“Do you have any Christmas lights?”
I’ve been asking that question around this tiny town for weeks — at our small two-story department store, in the mom-and-pop utility shops, in the outdoor market’s electronic stalls, even in the decoration craft stores.
“Mei you (Don’t have),” has been the answer, leaving me to sigh and trudge home in disappointment.
In Sichuan, I never had a problem finding Christmas decorations. They were everywhere in Luzhou. Christmas Alley, where all the holiday danglies landed, were full of them. The department stores had aisles crowded with our Christian holiday knick-knacks. Santa hats and outfits? Lights? Stuffed animals? Wall hangings? You name it, it could be easily found.
But in this out-there Li river county town, I was beginning to wonder if I’d have to travel 3 hours to the capital city to get what I needed.
What started me on the Christmas light search has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t have lights. From year to year, I carefully save them. I end up adding even more to the box as I accumulate yet another strand to fill that empty space somewhere in my Chinese home.
But this year, my huge apartment has given me somewhat of a challenge to fill.
18 years of Christmas hoarding has led to 5 large boxes of holiday fun to showcase my American Christmas tradition of going overboard.
The sitting room is aglow with 3 mini-trees, 4 entire creche scenes, shelves of stuffed animals, electronic and wind-up toys and pretty holiday ceramics. Christmas picture books grace the coffee tables. Wall hangings and tinsel roping dangle from the ceilings and door frames. Windows are dotted with snowmen, angel, snowflake, tree and Santa decals.
In the evenings, I turn on my inside lights to enjoy a very cozy, spirit-of-the-season feel.
Isn’t that enough?
It would be except for outside.
The balcony and the large windows facing those passing by have been virtually bare, with just a few measly strands to suggest that the foreigner is celebrating her upcoming holiday.
I’d let it go except for one thing: Classloads of students will be arriving this week in the evenings to enjoy cookies and Connie’s Christmas wonderland. Listening to their “Oo!”s and “Ah!”s upon seeing the lights from below would be an added bonus to their utter amazement once within.
Besides, my neighbors and their kids are always out on these southern evenings, here in the middle of Guangxi’s warm December. I’ve watched the Chinese grannies point out the few, sparkly lights I have to their grandkids. They sit on benches, toddlers balanced on their laps, and discuss the foreigner’s lights while enjoying the festive atmosphere. They deserve more than what’s currently strung up there.
As luck would have, last weekend proved the jackpot.
Sunday brought Little Flower and me to the downtown district for our weekly shopping. I often take my Chi for a longer walk outside the campus, leading her around on my usual stops to the town’s meat and vegetable stalls. She’s quite an item, being about the only pet I’ve ever seen here. (Southern Chinese aren’t much for dogs aside from eating them.) Add to that I’m the only foreigner within 100 miles and we bring quite a lot of stares, finger points and astonished looks.
Most of the time, when the dog’s in tow, I just quickly do my errands and head back to campus. But with the Christmas light search, I wasn’t about to drop my mission until trying out yet another small, hidden shop which I hadn’t yet visited. Besides, the owner was smiling at Little Flower from her open doorway. That had to be a sign.
“You’re dog is so cute!” she said as I entered her store.
“Yes, she’s very cute,” I replied. “Aren’t you, Little Flower?”
LF looked up and wagged her tail to prove how cute she was.
The woman then turned to business.
“What do you want?”
I took a quick look around, wondering if she’d possibly have what I’d been searching for these past two weeks. Stuff was everywhere — piled onto shelves, overflowing from boxes, shoved under glass counters, and jumbled under things.
“Do you have Christmas lights?” I asked. I was expecting the usual response of, “mei you.”
Instead, she went directly to a newly arrived box, cut open the top and revealed . . . hundreds of little packs of Christmas lights.
Oh, happy day!
After a short bargaining session, I took home 8 strands of lights with multiple flash settings for $1.50 each.
The next hour had me figuring out how to arrange 8 strands on the balcony and inside windows so they could be seen from below. With clear packaging tape and a sturdy stool, I began the process of putting up my new finds in such a way as to make the best visual display of Christmas lights I could possibly make.
The worst part was waiting until it became dark so I could try them out on the campus.
When the appropriate time came, I plugged everything in. Dog and I took off down the stairwell for our evening walk around the school. We exited the building, I trotted across the lawn to a good vantage point, turned around and looked up.
What a sight!
My entire 3rd floor windows and balcony burst with life. They flashed, danced, sparkled, swayed, and literally sang “Merry Christmas!”
Not only that, but I heard numerous excited exclamations from students passing by as they gazed at the display.
Connie’s Christmas Open House Week
The response was just what I had hoped for during this entire week as my classes visited, one by one, to get a taste of the season from their new foreign teacher.
Christmas cookies, photo sessions next to the decorations, stuffed animals snatched up right and left, dazzling lights both inside and out . . . It’s all been night after night of great memories for all of us during my Open House evenings.
Enjoy the photos from our week together!
From Longzhou, here’s sending you Ping An (peace) for your weekend.
Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities
125 Dushan Road
Longzhou County, Chongzuo City
Guangxi Province, 532400
P.R. of CHINA