It seems appropriate that on the eve of the biggest event in the Chinese calendar; Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, I should write about the biggest events in the Christian and Western calendar; Christmas and New Year. Or should that be Western New Year? When I wish people a Happy New Year here at the moment, I don’t specify it as Chinese New Year, it’s just New Year. I am in China after all, and, well, we all know the saying.
Tangents aside, Christmas this year was weird. Weird as in, I was 6000 miles from my family. Weird as in, none of them were together for the first time in forever, I think. While my family, on the whole isn’t particularly religious, Christmas is the big event of the year where we all get together. Of course, over the years, there have been people missing. I distinctly remember running around the house with my phone on a Facebook call from my cousin who was in deepest South America. This same cousin was in India the year of the Boxing Day tsunami. I have also had to leave the festivities early due to working on Christmas Day or Boxing Day or both. My aunt, before retirement worked at the hospital and so couldn’t always get Christmas off. But in general, there was a core of people who gathered for Christmas wherever it was being hosted that year.
This year, surprising no one, it didn’t happen. And, to make it weirder, I actually worked on Christmas Day. Kind of.
Whether it’s in my contract or not, I can’t remember, but what I do know is, that foreign teachers don’t have to work on Christmas Day. School goes on as normal, but I do not have to be there, because it is recognised as the biggest holiday of the year. T
his year, however, the school, in its infinite wisdom, decided to hold its “English Language Show” on Christmas Day. And guess who was the lynchpin for this whole thing? Yup, the only native English speaker in the school.
But it was only in the afternoon, so I did not have to work in the morning. I was also offered Christmas Eve off as compensation, but I felt that I needed to be at school for the final rehearsals, as to be honest, the technical side of stuff still sucked, and the kids who were my co-hosts still couldn’t remember their lines, or come on at the right time.
Anyway, that’s for later. With Christmas Day morning off, I felt that it would be alright for me to go to a party on Christmas Eve. Icy wanted to come along with me. And this proved hilarious. It was a fairly low-key party at a friend’s house, although there were a lot of people there. Because there are next to no cases of Covid in the city, so it is safe. We sat and chilled and had a good time. It was something that I greatly appreciated I could do, as I was acutely aware that my parents wouldn’t be able to see the family this year, and that Christmas would be strange and quiet for everyone this year, due to the pandemic.
This was the first time I got to see Icy drunk and it was so cute. She is normally bubbly, but when she has had a couple of drinks, she gets even more so. And the funny part was that I’d probably drunk twice as much as she had, although I was possibly more hungover the next morning. It was the curse of red wine, which I’d bought a few cases of earlier in December, either for gift giving purposes or for purposes. Four months later, as I finish writing this, it was mostly for drinking purposes and I still have a case or so to drink.
Icy was flirting with a guy named Carlos, and he was flirting right back and I was encouraging it as much as possible, inviting him to come with us when the party disbanded, so that a number of people, including the host could go on to a club. Icy wanted to get a lift from her friends, so we wandered off down the street, and went to her friend’s shop. She made us tea and I drank a lot of it, in the hope that my hangover wouldn’t be so bad in the morning. It was a fruitless endeavor, but the thought had to count for something. But it was getting later and later, I was getting more noticeably drunk and trying to speak the little Chinese I knew (this is a feature for me in foreign countries) and I was also getting really sleepy, so eventually, after much tea was consumed by all, we piled into a different friend of Icy’s minivan type thing and they drove us home. I was just brushing my teeth and generally ablutioning, when Icy called me. She had been locked out of her apartment and could she crash at mine. I quickly tidied up as much as I could, hunted out the paracetamol and a glass of water to lay out for her in the morning as she still had to go to school in the morning, and then waited for her to arrive. I set her up for bed, and then went to bed myself, apologising for the permanently on light, that after multiple people hunting around the entire apartment cannot find an off switch for. It has been on ever since I moved in, as there does not seem to be an off switch. The only time it went off was during a power cut.
I slept poorly, and was awake before Icy. I shooed her off to school, late because I was hungover and thus not timekeeping well, and then opened my few presents, which was strange yet lovely. After a nap myself on the sofa and some general feeling sorry for myself, due to aforementioned hangover, I started cooking. I promised Zoey that I would cook for her, as we all had to provide some food at the Christmas party we were attending that evening. I cooked that most famous of traditional Christmas dishes: Mac’n’cheese. Luckily, I have practiced doing this before, and I had prepared by purchasing all the ingredients earlier. Unluckily I cannot make Mac’n’cheese without making a mess of the kitchen. It’s a biological imperative for me. I did not manage to cook for Zoey so we had to come back after school to finish up.
But before that, I had to go and act not hungover at school in front of all the parents. I even got myself together enough to put make up to go to school and do my best host work.
Now, getting to this point had not been easy, and it had involved a helluva lot of arguing on my part. I had had to write the hosting script and help record every line so the children could learn it. They had put in a lot of work to learn it. Even if they didn’t understand what they were saying they had learned the sounds. And then the head of school decided that the order of the plays to be performed needed to be changed, and she did it a week before the final performance. And so gubbins here, who had worked very hard to put in a little subplot within the hosting script about trying to find their way home, then had to rewrite the whole script but in a way that would a) still make sense, both with the English and with the actual thread of the little story I had written, and b) not require the kids to learn any more lines. It was not easy, but by giving myself a whole lot more lines, I managed it. The kids would have to recite their lines in a different order but they didn’t have to learn any more.
I finished this on the Friday afternoon and on Monday morning, when I had spent the whole practice coaching the kids on what lines to say when, when we weren’t on stage of course, the head had the nerve to be upset that I hadn’t yet learned my lines. This was a low move, because I had promised that my lines would be learned by the performance, which they were, by the way, I didn’t have to learn only my lines, but also the kids’ and I had to be prepared to ad-lib should something go wrong, and the Chinese teacher didn’t even learn her lines but read them off a little cue card! In Chinese, her native language! And yet, admittedly also in my native language, I had learned 5 full pages of script, and where I could change it, should I need to!
As it happened, I needed this, as Cheryl wasn’t ready on time and I had to adlib a bit. Otherwise, the whole production went surprisingly smoothly, considering how disastrous the previous day’s rehearsals had been. But I vaguely remember from somewhere that a bad dress rehearsal was good luck or something, and that was how it normally went.
After a brief pit stop back at mine for cooking and wrapping presents purposes, we set off.
This party was even better than the night before, for one simple reason: there was a kitten! Charlie, the host, had given it to her friend for Christmas, and he had just received it. Its name was Chairman Miao, Cherry for short, and I was in love with her immediately. I spent a lot of the evening playing with her and letting her sleep in my arms, and generally fussing over this tiny little fluffball. I also drank cider and we played a strange game when it came to the Secret Santa stuff which gave me a vegetarian buffet voucher. Basically, names were drawn out of a hat, and you could choose a new gift, or steal a gift from someone else. That person could then choose a new gift or steal from a different person. And so on, until everyone had a gift. I made a mistake and chose the new gift rather than stealing a better gift from someone else, and so I was a little disappointed with mine, and I still haven’t cashed it in.
Zoey, Icy and I were all quite tired, and the party was winding down around midnight, so we went home. I messaged my mum happy Christmas and called her, and she said they were about to start the family quiz with my parents, my brother, his girlfriend, and her parents and I, being only mildly tipsy, but suddenly wide awake and aware that I didn’t have anything to do tomorrow, I asked to join in. It was great and I even won, while ridiculously tired. Also, my compiled quiz questions that I’d accumulated over lockdown in the UK came in useful, because I could use them on this new audience (many had been asked in other quizzes I did).
Because of all this excitement, and fortuitous placing of dates, Boxing Day and the day after were quiet and involved a lot of napping, as I think it was about 4am for me by the time the quiz finished. And I was back at school on Monday, because there is no rest for either the wicked or those who live in a country where Christmas isn’t traditionally celebrated.
I wasn’t too wicked though, as I only had to work Monday and Tuesday, and had Wednesday and Thursday off in lieu of the overtime I’d worked in the past.
Those five days (one day and recovery) will be chronicled in my next blog post.