Thursday, December 31, 2009

And now the new year...

New Years Eve and I'm teaching until 9PM again. I can't hook up with my foreign friends for best boy boozing because our new house is across town and the police have bribe stations spread out across all the major highways and byways. Angie got caught in one last night, she was saved by the rain that fell. Cops here hate the rain, they'll abandon a line of sure-thing payments to get out of it. They told her to wait right where she was, and then they all motored away. Imagine how many people stayed where they were.

I think I'll grab a bottle of fifty-plus percent and hide away in my new second story office with a DVD and a blanket. Yeah, it's cold right now. Most houses don't have central air, much less heat. Our two space heaters will crank out 3 feet of heat for our babies and parent-in-laws. Strangers reading this blog might air a criticism, something like "why don't you spend it with your family, you schmuck!" and I'll be forced to explain the sad fact that this day, this New Years Eve at the end of the first decade of the second millennium is just another Thursday to them. The babes will be in bed by nine, the folks by nine-thirty, the wife by ten.

Chinese New Year is sometime in February, the fourteenth I think. You can bet your ass there will be a party then. It'll be the Year of the Tiger, fireworks will fly from every balcony and droves of people will converge upon the open air market seeking treasures and plum blossoms. I'll be there, among them, celebrating who knows what for as long as they let me. You learn to take a party when you can get one in this country.

Happy New Years to those of you about to stay out late tonight, blow a party horn for me will ya!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Red Christmas

Haze paints Zhongshan with a soft brush as I drive Annie to her Kindergarten. I’m trying to figure out how I can ignite the magic of Christmas within her four-year-old heart. In the past three Christmas’s I put up a tree, placed presents underneath and lights around it. I’ve played Christmas music and tried to stoke the Santa surprise, but you know what? It’s never caught on.

It could be the isolation factor. None of her classmates understand or properly observe the holiday. Even within our nuclear family there is a great deal of nonchalance and “ Let’s humor Daddy” as I struggle to implant warm fuzzies in our future generation. Yesterday while on the cell with my wife I asked her if she’d pick up some wrapping paper for the gifts I bought. We finally gave up the conversation as she just could not determine what the hell I was talking about. It’s a language thing and it’s a cultural thing. The Chinese cannot fathom the purpose for wrapping gifts. “Why not simply put it in a bag or just put it under the tree as it is,” She’d asked. How can I explain the anticipation? How can I successfully transplant my culture on this very special holiday?

Around town and in our community blinking Christmas lights are going up in window fronts and store displays. The businesses would love to see the consumer frenzy the Western world is so familiar with. However, ask anyone if they have a tree, or if they have been naughty or nice, and you get a blank look. Every year after Christmas I’d ask my students the same question; what did Santa bring you? Apparently, Santa passes China up because if I ever do get an answer, it's about a red envelope with x amount of cash inside.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am not supporting the shopping madness with all its pressures and repercussions as we see so frequently in the West, I only suggest the warmth and glow that comes from giving and not expecting in return. The gifts matter very little. What matters is the joy, the twinkle, not of Christmas lights but of a child's delight. The exciting, breathless moment when a colorful box is placed in your lap and it’s all yours, and you got it just for being a good girl and daddy and mommy are watching and so is little sister and oh the sound of paper tearing and the building of anticipation as paper flies out and something new flies in. This is Christmas, this is a memory that builds confidence and the ability to share and love and be loved.

And this is what I am trying to create this morning as I drop off Annie and head off to find colorful wrapping paper. My wife tells me not to worry about buying her a gift, her parents haven’t a clue as to the holiday, but I know better. I will buy my wife a gift, her parents too. Come Christmas morning, they will, for an instant at least, feel some of the magic when that something special is placed in their lap. I will play Christmas music. I will light up our living room in reds and greens. I will put the girls to bed early on Christmas Eve, and I will wake them early on Christmas morning. We will sit around the tree, wiping sleep from our eyes and looking in wonder at the magic tree that the night before held only a few present but now is completely surrounded by boxes and packages and baskets and are those socks on the wall? No I’ll explain, they are stockings, have a look girls. And they will hop up and run to the stockings and pour out candy and fruit and tiny toys and there will be shrieks of joy from both and my heart will know again the feeling of completed circles.

It’s Christmas time in China and in my house, it will catch on.