It’s hard to believe just a week ago, I was snugly situated in my pew along with hundreds of others at the Luzhou Church, all of us ready and waiting for a spectacular Christmas gala by our Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now that New Year’s Eve is here, I’ll be having a different kind of experience.
Just a 2-minutes’ walk from our school gate is the only Buddhist temple in Luzhou. It stands majestically on our high bluff overlooking the Yangtze River.
On most days, the temple is empty with only the nuns and elderly women volunteers praying, sweeping the steps, changing offerings and making sure the candles are lit. The peacefulness of this place is calming and relaxing. In fact, Little Flower and I have been known on bright, sunny days to sit within the temple courtyards, enjoy the warm sunshine and have some quiet time to ourselves.
But come special religious days, the temple is over-run by visitors day and night. Cars line the Yangtze River Road, beeping their horns and trying to get by one another. Our school opens its front gate for public parking. The guards hustle to collect the 5 yuan (75 cents) charge per a car for a 2-hour parking fee.
All along the way to the temple, tables are crammed with Buddhist paper money to burn for the deceased, incense sticks and giant red candles being sold. It’s a bustling night for business, especially for snack sellers who sell their wares to the hungry crowds. Carmel corn, baked sweet potatoes, grilled squid and fish kabobs, and egg-batter pancakes are just a few of the food items up for grabs. Fruit sellers also come away with a hefty profit. Temple visitors buy huge bags of fruit to leave as offerings before Buddha and the many other deities that dot the temple’s small halls.
Although a majority of Chinese profess no religious faith, visiting the temple for New Year’s is something fun to do. It’s a family tradition that many like to continue with. My Chinese friends say they don’t believe in such things but they still go. Aging parents have drilled it into them that it never hurts to do such things, even if you don’t believe. Respecting your ancestors is always a must. And, as we say, better safe than sorry.
Thus Dog and I are planning a temple run for the countdown to midnight. Our Yangtze river road is still closed so I expect there’ll be quite a pile-up of vehicles. They can only come from one direction and will have to turn around at our school’s front gate in order to get back into town. This should be a very interesting sight and I’m not about to miss it.
The English Departmental Family Dinner
For several New Years at this school, I have been absent. I would go off to Chengdu as our school had a day off until the end of term finals began before Chinese New Year, a few weeks later. But this year, as I did for Christmas Day, I’m giving final conversation exams, even though January 1st and 2nd are national holidays. Since I have 350 students to test individually for my oral conversation courses, my holidays for the past 2 weeks are just having to wait until the Chinese Spring Festival vacation starts, January 9.
Aside from the New Year’s Eve temple visits, we used to have a special English Departmental dinner on Dec. 31. Unlike other departmental meals, this one included family members, which was always a treat.
Yet this year, we held our celebrations earlier.
Last Friday afternoon, I opened my home to the English department faculty who came by in two groups of 15 to enjoy my Christmas decorations and homemade goodies.
My home is quite small and since we have 35 on the English staff, it was decided that half would visit at a time while the other half continued with our weekly staff meetings.
Everyone grabbed up their drinks and goodies, then proceeded into my small sitting room. Photographs of family and friends, Christmas cards from Japan and Taiwan and holiday toys entertained my colleagues while I answered questions and showed off my hostessing skills.
It’s been a long time since I had my Luzhou teacher friends over so I made sure this would be a memorable one.
At 5:30 p.m., we headed off together on the faculty school bus which dropped us off at a nearby restaurant. Dean Horace had spent a great deal of time and energy arranging everything. He not only invited the English departmental staff and their families, but also the school leaders, their spouses and retired English teachers as well. We had 8 tables booked and over 70 guests attending. Even former Dean Cathy (Li Xiaolian), my sister-friend who is now English departmental dean at the Police College,
was there as well.
The spirit was one of jovial informality with lots of jokes and hundreds of toasts given by individuals and groups to each table. It was hard for us to get in a bite of food. Every time we sat down to the meal, another person would appear at our elbow or table, lifting their glasses in gratitude and good wishes to our health, work and friendship.
Chinese banquets of this sort take a lot of getting used to by foreigners but I felt right at home toasting everyone just as many times as they toasted me.
So here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year, 2009, from me and Little Flower. May Ping An (peace) come your way today and every day.