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What's it Like to Spend Christmas in China

Christmas is Coming
originally posted 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.

Picture:  The Christmas decorations corner of the local supermarket.  Wuxi, China

Having the Birds for Dinner

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.

Picture:  Bonnie and Don Bird.  Bonny needs training wheels on her chopsticks.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China   Picture:  Luo han guo, a strange fruit that makes a sweet medicinal tea.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Don was suffering from a bad cold, so I introduced him to another secret of the orient, 罗汉果(luhnguǒ) 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
originally posted
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 family.
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 great Christmas.

Picture:  On the bus on our way to a Christmas feast.  Wuxi, China. Picture:  Christmas buffet at the Sheraton.  Wuxi, China
The administration laid on another feast for Christmas.  What would Christmas be without carols on a bus.

Picture:  Christmas buffet at the Sheraton Hotel.  Wuxi, China.
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.

Picture:  Our Tibetan English Club students helped us decorate our tree for Christmas.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Chinese Word of the Day:  圣诞老人
(Shng dn lǎo rn literally "holy born old person") n. Santa Claus

A Christmas in China Story
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.

Picture:  The agent points out a scratch on the Honda rental car.  Wuxi, China Picture:  The agent points out a scratch on the Honda rental car.  Wuxi, China Picture:  The agent points out a scratch on the Honda rental car.  Wuxi, China
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.

Picture:  Rob works on the candied yams and carrots to go with the turkey.  Christmas in Nantong, China Picture:  Michelle and Kathy take care of the gravy.  Christmas in Nantong, China
The chef hard at work on the candied yams. His two lovely helpers stir the gravy.

  Picture:  A China doll investigates Rob's fitness equipment.  Christmas in Nantong, China  Picture:  The China doll investigates a touch screen.  A bit later it was a thump screen, but no harm was done.  Christmas in Nantong, China
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.

Picture:  The turkey about to fulfill it's promise.  Christmas in Nantong, China  Picture:  Ruth whips the egg whites stiff.  Christmas in Nantong, China
This turkey came from Shanghai in a limousine.  Only in China.  Ruth is whipping the egg whites stiff for the nog.

  Picture:  Michelle supervises as Simon, our former student from Weihai, sets the turkey on the table.  Christmas in Nantong, China  Picture:  Ruth whips the eggnog cream while Lv Min, our former student from Weihai, immerses herself in a waiguo celebration. Christmas in Nantong, China
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.

  Picture:  A very large bowl of eggnog containing a bottle of rum and a bottle of scotch, plus enough eggs, cream and sugar to stop an artery.  It's a heart attack in a bowl, but worth it for one day a year.  Christmas in Nantong, China
This 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.

  Picture:  Ruth gets to try her hand at turkey carving.  Christmas in Nantong, China
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 month.

Picture:  Every event needs documentation.  Rob ladles out the stuffing while a very serious seven year old refines her camera technique. Christmas in Nantong, China
Documentary photographers start young these days.

Picture:  And here you have it - the traditional Canadian turkey dinner.  Christmas in Nantong, China
For the benefit of my students, here's a Canadian turkey dinner.  Components vary, but this is pretty standard.

Picture:  It was a small tree, and a small pile of presents compared to family Christmases in my past.  But the warmth and family feeling was wonderful.  Christmas in Nantong, China
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.

Heading Home:

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. 

Picture:  The rental Honda back on the lot with no additional scratches.  Whew.  Wuxi, China
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 gas.. 

Picture:  Half a turkey, deboned and the bones cooked into soup stock.  We'll have sandwich meat for some time.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

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.

Picture:  Christmas gifts from our wonderful administration.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Christmas gifts from our wonderful administration. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Also - check out our annual Christmas bursary.  It's been very rewarding.

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