we also played games with them on the playground rather than have a normal day of lessons. I spent the entire morning and afternoon picking up ball pits balls, because I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but young children are very bad shots. And they are even bad shots when the bucket they are aiming at is only two feet away from them. And these balls are really good at rolling a very long way. By the time I finish teaching here, I am going to be a broken vessel. At least that’s what my back was telling me.
Because we have to prepare the words a week before we actually teach them, it was literally two weeks later that we were preparing for Thanksgiving. Which only Matt knew anything about, since he is half American. But we managed to cobble a few words together and teach them about it. Luckily, we didn’t have to do any more than that, which was good, because Christmas was just around the corner and preparations for that and the end of term were in full swing. Hannah didn’t understand why I started playing Christmas songs from the 1st December, because even though she is most up-to-date when it comes to Western traditions, she thought Christmas was just one day, like Halloween and Thanksgiving. When I explained to her that it was more like Chinese New Year, she understood a bit better.
Even with the Christmas music, it didn’t feel like Christmas. The entirety of December, all of us kept saying how it didn’t feel like Christmas was nearly here, for the precise reason that the Chinese don’t celebrate it. For the Scrooges out there, who claim that Christmas comes too early to the West, head to China. It doesn’t come at all. I went shopping on 23rd December, because I hadn’t had a chance to do so beforehand, and the shopping mall was just as busy as any other day, and not packed with manic shoppers with a glint of desperation in their eye and a ready elbow for shoving if another person dares to lay hands on the generic soap that would be perfect for their cousin’s teenage son. The Chinese don’t exchange gifts at Christmas, as evidenced when I gave all the teachers that I work with scent diffusers wrapped with tissue paper and a Christmas card, one of which was still in the classroom unopened when we went on holiday for the Chinese New Year, three weeks later. I gave all the kids a funky pen (most of which I wanted as they were cool pens), and the kids repaid me by being little monsters. Obviously. They wouldn’t be children otherwise. I tried to make it a fun and relaxed lesson, especially as I had worked them hard the day before to get a good video of them singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to my family, but they messed around at any opportunity they got, so I ended the lesson early instead and spent five minutes telling them off, which resulted in a ten minute lecture in Chinese. Not what I intended but there wasn’t really anything I could do about it at that point.
Christmas Day was in and of itself weird too. I woke up early, intentionally, having prepared myself a stocking the night before, and sent a picture to my Mum.
Then we headed off to a Children’s Disabled Orphanage, or something like that so we could bring a bit of cheer to some disabled children. It was a very weird experience as we were given a tour and didn’t have many opportunities to actually interact with the children, which made the entire operation feel somewhat “white saviour”-y. when we did get to interact, the children loved bubbles, and the bright spark (not me) who thought of that was a huge hit. High-fives were also in great demand for some of the more abled kids and I hope that we were able to bring them joy, but I can’t tell.
The thing that gives me hope for this, that it isn’t just white saviourism at work, is that this is only the first year that this is happening and that there are other opportunities during the year to do something similar. So, the slightly bad taste I got from it will hopefully be reduced as the group that organised it gets more practised at this sort of thing and in the future will have a better idea of what to expect and how we can help them.
After we had finished at the orphanage, some new friends of ours, who turned out to also work for the same company as us, went for some drinks with us. It wasn’t the easiest to find a place, and once we did the only options were beer or water. The place didn’t even have any Sprite. So, it was a bit of a dud for me, but par for the course for China.
In the evening, after an invigorating afternoon nap, we headed to Brew, a Western style pub nearby for our Christmas dinner. Honestly it was a bit of a disappointment. The turkey and ham were fine, and the mashed potato was delicious, but the veg were more like coleslaw than anything else and were cooked Chinese style. However, my glass of bubbly went down very well while I was on the phone to my parents, who eight hours behind, had just cracked open their first bottle of the day as well.
It was an unusual sensation, talking to my parents over the phone at Christmas, rather than being with them, and while I enjoyed, I much prefer to be in the same room as them, even as I have just signed up for another year here.
However, Christmas cheer prevailed and we all ended up getting a little tiddled, some of us more than others, although it affected us in different ways. I have the clearest memory of the end of the evening, but I was the one worshipping at the porcelain altar at 2am. Ah well, such is life.
Let me tell you, teaching children who don’t have an off switch, let alone a volume down dial, while hungover is not a fun party. The only benefit I can see is that I have done it once. I have ticked that particular experience off my un-bucket list and I don’t ever intend to do it ever again.
Finally, New Year’s Eve. The plan had been to go to Hong Kong, for the fireworks, but we found out the fireworks had been cancelled for fear of protesters, and in fact there was a large amount of protesting going on that night. So, we hit up a different party, once arranged by Westerners that wasn’t too far from our place, about fifteen minutes by taxi. After some pretty hefty drinking games pre-party, we made it just in time for midnight and counted down with the room. There was much kissing and hugging and general revelry for the rest of the night, including some slightly drunk calls to our families, bemused as they were in the past and it wasn’t the New Year for them yet. Wine was spilled onto my new top (RIP), a fight was nearly had and regrettable decisions were made. So, it was a normal New Year’s Eve party.
We got home around 3.30am and at about four I decided I needed to sleep. Like Christmas Day, we had New Year’s Day off, but I am terrible without sleep, so I headed back to my place, promised our new friends Courtney and Luke that I would send them directions, so they could crash at ours, since their place was about two hours away. I had a drunken conversation with Lauren, as it still wasn’t the New Year for them, then on the verge of passing out, I sent Luke and Courtney directions and a pin to where I was. At twenty past five, they called because they had got lost. I slipped some clothes on, found them and brought them upstairs, fully ready to pass out properly now.
But Fate hates me. At 6.45 IN THE MORNING ON NEW YEAR’S DAY the building fire alarm went off. It was obscenely loud and woke me up. Courtney and Luke didn’t stir, even when I poked them because I thought we should probably go outside. I wish I had the ability to pass out like that. I went out to both balconies on either side of the apartment and looked up and down and didn’t see any smoke and (Don’t Try This At Home) took the elevator downstairs in my pyjamas because I didn’t really feel like walking fourteen stairs while being deafened.
Questionable safety choices aside, it was a good job I did, as I was joined by 1 (one) other man in his pyjamas who looked as sleep deprived and befuddled as I did before another man in a suit rocked up and took us in the lift back to our flats, while he went all the way to the top of the building to turn the alarm off. It was a false alarm and there was no fire. Someone had burned their toast (except toast doesn’t exist in China. *sobs*). After fifteen minutes, it finally went blissfully quiet, but funnily enough, by this point, I was very awake. So, I spent the entirety of New Year’s Day alternating between napping and wishing I rehydrate via intravenous drip.
At least I didn’t have to work. That would have been pure torture.