Christmas is over and while this tends to be the highlight of most people's year, I hope no one will mind if I glaze over details and do a quick run through of our "Shiyan Christmas".
Generally speaking, we do a GREAT job of bringing the Christmas festivities and traditions from home into our lives in China. The only powers working against us are our schools and the city. Both seem intent on making us celebrate Christmas their way. On the Saturday before Christmas, we attended the city-wide Christmas party. Having made it clear that we don't care to perform any song and dance routines (and having been told our style isn't quite Chinese enough to be adequate for such a special occasion), the school no longer requires anything of us except our attendance. There were several performances - mostly younger children singing, dancing or playing instruments, but a few foreigners in town decided to do their own acts. Shortly into the performances, Bena, an African woman who teaches at William and Priscilla's school, asked us if we would join her in singing "O Holy Night". We can't say no to Bena; she's such a beautiful character. Five minutes later Brian, Jessica, Darla and I were on stage with Bena who is blessed with an incredibly powerful and off-key voice singing the worst rendition of "O Holy Night" that, I would venture to say, has ever been sung. A few days later a call from our friend Zoe confirmed our worst nightmare - the local news station had retrieved footage of our song and was broadcasting it for all to hear! But the city-wide party as a whole was enjoyable enough, and we all received mugs as a parting gift.
Christmas Eve we were asked to go to our school's annual foreign language department Christmas dinner. We were late (also an annual tradition), but it didn't matter because we were given our own private room (while the rest of the Chinese members of the foreign language department were all congregated together in a larger room). It's only mildly offensive to not be included with the rest of department, and since we avoided all the drunken toasts and awkward conversations, it worked out for the best.
Afterwards Brian, Jessica and I came back home to celebrate a quiet Christmas Eve. William came over and we watched "How Santa Clause Conquered the Martians", a gift from my brother and his wife which had fortuitously arrived earlier that day. The movie was perfectly terrible.
In the morning, Jessica, Darla and I cooked a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and quiche. All the single Shiyaners, Shiyanites, Shiyanren (whichever we are) had a very merry stocking stuffer Christmas morning in Jessica's apartment. We really just killed time the rest of the day until the first annual Tacky Sweater Progressive Dinner Celebration began around four thirty. In true western fashion, we completely stuffed ourselves on real food before gorging ourselves with dessert. It was a nice Christmas. For more details, please see Brian's blog at http://bnealinchina.blogspot.com or Jessica's at http://jessicainthefareast.blogspot.com.
Yichang was the place to be for New Year's Eve. Having the great desire to spend this time with our Yichang (Beth, Amy, Brad, Katie, Kim) and Wuhan (Danielle, Carole, Rachel, Jeremy, Laurie, Megan) pals yet the need to be in Shiyan after being gone so much in the month previous, we decided to leave for Yichang Monday morning (arrived early afternoon) and return the following day (left early afternoon). It's a seven hour bus/train ride...
The Yichang folks do New Year's right (are becoming locally famous for it in fact), and we started the fun with a video scavenger hunt. We had three teams of four people (my team consisted of Brian, Beth, Carole and me) and two hours to shoot several films (a western, a kung fu, a Titanic), video various things (dancing in the square, pushing to get on the bus, singing "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" with some Chinese people) and take pictures at specific locations (the bridge, by "Da Shan's" picture, in the international hotel). There were a lot of items, and I'd like to point out that my team was the only one to complete the entire list (even if the split pants baby was a bit of a flop).
We ate dinner at Pizza Hut, a place that some of you who read this are probably taking for granted! Then we retreated to Kim and Katie's place for snacks and to hang out till the New Year. Last year Brad created the "apple on the chopstick" drop to bring in the new year, and they spruced it up a bit this year by placing some sparklers into the apple which bore the Chinese character "fu" (meaning luck or something similar). It was pretty exciting for some reason that escapes me.
After the New Year's salutations died down, we all gathered in the living room and sang praises to our God. It was so powerful to be reminded of the great year we were given and to be encouraged to use this new year in service to Him.
Our winter break is beginning. In one week, we will all be moving in different directions (some for traveling, some for studying, some for going home). Brian, William and I leave next week for Kunming to study Chinese for one month. It will be strange to be a student again. I'm excited about the opportunity, though. Most of us will be gone for about a month or so.
Oh, Jovial January - the newest of our alliterated months. During this month, we are not allowed to say anything bad about anyone, a task proving very difficult at times. If we say something bad, we are not allowed to eat anything sweet for the rest of the day (since bitterness leaves our mouth, we will not be allowed to put sweets into it). Sadly, we failed the very first day, but we've been doing much better since.