This year Christmas was different, to say the least. I began the holiday by saying goodbye to three friends with whom I had become closest since arriving here. My roommate Keith, Amy, and Lorena had all planned to leave China in time to be home for Christmas, so right before the holiday we had to part ways. I was not terribly unsettled about those goodbyes. Maybe it was due to the fact that I truly believe I’ll stay in touch with them (and I’m definitely inviting myself to the U.K. to visit them).
My friend, and new roommate, Katie, seemed more upset than I was about not being home for Christmas, so we drowned her sorrows in hot chocolate, Christmas candy, and classic movies like The Santa Clause, Elf, and The Polar Express.
On Christmas day I forced Christmas cheer upon my Chinese roommate (who doesn’t celebrate Christmas). I had the honor of giving him his first Christmas card he’s ever received and later I taught him how to create paper snowflakes. To make ourselves miss home less, Katie and I went to get massages and lunch together and afterward, we joined a friend and his co-workers for a big American-style turkey dinner. The wonderful air of relaxation I found after a full spa day and delicious meal confirmed that was the best money I have spent so far in Beijing.
Most of the people I have met while abroad are in a similar situation as I am and gaining the same sense of independence that comes with renting an apartment in a foreign country while working or interning full time. The exception is two of my friends from the U.K., Lorena and Amy, who are here during their undergrad studies to teach English and placed with a Chinese host family. They are full of stories from an entirely different perspective of life here in Beijing; mostly their host moms treating them to nice dinners, traditional Chinese home life, and the mothers having each other over for in-home facials and beauty treatments (à la Real Housewives).
I finally got to visit them this weekend and it was perfect timing–Christmas lights were roped across front porches to create a decadent Christmas-y feeling. I almost felt like I had left the bustling city for the suburbs. Almost.
Lorena trying her hand at DJing earlier that night
After pestering an old Chinese rickshaw driver (who spoke no English) during a night out, Lorena and I convinced him to let us pedal his bicycle and carriage down the street. I was able to get an awesome video of onlookers cheering and the driver chasing after her, but sadly there’s no proof of me navigating the bike. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
I must give those drivers kudos–the bike is much harder to get going than you’d ever expect!
Hearing about news in the U.S. while currently outside of the country leaves for unique outside perspective. After hearing about the school shooting in Connecticut, I received my daily Chinese news to which I am subscribed. The author had a very interesting insight to gun control in the U.S., pointing out the fact that the extreme gun control China enforces may just be a smart idea.
“Guns don’t attack children; psychopaths and sadists do. But guns uniquely allow a psychopath to wreak death and devastation on such a large scale so quickly and easily. America is the only country in which this happens again — and again and again.”
Something to ponder…
Jake, pre-microwave incident…
The other day I came home from work to find the lid of a pot I usually use completely charred. The plastic handle was melted into an unusable glob and the once-silver metal surrounding it was blackened. My first thought was that I had mindlessly left the stove on, caught the lid on fire, and almost burnt the entire apartment complex down.
I approached my Chinese roommate, half expecting him to become angry at my careless mistake, but instead he started giggling (yes, giggling) nervously and averted his eyes from me in embarrassment. After I pestered Jake to tell me what happened, he finally confessed that he had put a bowl of porridge in the microwave and covered it with the metal lid. He expressed genuine surprise at the small explosion that had caused in the microwave.
I never realized this, but where microwaves are commonplace kitchen appliances in an American home, Chinese people are not as familiar with them. After asking, the majority of Chinese people I know here have only owned a microwave for a year or so. Luckily, Jake has me to explain the dos and don’ts of microwave-ing.
As you groggily stumble down the steps into the subway station to escape the frigid wind howling outside, the woman in front of you comes to a complete halt to check her phone. You grumble and swerve around her only to become stuck shuffling slowly in wave of black haired commuters. After waddling in sync with the crowd, you wait for the subway and yawn as the guy next to you sneezes. Rather than covering his mouth, he intentionally shoots snot onto the ground. You shudder, imagining how many germs are infecting the surrounding air. Once you have finally shoved your way onto and off of the jam-packed subway, you seek happiness in ordering your favorite cup of coffee. To your horror, instead of receiving said coffee, you hear, “mei you” (which sounds like mayo and means we don’t have it). There goes your day.
Everyone has those days during which it seems that everything that can go wrong does go wrong. While being abroad, those days are amplified by such foreign and unfamiliar surroundings. It doesn’t help that “mei you” is one of the most frequently used phrases in Beijing. I’ve found that pushing myself to learn background about Beijing’s culture, studying the language, and having some Chinese friends helps to turn lemons into lemonade.
The English Christmas songs and strings of lights that have popped up around Beijing don’t hurt for a mood boost either 🙂