Socialising Part Two: New Year

After two days of work, as stated before, I had a chance to cash in my overtime for some time off. I’d accrued two days’ worth of time off, combined with the fact that New Year’s Day is a national holiday in China, despite it not really being their New Year, and the fact that it fell on a Friday so I had the weekend as well, I had a grand total of five days off. Although, by the time it was over, it didn’t really feel like that.

The first day, New Year’s Eve eve, I relaxed, and caught up on the household tasks that I had previously neglected for Christmas festivities.

However, I spent much of New Year’s Eve in a state of confusion due to their being a great deal of communication issues about who was going to the Villa that had been rented for our party and when, and also because a number of people dropped out of going to the party. I had a quick catch up with my parents, since I didn’t know what would happen later that night, and ended up getting a very costly taxi by myself to get there, and the party itself ended up being a lot quieter than I initially anticipated. I actually thought that I wouldn’t have a very good time due to the lack of people there, but I misjudged the social lubrication of alcohol on proceedings. And it actually ended up being a better party for me, I think in the grand scheme of things, as it allowed for a more personally satisfying experience.

On arrival at the party, I was greeted by Sergei, the Russian, holding a bow and arrow (not pointed at me, fortunately), so, of course, I had to have a go. My first shot, I knocked the coke can they were shooting at over, and accidentally gave myself a reputation of being a crack shot, because I’d also commented that I had done archery back in the UK and had my own bow and arrow. Jocelyn, a Chinese woman, then asked me to teach her, so I gave her a few pointers, about stance, but I’m really not qualified to teach archery, so I felt a bit uncomfortable about it. Luckily for me, and the poor coke can, it was freezing outside, too cold to hang around for too long, and inside was far too opulent to even entertain the idea when drunk of practicing indoors.

Seriously, this place was obscene. I don’t even know practicing how to explain the grand tackiness of the main room. It was done up like an 18th century French royal palace. The word Baroque definitely applies, but it was all in plaster, because the building itself was probably constructed in the last ten years. Whoever owned this villa had some serious money to spend and questionable taste. But it was also kind of amusing.

After spending around an hour or so hanging around feeling somewhat awkward and bemoaning the lack of other guests, Jocelyn said she had found a Mahjong table, and did we want to learn how to play. I said, of course, because to be honest an evening of board games is absolutely my jam. Eduardo the Brazilian and Sergei the Russian made up the table of four. I had a slight upper hand to them, as I had spent many hours on plane flights trying to work out how to play the digital version, and it turns out that the analogue version is pretty much the same. There are a few variations that I learned later that night, after being shouted at (playfully in a competitive kind of a way, not a nasty kind of a way) in Chinese, when I played with some folks who couldn’t speak any English. Remember what I said about the social lubrication of alcohol?

Anyway, we played until nearly midnight and I won a lot, and then, when Eduardo and Sergei got the hang of it, I didn’t so much anymore. As it got closer to the dawning of 2021, we went outside and had a barbecue and watched the fireworks that one of the lads had bought for the party. It was very nice, even if my kebabs were ridiculously spicy. I called Lauren and spent some time on the phone with her talking silliness about how the future looked better, and just having a little catch up.

Once I’d had my UK catch up time, I went to the Mahjong room again, and the Chinese cohort of guests had taken over, but one of them wanted to leave so I took over their seat and learned when I tried to win, that I wasn’t allowed to do what I did with these new rules, but I did win frequently enough anyway, which I was very pleased with, considering I had only properly learned earlier that night. The times that I didn’t win, I was close to it. I had a great time.

At this point, my sense of time was getting somewhat fuzzy because I was a bottle of red wine into the night, not to mention at least two cups of mulled wine that had been brewed but around 3am I think, I got wind of my other UK friends starting their New Year’s virtual party, and I was getting a little tired of the Mahjong for now. There’s only so much you can play in one night, so I virtually moseyed on over to that for an hour or so, finding a secluded spot to chat to my other friends for a bit.

On finishing that, things were starting to wind down. People were getting tired and starting to retire to bedrooms. I was very lucky at this point, because, due to other people dropping out there was a room going spare so I wouldn’t have to venture out to try and find a hotel nearby.

This is a part of the night that I am not proud of, if I’m being honest. I claimed that it was a British tradition to kiss someone on New Year’s. My hope had been that one of the good looking young Chinese men would take me up on the offer, but instead it was Sergei the Russian. Now everything was completely consensual; it was what I found out later that tainted this a little for me.  But yes, Sergei and I kissed, and then I had a little moan about how I couldn’t find my second bottle of wine – not that I wanted any more to drink at that time, I just like to keep tabs on things, but then I retired to my room, to call my parents, drop in on another zoom party held by friends, and then try to sleep. I was still awake around 5am when Sergei knocked on my door, having found my wine and wanting to come. I said thanks for the wine, but didn’t let him enter. I’m not quite that naive, plus I was really ready to sleep.

I woke just before 8am with a stinking headache but I was just about awake enough to video call my parents to welcome them into the new year, before I mucked about on my phone for a few hours, and then had a long hot shower to try and wash off the feeling that you get the morning after the night before. My hangover was not dispelled by this and actually got worse throughout the day.

Around eleven-ish I ventured out into the sun and regretted all of my life choices leading up to this moment. I then sociably played on my phone. I was sociable because there were people around and I wasn’t holed up in my room. At midday to one o’clock ish, when Eduardo had told me the day before that he would be leaving (he had offered me a lift in his car when he had heard about the price of the taxi) because we needed to be out of the villa, he finally emerged from his room, and told us we could stay for a while, so we played a few games of Mahjong. However, I found it to be a bit too taxing on my poor dehydrated brain, so instead I vented my pain by shooting arrows at coke cans and plastic bottles with Sergei and Jocelyn.

I was starting to get a little peeved with Eduardo, because I hadn’t eaten all morning, and I had my heart set on a McDonald’s to try and wipe up my hangover with all that oil and grease and fatty foods, and he still didn’t show any sign of leaving. Maybe this is my uptight Britishness coming out, but when someone asks that you “check out” at a certain time, even if they say it’s okay for you to stay longer, I think it’s only polite to try and leave as soon after that time as you can. The others, did not seem to share this opinion.

Eventually we left, and after some argument, where Jocelyn and I were for going straight home and Sergei and Eduardo were for spending the rest of the day (what was left of it) on the beach, I thought we compromised by driving the scenic route home. We ended up at Dameisha Beach, where I had been with my parents, more than a year previously, although I could hardly believe it had been that long, because Covid had affected my perception of time in 2020. Then the others got out of the car and decided to go to the beach.

This is where I once again did things that I actually regret, looking back on it. I will say that by this point any humour I had had left was gone. My head hurt like crazy, my stomach was unsettled and all I wanted to do was go to my apartment and sleep.  So, I insisted on staying in the car and trying to sleep there instead. The others tried to get me to come with them, but I can be a really stubborn ass when I want to be. They went off to the beach and left me with a bottle of water. I watched the cars go by feeling very sorry for myself and kept thinking that I would just flag one down and go home by myself anyway, never mind the cost.

But right before I committed to this idea, the others came back. They were feeling really bad about how they had ignored my wishes to go home and they now wanted to get food and go shopping at the outlets, so they were going to get a taxi for me. I felt deep shame at this point, but I still just wanted to go home, so I accepted and thanked them as profusely as I could muster. I tried to pay for the taxi but they rejected my money.

I slept in the taxi on the way back, and when I got back, I got my McDonald’s, at last, went to my apartment and only just finished eating it before I slept on my sofa for several hours.

I needed the entire next day to continue to recover and I had a heart to heart with Jocelyn where I apologised profusely for my behaviour and for being such a grumpy guts in general, and then I found I was apologising for something out. See, it turns out that Sergei had asked Jocelyn out before Christmas but she hadn’t exactly been sure about it, up until she found out that he had kissed me and tried to come into my room New Year’s Eve. She turned him down at that point and I felt awful. If I had known about that, I would have turned Sergei down and not gone through with the silly New Year’s kiss thing. But I hadn’t known. I just accidentally caused drama.

It was February, I think by the time I got to speak to Eduardo again, properly. We had seen each other a few times at various socials, but hadn’t had a chance for a heart to heart. When we finally did, he also apologised for New Year’s Day but he had been trying to play cupid for Sergei and Jocelyn to get them together. Which was why he had wanted to go to the beach and do everything there, so they could spend time together.

I’m sorry but when did I manage to step into a Rom-com? And why do I get the role of the hapless obstacle the two protagonists have to work past?

At least we are in the happily ever after now. I heard through the grapevine that after a few weeks of grovelling, Jocelyn finally forgave Sergei and they are now very happy together.

The rest of my time off was a complete write off. It has been a long time since I was that overtired and hungover, that’s for sure. But luckily, I didn’t have to work too hard the next week. Because the kids were once again being indoctrinated into a cult.

It’s the Hell- I mean Holiday Season!

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.

My Christmas stocking!

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.