JISHOU, HUNAN — With the end of the term approaching, I have been so busy lately that writing anything substantive for this blog was well nigh impossible. I’ll try to recap recent events as best I can, starting with Christmas Eve.
All the colleges here at Jishou University hold some kind of end-of-term/welcome-the-new-year party, reminiscent of those old movies where they say, “Hey, let’s put on a show!” Members of the colleges sing, dance, act in skits, or play instruments, and the audience plays some silly games. (I joined in on one game a week ago. Blindfolded, with a partner riding piggyback and giving directions, I had to stomp on balloons to burst them. We won a 2-liter of Coke.)
The College of International Exchange is the only one that puts on a Christmas-themed performance, scheduled suitably for Dec. 24. Our students spent weeks rehearsing their acts, while we faculty managed to cram our practice time into a few afternoons. Being a white-haired, bearded fellow, I was asked to play Father Christmas, and students also pressured me to sing a song. So I was really busy that night.
I discovered that our students are multi-talented, with considerable performing chops. We gave the College of Music and Dance a run for its money, with our dancers, singers, instrumentalists and amateur actors. We faculty managed to pull off dancing a waltz to the tune of “Edelweiss,” to the cheers of the audience, and I managed not to freeze on stage to sing “I Wonder as I Wander” and “The Christmas Song” — a cappella — passably well.
I had been given two cakes for Christmas, so after the extravaganza and the requisite one-gazillion photos, I invited some English Corner friends to help me eat them. Our three Ukrainian exchange students, who live above me and across the hall, also shared in the tasty treats. Harry, a freshman who played another Father Christmas, was starving and had takeout but no rice to eat. Shelldy and I prepared the rice, so by the time we three were alone, the rice was cooked.
Harry had skipped lunch and dinner to help manage the Christmas play, so he was famished. Then Shelldy dove into the food, and after watching her eat with gusto, finally I did, too. (Yeah, I know, we were eating Chinese takeout for Christmas Eve dinner at 10:30 pm … in China. It just seems so appropriate.)
The next day, I had to give a final examination to my senior English majors. China does not stop for Christmas Day. With that done, all I needed to do was wait for my postgraduate friends to pick me up for Christmas dinner. So I took a well-deserved nap.
We went to a downtown restaurant that serves local food in a traditional setting. The party included my postgrad friends, Smile and Rain, Rain’s colleagues at the cultural affairs office, and two other postgrads. We had a great dinner, lubricated somewhat with the local firewater.
One of Rain’s colleagues is Miao, a local ethnic minority. It is their custom, when dining with an honored guest, to drain their cup when toasting, even if the guest just takes a sip. Trouble is, he had already started drinking rice wine before dinner, so he was feeling pretty good after three cups.
Afterward, we all adjourned to a karaoke place, where we drank beer and ate even more food. More friends came, and we spent the evening dancing and singing. Emboldened by too much beer, I asked one of my dancing partners to dinner the following night.
On Friday morning, I hauled my sorry ass out of bed to video-conference with my kids using Skype. They were all in one place for once, so we spent more than an hour chatting. Afterward, I had to navigate the delicate waters of protocol, since I had invited my new friend to our college faculty dinner without first asking if I could bring a guest. Fortunately, the dean was amenable, so that night I had another terrific meal amply lubricated with local firewater. (I ate turtle for the first time. Yeah, it tastes just like … alligator.)
On Saturday morning, my friend, former student and cooking instructor, Kasurly, came over to help me cook lunch for us and her seven roommates. The two of us whipped up a six-dish luncheon in no time flat using a saucepan, a wok and a microwave. I am still amazed. I feel like a cross between Martin Yan and MacGuyver. (We’re doing it again on New Year’s Eve; the girls want to watch a five-hour, end-of-the-year concert bash on TV. I am providing the sparkling wine for the New Year’s toast.)
That evening, I sang once more in the English Club performance/party, participated in another silly game (stand back-to-back and pop a balloon) and danced in the Chinese version of the Bunny Hop (left, left, right, right, forward, turnaround, hop, hop, hop). [I will have some thoughts about these games in a later post.]
But, wait, there’s more! At 9 am Sunday, the new officers of the English Club invited me and David, the other English teacher, to lunch at another local eatery, where we dispensed with the local firewater and just drank beer and tea. On the way back home, I turned down a dinner invitation for that evening so I could spend the rest of the day marking compositions. I do have to work once in a while!
That was my first Christmas in China, and I’ve got to say, it was one of the best in my life.