Thursday, January 1, 2009

Deck the Lanterns: Christmas and New Year's

Christmas trees are everywhere. Every website, every shopping center, every restaurant - seeing a green plastic pine tree laced with blinking lights next to small golden Daoist statues was interesting - even IUP had a decent sized Christmas tree to greet everyone who climbed up to the fifth floor. Not many students nor teachers at Tsinghua or IUP seemed to get into the holiday spirit - "it isn't my holiday," they say. I wonder if advertisers really know their consumers' thoughts when they decide to buy huge trees to park in front of shops.
At IUP, we get one day off for Christmas day. On the night of Christmas Eve, Jill (my roommate) and I met with friends for dinner, and what Christmas dinner is complete without Korean barbeque? I somehow became the designated cook. No matter - listening to my older colleagues' high school stories of sniffing coke and clashes with the police while slicing up the meat to fry in the center charcoal pit is more interesting than bringing up cheesy holiday stories and jokes about chestnuts roasting in an open fire. Afterwards, classmates and some of the younger teachers got together for spiced cider and treats at a student's apartment.
Life doesn't stop on Christmas in Beijing - the streets are still crowded with glove-sellers, corn-sellers and jianbing-sellers. After Wudaokou's streets were renovated during the Olympics, the number of illegal vendors on the streets have increased, led noticeably by jewelry sellers from Qinghai and Tibet. It's hard to walk up the stairs to the subway station without stepping onto the yellow rug and torquoise trinkets of these westerners. During the evening, vendors begin to sell sparking sticks and puppies barely a month old. Elderly men shake porridge tins as I walk by, mumbling coarsely, "Shengdan kuaile, shengdan kuaile" (Merry Christmas).
Five days later, IUP let its students and teachers rest another day to celebrate the new year. A former IUP student hosted a party on the east side of Beijing, The party reminded me of frat parties - dim lights, living room floor slightly sticky because of spilt beer, unfamiliar faces - a small American microcosm in the middle of China. I left half an hour before midnight,
taking a taxi to the center of the Chinese universe - the Forbidden Palace. The taxi stopped a good 300 meters away from the entrance because of police blockade. In front Mao's huge portrait, foreigners and Chinese gathered, moving around while taking photos to prove to the world that they stood in front of the palace on New Year's Day (like I did). I forgot my watch, but conveniently a circle of expats started yelling the countdown for everyone to join in. Ten minutes after the cheers and hugs and moos, cars and buses started whizzing across the palace as usual, the police and guard cautiously looking about for potential bombers or terrorists.

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1 Comment:

Lucky said...


I love reading your writings because you put so much care into them. On another note, I think you've had the Santa hat for a while...I wonder if you packed it since you knew you'd be celebrating Christmas in China. Come back soon ! :)


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