Friday, December 25, 2009
Merry Chinese Christmas.
I had a few things to add to the craziness of the last week in China.
Christmas parties. In China, college students are crazy about Christmas parties. Usually this means everyone from the department crams into an auditorium and different groups, who all auditioned for a chance to perform, come on-stage to the delight of their classmates. Every performance is interrupted -- or at least augmented -- by friends rushing on-stage to give the performers flowers. However, this year, apparently because some of the students who got sick with H1N1 were from the foreign language department, they were only allowed to hold small "class" Christmas parties with their 40-some classmates.
Naturally, they wanted the foreign teachers to come. Two weeks ago, I even had students ask me which day I was most free during the week before Christmas, so they could find a time when I could come (the earliest invitation I've EVER received in China). "Tuesday," I told them after some thought. "Ok," they said. "And can you prepare a performance?" It just isn't a party without performances.
The next week, they walked into class and handed me an orange-colored invitation that looked like it belonged more to Thanksgiving or Halloween than Christmas. "Please come," they pleaded. I told them I'd try to make time, figuring Tuesday wouldn't be too bad. When I got a chance to look closer at the invitation, I realized the time shifted to Christmas Eve, for which we were already making plans.
Fast forward to the morning of Christmas Eve. I gave vague non-committal responses, because I was still holding out hope that we might be able to go to a church service in town, but nobody seemed to know when it would start (or if there was a service at all).
When I finally walked into their classroom at 9 p.m. (the party began at 7:30) the students went crazy. The...loudest...applause...I've ever received for anything. Not quite Beatles-like fainting, but seriously, it was like Jay Chou or their favorite Chinese boy band had walked into the room. They went nuts for a full minute. It was surreal. Then everything stopped. They pulled up a chair in the middle of the stage they'd set up in the front of the classroom. "Will you sing a song?"
Thankfully, I came prepared with my trusty acoustic guitar and a sheet of Christmas songs I knew how to play, so I implored them to join me in "Silent Night."
Half the students pulled out their cameras and began snapping photos or shooting video. The ultimate bragging rights -- an Actual American to celebrate Christmas with.
By the end of the song, they begged for more. I went for "Angels We Have Heard on High." More? No night would be complete without "Jingle Bells"
Afterwards, several students came forward, shoving a handful of candies into my free hand, then jamming apples into my pockets because my hands were full, then they rushed me to a seat of honor while students continued with their performances.
I scanned the room, noticing the fine arrangement of pink and purple balloons selected for the occasion. The same colors seemed to adorn other rooms. Nobody seemed to think green and red and white were missing. All the desks were pushed to the sides so students could perform in the middle. Every desk was covered with a pile of sunflower seeds, banana peels, candy wrappers and all sorts of other junk food. And in the front of the room, there was a small "Christmas tree" topped with a tiny Santa ornament. Students proudly explained that they made the tree themselves from several sticks, some tinsel and colored paper. On the chalkboard, students had drawn an elaborate Santa Claus.
The first few performances pretty much summed up a typical Chinese Christmas party: two of the three boys in the class sang "I Want it That Way" by the Backstreet Boys, accompanied by the tiny speaker in their cell phone. Then, an assortment of girls did catwalk modeling performances to some sort of European music (French?). Finally, several girls acted out a scene from the Monkey King. No Chinese party is complete without an interpretation of the Monkey King -- one of the big reasons I finally read (a 600-page abridged version) of the 2,000-plus page classic.
Since I was out and had no idea how late the party would continue, I decided to see if another class that had mentioned having a party was still there. I walked in on the wrong class. These were students from another class, who I've never taught, but they eagerly welcomed me with almost as much enthusiasm as my own students.
"We are about to play a game," said a boy holding a microphone. "Can you perform a song for us after the game?"
I nodded my approval and they began stepping on balloons tied around their feet in the giant space in the middle of the classroom. After a few minutes, one student remained whose balloon hadn't been popped. A winner!
I worked my way through the same Christmas setlist, then bid them farewell.
On my way back to the apartment, I began to notice several flickering lights floating in the air. As I walked closer, I realized that several students were lighting candles in the square, filling up red balloon-lanterns with hot air, like I'd seen before in Thailand. It amazes me that even in our fourth year in China, we still see new things. I'd never seen this in China before.
As I watched a few float into the air, I took a deep breath and gazed up in wonder at the beauty of this quiet moment, juxtaposed with the laughter and noise of the classroom celebration. Many things are strange to me about how the Chinese celebrate Christmas. For many students, since it's a completely Western concept in their minds, it's just an excuse to make up their own rules and have a party with their classmates. Other students said they went out to sing karoake or to have a big dinner with classmates. Those things are fine and all, but I'd take this simple Chinese interpretation of Christmas over the other ones any day. As the lanterns rose into the cold evening sky, my mind went back to the Word who became Flesh. Even if he was the last thing on these students minds, I reflected on the meaning of the season, how the one who we are celebrating came to this earth to be a light in the darkness. Exhausted from the week's busyness, I smiled and said a prayer of thanks.
More to come... in the meantime, Merry Christmas
Thursday, December 24, 2009
There are a lot of things I miss about being in America for Christmas. All the classic (and sometimes tacky) Christmas decorations that have been around for years and years. There are some ornaments that are so ugly they are hidden on the back of the Christmas tree (a plastic Santa who is missing his arms, paper decorations we made when we were five). They are all an important part of Christmas. I love seeing all the lights on houses, our stockings my mom made, the cardboard Christmas door hangers, the perpetual smell of Christmas cookies.
But I also have to admit there are some fun things about being in China for Christmas, too. For one thing, students get soo excited about it. Yesterday afternoon we sang carols with students in front of the classroom building. There were probably a couple hundred students (it helped we had just finished class and told all our students to come. :) It may not have been the best thing you've ever heard, but the students sang with gusto, even if they were on the wrong notes and three different rhythms. Last night we had our Christmas culture lecture, which was sparsely attended because of all the other Christmas parties going on. The best part was when we sang Silent Night at the end. We turned out all the lights and had the students hold up their cell phones in lieu of candles. Not bad, and very Chinese.
After the lecture, Kelly, Christina, and I went to the girls' dorm to sing Christmas songs. We put on Santa hats, carried a stocking full of candy, and went around knocking on doors. As we were singing, the noise carried down the hallway and doors popped open. Curious students piled out into the hallway. At one point we were mobbed by about 50 students, freshmen of ours who all live close together. They crowded in to make sure we noticed them, grab some candy, and give cards and presents. Our foreignness gives us semi-celebrity status in normal life, but dress us up in Santa hats with bags of candy and it's just about all you could ask for. Students all wanted us to come and see their dormitory rooms. One student insisted we follow her down to her room. When we got there, the other roommates were standing in the darkened room holding candles and looking extraordinarily pleased with themselves. It was quite a nice effect, and we sang Silent Night together.
In the past few days, we have been inundated with cards and gifts. I will share my favorite card with you:
Thank you for all you have done for us. You are the most responsible teacher I've ever met. Thank you for your well-prepared classes. You are always so patient and kind-hearted to us. It is a great honor to be one of your students. I'm a little shy and not very good at oral English, so I send you a card to thank you and wish you Merry Christmas!
Sincerely yours, Student
Apparently she is shy! She didn't even tell me who she is. We always get some interesting gifts at Christmas. This year it has been lots of apples. Apples are popular in China at Christmas because the word for apple (ping guo) sounds like the word for peace (ping an). My favorite are the apples Kevin's students gave us. They wrote special notes in pen on the outsides. The bigger apple says, “This is for Ruth – bigger than Kevin :)” The other apple says, “This is for Kevin – because Kevin love Ruth :)” Ah, students are funny. But the most touching apples we received were from the copy guy and his wife, who we brought cookies to. They ran after Kevin last night when he made copies to give us apples in wrapped shiny paper. I definitely wasn't expecting anything from them and it makes me feel kind of warm and special. I guess we probably do our fair share to keep them in business.
Tomorrow we plan to celebrate with a late brunch and opening of presents. In the afternoon we will visit a deaf school in town to do some Christmas activities – games, card making, flannel-graph Christmas story... Christina has been there before, but it will be the first time for the rest of us, and we are bringing some students along. So it should be interesting. For now I'm just glad it is Christmas Eve and I actually don't have anything going on tonight! Now I will finally have time to wrap presents, fill stockings, and clean up for tomorrow.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Christmas week is upon us and we are busy with all kinds of Christmas activities. China itself might not do much to celebrate Christmas (though I am seeing more Santa decorations on stores) but we celebrate in overdrive, since students all think Christmas is the greatest thing ever and want to get in on the action. We have started singing Christmas songs in all our classes. Our students (and in fact, most of the Chinese people I know) love singing. Last weekend we had a bunch of students over to make Christmas decorations and cookies and then more over to watch a Christmas movie.
Yesterday we had a teacher's tea. We haven't had too much success in the past with people coming, but this time 17 teachers came. They all know each other well and so there was lots of talking and laughing. Everyone was excited to try the cookies and wanted to know how we made them. They enjoyed singing Christmas songs (even insisted on singing the 12 Days of Christmas) and asked about all the weird words (“don we now our gay apparel” - think about it – Christmas songs use a lot of strange/old words). We played a hot-potato type “pass the present” game which of course involved punishment for whoever was caught with the present. What good game doesn't involve punishment? The favorite punishment is singing a song for everyone.
One of the teachers also asked about some other words from her textbook. She was trying to describe and spell a word but I couldn't figure out what it was. Finally it struck me - “hullabaloo.” And that was it. Glad to know they are learning useful words like hullabaloo, which I have heard but am pretty sure I've never used before. Incidentally, it is in the Office dictionary. Is that really necessary?
We also made up cookie plates to bring to some of the leaders and the people around campus who help us out – the copy guy, the mail lady, the guy who unlocks the classroom doors. They were surprised, pleased, and a bit confused. We also made up stockings for our waiban and her assistant. They were very interested and excited about the stockings. They both asked, “All of it is for me?” The assistant took out all the things right away and then excitedly helped the waiban open hers. She was almost jumping with excitement. It was fun.
This week we have a Christmas banquet, caroling with students, Christmas lecture, caroling in the dorms, a Christmas program, our own Christmas day activities (Christmas nap?), and on Saturday we will go to Xian to celebrate with a few other teachers. We have been invited to various student Christmas parties but already have other things going on. And of course, in the middle of all that we will have our regular classes and activities and are supposedly planning our finals for next week. So much hullabaloo.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The Store is Confused
Today Christina and I went to the supermarket. As we entered the store, we saw they had put out their stock of Christmas items so we perused through a bit. There were some small Christmas trees, various Styrofoam Christmas ornaments, Santa door/wall decorators, Santa hats, some Christmas cards...the normal kind of stuff. There was also a dark castle with a crazy/slightly evil looking cartoon character sticking out of it. There was a section of tiaras and various masks. There's usually a bit of confusion about which holiday belongs to with what, since none of them are really celebrated much.. There were also the traditional Christmas wands. I have personally never seen a Christmas wand in America before, but it seems that China can't celebrate without them. There are so many things I will never understand.
I am Confused
At the store, I also accidentally bought about 3 kilos of eggs...that's 45 eggs. Hmm. I wasn't really paying attention until the egg lady had already bagged them up, and then I suddenly realized, “Holy crap that's a lot of eggs! I'm not quite sure what just happened...” I bought them anyway because that seemed like the less confusing option and they were only about $2.50. Good thing we eat a lot of eggs. And that it's Christmas baking season. And that Kelly needed some eggs. And that eggs don't go bad too fast. It's a lot of eggs.
The Students are Confused
It's hard to believe that it's already December. We only have about three weeks left of the semester. Of course, we haven't ever quite officially heard when the end of the semester will be, but that's everyone's best guess. It seems like this semester has gone by so quickly. I never really even had time to hit the “I'm so sick of teaching phase.” Though lately I have been thinking a lot about the seeming futility of my teaching. By the time these students hit college their bad pronunciation is already so ingrained it's hard to believe that correcting it really makes any difference. Sometimes I think they are getting a new idea, but then I give them a test and realize they have no clue. It's a little discouraging. But, oh well. Now I get to supplement each class with Christmas songs, pictures of Christmas trees and such. If I can't teach them anything, at least I can entertain them.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Interpreting this to mean she wanted to visit our APPARTMENT, I said, "OK, how about Friday?"
So we were expecting those three or four students to come. We thought that perhaps we'd play a game. When we opened the door, there were no less than FOURTEEN students standing outside. Most were our students, but a few were tagalongs from other majors. Thankfully, they didn't seem to notice our shock. They were too excited about their first trip to a foreigner's home. A typical night in the lives of the famous foreigners of Weinan. Good times.
Chinglish book update:
For those hoping to order a copy of my Chinglish book: Chinese + English= Chinglish, I just got an email from Blurb, the publisher, saying that if you use either of these coupon codes, you'll get free shipping: BLURBSHIP or BLURBMERRY. But the offer is only valid through Dec. 8. Since the Christmas delivery deadline is Dec. 10, may as well get it shipped to you for free...
Go here to find out about the book: http://chinglishbook.blogspot.com/
or, if you have a copy of the book and would like to comment on it, you can visit here: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/648863.
Ok, enough shameless self=promotion. No more (not-so-subtle) hints that you should buy it (you should :-)).
Thursday, December 3, 2009
It is my belief that anyone should be a little leery of a game with a 20 page instruction manual. Nevertheless, for whatever reason (there was probably some cult brainwashing involved) we sat down tonight to figure out Cities and Knights, a more complex version of Settlers of Catan. An hour later, we had set up the game and read through the rules. I think there are about 167 of them, though I lost count at page 9. As we went through the rules I wondered who in the world came up with all of these. “Hey, let's make it so if you get three of these cards you can trade them in and flip this other card and then every time one of these three numbers are rolled along with this picture, you can get this third kind of card.” Somebody had to have been the first one to think of this. Probably a computer or mathematical genius with OCD tenancies and a twitch.
The game itself then lasted for about two hours, leaving me wondering, “How in the world did I ever get sucked into this? I hate long games. I boycott Monopoly.” Part of the length was probably due to looking back at the rule book every other turn. Who can honestly remember 167 rules? Kevin won, 13-12, so now we have each won the game once. Because yes, we have played this crazy game before and then decided to buy it for ourselves. That time I had a quick, decisive victory, so of course I liked the game.
You may have never heard of the game but get into the right circle and--bam--everyone you know is obsessed with it. Our dear friend Matt was introduced to the game over the summer and lost it about 10 times in a row...and then asked for it for his birthday. See - I ask you, is that a normal response? This is why I think there must be some kind of cult/brainwashing involved. That and the fact that after hating the game and refusing to play for two years, I unaccountably started playing it all the time. I'm not sure who is the mastermind behind this whole cult/conspiracy, but I strongly suspect that a certain former team leader of mine (*cough* Andy) is high up in the chain of command.
Tomorrow night some students are coming over to play games with us. I think we'll probably choose something a little bit simpler to play.