As I write this, I’m in the midst of December Christmas festivities for my students at Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. We have just finished our Christmas culture lessons, including our classroom re-enactment of Christ’s birth and learning the traditional symbols of the holidays. Next step? The dreaded semester finals.
Testing Taking Place
For me, it’s now Week 2 of conversation testing. I’m to finish all my exams by January 1st but my students will be continuing with other final exams until January 14. At that time, their school year will end. The foreign language teacher, however, always finishes early. This is to allow students to concentrate on more important classes to close off the school year.
My second year English Education majors are being challenged to thoroughly explain their thoughts and ideas concerning testing young learners in English. For 30 minutes, each pair must truly demonstrate their ability to create good testing questions and theories for their future students. In Chinese, the test would be a piece of cake. But in English? Well, let’s just say they are proving themselves qualified to be second year English majors. So far, everyone has done above-average on their test scores, which is a good sign that they are on their way to be wonderful teachers someday.
As for my 120 freshmen, testing with the foreign teacher is nerve-wracking. This is their first oral conversation final in their lives. While they do work in pairs to give one another support, it still causes them anxiety and panic.
In Chinese junior and senior high schools, all English tests are strictly timed written exams – reading (passages with questions), listening (tapes played once with comprehension questions), vocabulary and grammar (choose the correct word for the sentence.) No spoken English is required.
At the college level, oral tests are a given for English majors. Understanding each other and responding to questions is a top priority in my class so that’s what we do for the final. Although they’ve had 4 weeks to prepare for the set questions and dialogues required of them (all of which were given beforehand), it’s still a frightening experience, one which demands celebration after it’s over.
So, as is my custom, after every small group has completed their tests, they are invited to my home for Connie’s Christmas Open House. I have 14 of these in total, held in the evenings, for both my freshmen and sophomore students.
With my freshmen, their newfound Christmas knowledge can be put to use while enjoying my over-the-top Christmas fantasy land. Miniature crèches , stockings, holiday stuffed animals, Christmas trees, strings of lights, sparkling tinsel roping, advent calendars, Santa hats, and family photo albums – This is the first time for them to visit a foreigner’s home. They are so excited that their cell phone cameras are in constant use for the entire hour they are visiting. Pictures with me, their friends and of the many decorations gracing my home are a must to show family members back home and for memories of our special night together.
My sophomores are not quite as amazed since they saw all this last year. They are more laid back. We sit together, talk as old friends, and gobble down my homemade Christmas cookies.
There will be more time together with my colleagues during their open house on December 24. Their children are always invited, which makes for a more joyful atmosphere since everyone enjoys showing off their kids and the little ones have so much fun.
I never tire of these special Christmas events, especially because a great deal of the goodies served have been provided by kind people back in the States.
Christmas checks deposited into my U.S. account have been very generous this year. The uptown candy ladies are ecstatic every time they see me head their way, which is on a daily basis. They fill my bags with assorted varieties, convincing me that 10 pounds is better than 8.
I don’t argue.
Candy for my students is a great luxury. They never buy it for themselves due to the price (A pound of candy for $1.00 is two meals in our cafeteria). Being able to heap my Open House baskets high with different sugary treats is so much fun. Even more so is watching my guests excitedly dig through all the selections available and choose the ones they like the most.
To prepare for these events, I’ve also had a few weekend trips to the capital city, Nanning, three hours away. I was able to purchase butter for cookies and fudge (butter is not a Chinese food item so it is very difficult to find), as well as a substantial supply of great decorations for our English Center.
Christmas Items in China? Yes, and Plenty of Them!
Even though Christmas is not a Chinese traditional holiday, the idea of the festivities has spread clear across China. Stores now stock up on Christmas decorations for those wishing to enjoy a “Western” holiday. Christmas sales can be found in every major chain store. Santa hats, roping, Christmas stockings, door decals, trees, strings of lights and ornaments can be purchased for fairly decent prices.
While Longzhou’s supply is quite limited due to the size of this small town, Nanning as a big city had plenty to offer. On my trips to the Christmas section in Nanning’s chain grocery the Ren Ren Le (Everbody’s Happy), I think I bought out the entire holiday aisle. Dozens of curious Chinese gazed at my cart on my numerous buying sprees. Their eyes grew big when they saw it overflowing with tinsel roping, stockings, lights and everything else I couldn’t pass by.
At the check-out counter, I even had some customers dig through my cart while we waited, pulling out items to ask what we foreigners used them for.
“To make the house look pretty for Christmas,” I told them. “It’s an American tradition.”
Even though China is currently over-run with Christmas decorations placed in stores to give a more festive atmosphere for consumers, buying such things for personal use is considered a waste of money. When the Chinese standing behind me in the grocery line watched the check-out attendant total my goods, they shook their heads in disbelief.
The kids, however, had a different viewpoint. They gazed in awe and wonder at all these sparkly things being stuffed into bags. I could just imagine their thoughts: “The foreigner’s home must be really something to see!”
One little girl had her eyes on a little Santa box I had in my cart. I purchased 10 of these as gifts for my monitors (class leaders) to thank them for their help this semester. Since I had an extra one, I made sure she received it after I’d left the line.
“Merry Christmas!” I told her, handing her the box.
She hesitantly looked at her mother who told her to thank the foreigner and take it. She did so with great care and a huge smile.
The one thing I love about Chinese parents is that when it comes to giving a child something special, there isn’t a big fuss made. No “Oh! Don’t do that. It’s too expensive” or “You don’t know us. Please, take it back.” They understand that gift-giving is a gesture from the heart that should be accepted with gratitude, no matter how big or small the present.
I think that follows for us at Christmastime as well.
And on that last note, I’ll close.
Many, many blessings for your Christmas Sunday and a very happy new year!
As always, Ping An (Peace) from China.