With the countdown to Christmas Day comes bits and pieces of the last few days. Let me fill you in on the happenings from along the Yangtze River.
Choir Rehearsals in Full Swing
From the last entry, you are aware that I have joined the church choir for our Christmas Eve performance celebration and worship. Last I reported, we were all anxiously awaiting the arrival of our UK guest conductor, Robin Palmer, who also spends choral conducting time in Fiji at a Baptist-run seminary.
He arrived last Monday evening and has already held 4 rehearsals every day with our choir as we lead up to Christmas Eve.
Our first night together was Thursday. I must say, we were all a bit nervous to sing well for him and make John proud. John himself was just as worried as we were about making a good impression.
It took a little time for us all, Robin and our group of 40, to get used to one another but not too long. Robin’s encouraging facial expressions, lively gallops to get us singing faster, humorous quips and constant praise brought smiles to everyone’s faces. John sighed with open relief after every complimentary comment was given to us by his former choir director. He beamed with gratitude and happiness the whole night.
John translated Robin’s suggestions, advice and directions throughout all the musical numbers. Many took notes to await our second practice the next evening.
Rehearsal 2 had Robin working on parts that were going astray, not to mention our men who were either behind or ahead of us women on Handel’s Hallelujah chorus and Ding-Dong Merrily on High. There were a few pronunciation difficulties but those had to be eventually laid aside. Some English sounds are not present in Chinese so it’s virtually impossible to get anyone’s mouth to make those in a short amount of time.
Rehearsal 3, Saturday afternoon, I was not able to attend and last night, Sunday, was our go-over before the big night for everyone. I had a wonderful preview of what the children, elderly, teens, soloists and different choir groups are doing.
The service will begin at 7:30 p.m. and finish around 10 p.m. with a visit from Santa Claus. Then from 11 p.m. to midnight, we have our more solemn worship with gentle carols being sung, prayers and testimonials.
Be sure I’ll take plenty of pictures to post later.
Gathering of the Foreigner Teachers
Aside from the usual visits from the students, I managed to pull together a small gathering last Saturday evening for some of our foreign teachers. We had dinner together and then spent 2 hours in my home, enjoying Christmas cookies and talk time with one another.
John and Ashley I already know but the others I hadn’t met before.
Nathan (UK) is a young man who taught at our college last year. He was originally in Chengdu for a year and met his fiancé, a Chinese English teacher who was student teaching at his Chinese high school. She landed a job at a junior high school here in Luzhou so Nathan followed her here. He is now teaching junior high kids at the same school as she is.
Nathan invited his colleague, Vernon, who is from Africa. He is an Information Tech major who has been hopping about the Asian region as an English teacher. He eventually hopes to start a business of some sort so he is making business connections while at the same time teaching.
Kevin (Scottish) and James (Irish) were also in our mix. Both are new teachers to China, teaching English at the PoliceCollege up the road from us. Kevin is retired from the army and James is a police officer who is taking a break for about 5 years to do something different. Teaching in China is certainly different, that’s for sure!
It was nice for all of us to sit back and speak in ease, without slowing down or choosing words to help with non-native speakers. A very relaxing evening and one we hope to repeat next semester, after the holidays.
The Last Hurrah: The Teachers’ Party
The final grand showing of my Christmas house was the English Department’s party, which I arranged on Friday afternoon after the departmental meeting finished. I planned for over 40 teachers in my home, including those who love to show off their toddlers or children by having them tag along.
The party was from 4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., ending when the school buses arrived to pick teachers up and send them home.
As everyone knows, this apartment is very, very small. Dean Horace had informed everyone that they should come in small waves, not descend on me all at once or there wouldn’t be enough room. I was certain I could manage with people coming and going as different groups alternated turns.
This is how I had set up my students to come and it had worked out perfectly.
But in this case, I had no control over groupings of teachers. Dean Horace’s suggestion of different folks at different intervals was a good one but without clear directions, my teacher party pretty much exploded into a holiday zoo.
The Holiday Zoo
Yes, a tidalwave appeared at my door and crowded in with squeals of delight and laughter at all the interesting Christmas things displayed.
Coffee, tea, and cola were available for drinks. My homemade sugar cookies and chocolate truffle balls, plus baskets of fresh tangerines and mixed candies were placed in strategic locations around my home. Photo albums were out for those wanting to see family pictures. My Christmas electronic musical toys were in constant use, especially by our 3 toddlers who munched on cookies while adoring adults pinched their cheeks and handed them around the room for picture taking.
The departmental camera never stopped snapping away, with colleagues shouting for this picture to be taken or that one, or grabbing the photographer and pulling him over to a corner of the room for yet another snapshot.
Ashley came in on the wild fray 30 minutes into our party to join me in entertaining our guests, not that they needed much entertaining. Everyone pretty much found their own happy niche in my standing-room-only flat. Those who hadn’t found a place on the couch or on a stool hustled about to different Christmas stations, taking photos or talking to friends.
Gift Giving, The Chinese Way
An added element to the chaos ensued with the Chinese style of gift-giving, which is to immediately place a wrapped gift into your hands, lean in close and secretly whisper what’s inside.
Revealing the surprise beforehand is because it’s not the custom to unwrap gifts in front of others. The Chinese believe it becomes embarrassing to the receiver to get so much when others aren’t getting anything. Gifts therefore remain in their wrappers until everyone leaves.
My colleagues wouldn’t see me open their special presents so they wanted me to know what was inside right away, thus the habit of constantly spilling the beans.
“This is for you! It’s a scarf. I hope you like it.”
“This is a small purse. I think you can use it a lot.”
“Inside are earrings! I know you always wear them so I think these are nice for you.”
Gifts from all directions were thrust upon me with more people waiting in line to bestow their holiday surprise. My arms were completely full on more than one occasion. I then quickly placed the pile on an empty shelf before yet again getting more packages as more visitors popped through the door.
Nor was I the only one dealing with this gift-giving tradition.
Ashley likewise was inundated with little presents. She ended up making 3 trips downstairs to her apartment to dump things before hustling back again.
End to the Evening: The Happy Hurricane
Yes, there was finally an end to this hectic event when the last guest departed at 6 p.m.
Surveying the apartment was a testament to the fun everyone had had.
Empty candy wrappers everywhere, discarded empty cups on tables or counter spaces, decorations out of place, Santa hats strewn about, dropped cookie pieces scattered across the floor, wrapped gifts spilling off the shelf space and waste baskets overflowing.
In my estimation, a great party is clearly apparent by the aftermath. For this year’s holiday summation? The happy hurricane!
Testing Finishes Off this Week
A sudden school schedule change came last week when the leaders announced Dec. 31 – Jan 4 would be a holiday, closing off the school for an entire week. Students would then return for their finals from Jan. 7 – 20.
The foreign teachers, however, were asked to complete all their exams by this Friday, meaning that I’ve had to cram oral testing of my students into the weekend, then daytime and nighttime hours all week.
With parties, late night choir rehearsals, Christmas celebrations and now testing, it’s becoming quite a busy end to my December, much more so than the last 3 years in Guangxi.
I’m not complaining, though. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Merry Christmas, everyone! From China, blessings and Ping An (peace) for your celebrations of Christ’s birth.