In case you think Jiaxing lacks any cultural sophistication, I will have you know that in recent weeks, city workers have busily installed rental bikes in stands throughout the city, just like one finds in Paris, Montreal and Vancouver (if Gregor has found a way around the helmet laws). In our neighbourhood alone, there are two stations within a few blocks of our place. Of course you know what this means: come Springtime, we can drop in a yuan, jump on a bike and head off in new directions! As long as we stay off the roads during rush hour, I’m sure we’ll be safe.
Christmas in China is really a non-event. Last Saturday was our first feeling of Christmas at Greg and Chan’s place. We went for a wine tasting but because they had a decorated tree, it instantly felt like the season had begun. Today at school, the kids and I started to decorate our wing, so that will make a bit of a difference. It is quite cold so we certainly know it is winter but beyond that, no real sign of Christmas. No lights on balconies (except ours) or on the streets; no constant carols in the malls, no Salvation Army Santas on the sidewalks. A few shops carry some cheesy decorations and a few others put some of them up but for the most part, Christmas doesn’t exist. Some of you who are buried in the mob scenes in the malls are probably thinking this doesn’t sound half bad. I was a little maudlin a few weeks ago, thinking of Christmas and missing family and friends but now teaching the kids about it and hosting a few gatherings of our own, it seems just fine. Plus, our friend Ken arrives next weekend and will be here through New Years, so we will have lots of fun.
As strange as it seems, my mind is already on 2013. We are through our first inspection, which went very well, and are moving into the next phase of school development, building a library, pushing the kids to take things more seriously and trying to find ways to get them to take more initiative. It certainly is a challenge for them to learn a new language and we are constantly trying to find the right balance of pressure and fun to keep them working. But it is fun and the kids are great. We learn a lot about this country from them, and certainly a lot about what they have been taught and believe about China and the world. Life has settled into a bit of a routine that we still thoroughly enjoy.
Living in a foreign land is a great experience and in China, the adventure really never stops. Just this afternoon in a supermarket, the women on both sides of us in the check-out lane felt compelled to look at and touch the things we were buying, as if to understand us better. They kept picking up packages and looking at them as if they had never seen them before and then looked at us. Gawd knows what was going through their minds. They were, and in Jiaxing most people seem to be, very interested in the phenomena of white people. We are often called upon to greet babies and children, as if somehow saying hello will impart the ability to speak English. Most of the time, we are happy to oblige as it seems to give everyone great pleasure…and it is pretty hard to resist a chubby Chinese baby in ridiculously cute clothing, looking absolutely adorable!