What's it Like to
Spend Christmas in China
Christmas is Coming
December 19, 2010
As usual there's been a lot going on. Yesterday evening I played
Santa and handed out presents at the door for an English Flying Bar
Christmas Party. That was fun, but unfortunately their PowerPoint
system wasn't working, so all of my carefully prepared slide show with
the story of Santa, bringing home Christmas trees, mixing pudding, and
all the other icons of my childhood Christmases was wasted. We
sang Jingle Bells for the crowd and then escaped.
Having the Birds for
We had fellow
teachers Don and Bonnie Bird over for a western style dinner at our home
on Thursday. Once again I managed to turn out a full meal with our
limited kitchen - ribs with mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes, broccoli, -
and Ruth added garlic bread her famous Caesar salad. Bonnie says she
just can't get the hang of chopsticks, so she was delighted when we gave
her this pair that came with training wheels, a flexible rubber figure
at the top that turn the sticks into tweezers.
Don was suffering from a bad cold, so I introduced him to another
secret of the orient, 罗汉果(luóhànguǒ) n. identified in my Chinese
dictionary only as the botanical name mangosteen. These are kiwi
sized gourds which, when the the hard shell is cracked and they are
soaked in hot water, have an amazingly sweet taste and are supposed to
sooth a cold. Like much of Chinese traditional medicine, I'm not
sure it actually works. But it's pleasant enough to drink.
The Plan for Christmas
December 24, 2010
I'm renting a car after my last class today. We'll drive to
Nantong this evening. Tomorrow my old friend Robert is cooking a
Christmas turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Former students
Simon and Lv Min, now working in Shanghai, will join us for Christmas.
They've never tasted turkey. So that will make seven adults and two
kids. I'm renting the car so we can take the dog with us. The
children are three years old and seven years old. It will be like
Barry, another friend, is playing a gig at a bar and wants me to join
him in a jam session tonight. All in all, it's shaping up to be a
The administration laid on another feast for Christmas. What would
Christmas be without carols on a bus.
The buffet dinner at the Sheraton Hotel. Simply fabulous.
What a dinner. Thanks, Ms. Liu and all the helpers in the
office. You guys are wonderful. And that's all I have time
for today. Dishes to wash, then off to class, and then off to pick
up the rental car.
Chinese Word of the Day: 圣诞老人
(Shèng dàn lǎo rén literally "holy born old person") n. Santa Claus
A Christmas in China
originally posted December 27, 2010
To make a good story you need events, funny moments, problems,
disasters. This story has none of those things. Thank
goodness. I was worried. This was my first time driving in
China. Finally I made use of my Chinese drivers license.
On Thursday I got our favourite driver to take me to the rental place to
do the paperwork. Then on Friday, Christmas Eve right after class
I collected the car, drove it
back to the campus to pick up Ruth and together we packed up the dog,
dog house, dog food and dog toys, a guitar, a violin, a mandolin, an erhu, and a set of
harmonicas, plus two bottles of rum, a bottle of whiskey, two boxes of
cream, (ingredients for the eggnog) a selection of both
Ruth's delicious home made and not so delicious but acceptable store bought
sugar cookies, two packages of shortbread to go with two bottles of
sherry, assorted small Christmas presents, and enough essential
electronics to outfit a space shuttle. Off we went to Nantong,
about an hour and a half away, for a traditional Canadian turkey dinner
on Christmas Day. And from then on it was uneventful, if you want
to call turning out perfect uneventful.
Chinese Word of the Day: 租
(zū) v. rent; lease
When I picked up the car, the rental agent went over the vehicle and
photographed every little scratch. This became my biggest worry as I ventured into Chinese
traffic. I would much have preferred to pay for comprehensive
insurance, and not worry if the vehicle got dinged. Aside from the
fact that, predictably, the car was very dirty, stunk of cigarettes, and
the ashtray was full, it was a good vehicle. Well, okay, the GPS
gave me a white screen and then refused to do anything at all, including
shut itself off. The ashtray wasn't so much full as seemed to be
missing the lining, but the hole had been used anyway so the butts
couldn't be easily emptied. The passenger side interior light was
burned out, giving me no confidence in the maintenance level. But
it got us to Nantong and back, so what's to complain about.
Nantong traffic is hairy, with rules of the road
considered just suggestions and flocks of e-bikes riding through red
lights and head on into opposing traffic. It's more like driving a
boat in a crowded harbor than driving a car on a road. Great fun
if your nerves can handle it.
The chef hard at work on the candied yams. His two lovely helpers
stir the gravy.
And what would Christmas be without kids. There were two at this
party, this three year old and a very charming seven year old.
Both too cute for words.
This turkey came from Shanghai in a limousine. Only in China.
Ruth is whipping the egg whites stiff for the nog.
Simon (wrestling the turkey) and Lv Min (appreciating Ruth's whipping of
the eggnog cream) were our students five years ago in Weihai.
They're now married, living and working in Shanghai, but we could lure
them to Nantong with a turkey dinner. They'd never had turkey
before. The only turkey we've seen previously in China was in a zoo.
is a very large bowl containing the better part of a bottle
of rum, a bottle of scotch, twelve eggs, a liter of milk and another
liter of cream, plus a cup and a half of sugar. It
was potent eggnog, perfect and universally appreciated.
Now that's a turkey. Ten and a half kilograms of majestic bird.
Half of it was enough for ten adults and two kids. We took the
remainder home and will have turkey soup and turkey sandwiches for a
Documentary photographers start young these days.
For the benefit of my students, here's a Canadian turkey dinner.
Components vary, but this is pretty standard.
I'm happy to report that every musical instrument got played.
Carols were sung. Kids were well behaved and very cute.
Granny, seated left on the sofa, seemed to enjoy herself with no need to
speak English or understand the conversation. Small presents were exchanged. All in all, it was our best
Christmas in China. Thanks Rob and Michelle and Kathy and all our
friends who made it possible.
The highway system here would be familiar to any Canadian or American,
because the Chinese sent engineers to America and copied everything
right down to the colour of the road signs, which are in both Chinese
and English. So driving isn't difficult once you hit the freeway.
But missing a turn off is costly. We managed to miss three on our
way back to Wuxi, twice requiring a very long drive to the next exit,
twelve kilometers in one case, exiting the toll road, paying the toll
again and retracing our path. Also, gas stations are not as frequent or
as obvious as they are back home. We were running on fumes
by the time we made it to the gas station back in Wuxi.
That's a smile of relief. I was happy to get the car back
without an additional scratch or the inconvenience of running out of
We brought a full half of the turkey back to Wuxi with us. It's
now deboned and divided into sandwich meat and soup stock. We
expect to enjoy turkey for some time.
gifts from our wonderful administration. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
check out our annual Christmas bursary.
It's been very rewarding.
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