Monday, December 28, 2015

Chinese Christmas Spectacular

One of the questions I always get around last week is "What's Christmas in China like?" so today I'll recap the holidays here. First, there are no holidays.

You're very likely to see fancy, decorated apples for sale in December, because somehow Chinese people are under the impression that Westerners give each other apples for Christmas. Personally, I've never gotten an apple, and I STILL haven't gotten an apple (thanks a lot, students).
For the low price of 4 regular apples!
These overpriced apples reflect the big picture, that basically all that has made it over from the West is Christmas' commercialism. Malls play Christmas music that no one understands and stores sell decorations not many people want, but apart from that the average person has no interest or knowledge about this foreign celebration. It's strange to see decorations put up in such a setting, like I'm in a private joke everyone else is just humouring me with.
Decorations at a nightclub, DJ in the background
Although, sometimes their mysterious displays of our customs can be handy for expats. It's tough to get into the Christmas spirit here, but their Christmas efforts definitely help, like the buffet put on by a hotel here in Fuzhou. Since we work at a foreign school, they're nice enough to give us Christmas Day off, so on Christmas Day we all got dressed up in button-down shirts and ate until those buttons popped off. Turkey, gravy, bread, cheese, sushi, chocolate cake... we all got to eat something we'd been missing to make us feel at home, or perhaps miss home even more. In any case, all the white people saying "Merry Christmas!" to each other helped as well.
Decorations in the lobby. Photo by Andy
Stuffed to the smiles. Photo by Sean
These kind of activities are possible when living in a community of expats, and another one is the classic Secret Santa, which will help make any office feel like a Western office. There's nothing like trying to find that perfect gift for someone, going shopping to find weird Western things for them, then gathering 'round the tree in the library, feeling the excitement of tearing open a box to find exactly what you were hoping for, the one thing on your Christmas list: chocolate!
Let the rationing begin!
Excited like kids on Christmas morning

The final part of Christmas that affects me is also at school. Christmas-themed lessons are popular in schools to teach English topics, and my school is no exception. We had Christmas activity classes a couple weeks before the big day, spending the time making winter crafts and playing Christmasy games. Oh and of course Santa, played by a Chinese woman, came by with treats.
Exciting Christmas brainstorming session
I made a snowman!
So what did we learn? For some people living far away from their friends and family, the holidays can be a difficult time. You may miss home more, and you may even resent where you're at because of it. But it's like I found when I celebrated my first Thanksgiving in China, two years ago. There are plenty of people around, just like you, away from what and who they know and love, but together you can create something. It will be different; it might not match the holiday traditions you're used to, because come on, it's tough to find all the ingredients for Mom's recipe and you can't even make it as well as her anyway, but it will be a celebration with people looking out for each other. Besides, who you teach with becomes like your family, because remember this: you can't choose your family, and you can't pick the nutjobs that travel 6,000 miles to teach Chinese kids how to say 'instruments'.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Kindergarten Christmas

This week we brought Santa to Kindergarten.

At first, I was really nervous to show up at a strange school and teach lessons to 4 and 5 year olds who have most likely never had a foreign teacher or interacted with a foreigner, and probably have never seen a foreigner in real life before. But after doing this a few times, I've come to accept how crazy the situation is and embrace the freedom in being such an evanescent part of their lives.
I think they put the naughty kids up there. 
As part of my job, once a month I head to two nearby kindergartens to teach classes. Along with a bilingual teaching assistant, I present 20-minute vocabulary lessons to the kids that aren't crying. Thankfully, I've been teaching the same children for the three outings I've had so far, so they're getting used to me and the number of tears is decreasing.
You're OK you're ok youreokyoureokyoureok.....
Here's how it works: one Wednesday a month, I show up at school and am told what vocabulary I will be teaching. Last week it was body parts, and last month it was snail, crab, and butterfly. Since I have such tiny kids, there aren't a lot of activities I can do, so planning is simple. We take taxis over to the school, wait around in the playground until the kids are finished their water breaks or playtime or whatever is happening, and then we teach! Walk to the next kindergarten and repeat!
Waiting around that playground
It seems like these students are learning English the same way I'm learning Chinese: taking classes once a week, and then immediately forgetting the material afterwards. It's not the best system, but there's very little pressure on the teacher this way. Of course, they are tiny babies, so I'm not surprised they can't remember how to say 'snail' from a month ago, but what's my excuse? I should really get some Chinese review going.

Anyways, with Christmas around the corner, Santa came along to hand out candy. It was actually my branch manager in a costume! Do these kids know who Santa is? Hard to say! Were they willing to put up with another white guy to get candy? You betcha.
NOT happy with his candy trade offer.