Christmas 2012 started in fine form this morning. I was up by 7:00 and reading my email message from son Sam when I noted that he said he would be on-line for awhile. Since I have not talked to him since we arrived, I immediately went to Skype and connected! He looks good and sounds good! We had a good long conversation and I got filled in on what he has been up to and his Christmas plans. It was wonderful to see him! Just as I was hanging up, a call came in from my brother, Dave, who is in southern Ontario (Guelph area?) with his wife, Deb, staying for Christmas with their daughter and husband and their two grandchildren. I have never met the grandchildren so that was fun. Two boys, 9 and 11, very bright and delightful. Dave has effectively retired and he and Deb will be heading back to Orlando area after working the last two years in Rochester, New York, to begin retired life. He looked pretty relaxed, I have to say! A great way to start our Christmas!
We have only the one day for Christmas holiday here in Jiaxing and most places where BC educators work. Christmas is a non-starter in China, so we were grateful for even the one day. Yesterday, we had a Christmas party for our kids which lasted the whole morning. They knew next to nothing about Christmas so everything we mentioned came as news. So interesting but also frustrating. I tried in the previous weeks to organize a Secret Santa and discovered that the concept of secret is not really understood. Each student came up to the front desk where I had them draw a name, which I dutifully wrote down and admonished them to remember for whom they were to buy. By the time they got back to their desks, invariably they had told the entire class. So much for secret. So then I told them to bring a wrapped gift for anyone in the class but not to put a name on it, and we would have a different kind of gift exchange. Outcome? Half the kids brought gifts, one of them prepackaged from the store and the others unwrapped; three girls had brought gifts but already given them to selected classmates; and the rest had not brought anything. We worked through it and realized how much pre-work was really necessary to get them to understand. Next year, if we are here, we will not make the same mistake! Still, it was lots of fun and I think the kids learned something about North American Christmas and Christmas Eve. When I told them I would not be back for my usual Monday evening study block, they understood when I told them it was an important day for us.
So today, Ken and Geoff and I enjoyed not rushing to get ready and made our leisurely way to Starbuck’s around 10:30. After a coffee and nosh, Geoff shook hands with all the employees (aka his good friends in Jiaxing) and wished them all a Merry Christmas, then we headed over to the local cinema to see if they had any English, subtitle or otherwise, films playing. Only the latest Jackie Chan movie, I’m afraid, and none of us was keen to see it, so off we went, downtown. At the Diamond Mall, we stopped to take a few pictures (see above), then went down the block and sat down for shoe shines, where Geoff paid more than the price of a new pair of shoes for two shines! Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas! Whatever.
We showed Ken around town and took in the various sights that we have come to accept as normal: sausage hanging to dry on balconies, buses pulling into oncoming traffic, people of all ages staring at us, and something new: people staring at my feet. Perhaps they look a little larger than normal in my Doc Martens? We looped through Moon River Street, a Granville Island-like place but in turn-of-the-(last)century buildings, on a canal. Very picturesque. Back home to enjoy a glass of wine before heading to Krabi Thai for our Christmas dinner.
Yesterday, we took Ken to South Lake, aka Nanhu, and visited the Nanhu Revolutionary Memorial Hall, a museum dedicated to the history of communism in China. (Ed. note: See Ken’s Review) I may have mentioned that Jiaxing and West Lake is the sight of the signing of the Communist Manifesto. The museum is interesting but a word to the wise: do NOT go in the winter time. It is a massive place and totally unheated, which was not enjoyable on this very cold day! Still we persevered. Fortunately, we were able to rent interpretive headsets to tell us what the many manuscripts were about. Far too much written work on display but enough pictures, murals, paintings and artifacts to maintain interest. We decided against the boat trip across the lake to see the original junk the founding fathers gathered upon, as well as a pagoda temple, which Geoff and I had seen earlier. We finished our day with a tour of some Chinese-style markets. Geoff gave his decorated Santa hat to an admiring young woman in the check-out lane, and then we came home to warm up.
Gifts and crowded shopping malls are two things we are not missing at all this Christmas (Ed. note: Because A). We aren’t at home to have to endure them and B) they don’t exist here). But we are missing family and friends
just a little a LOT. Merry Christmas, everyone, for yours is yet to come!