Christmas time, Pollution and Flu

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Unless you’ve got a killer cold and the pollution is off the scale, in which case it’s Christmas in Shijiazhuang!

This festive season, I was, as previously stated, full of cold. Mainly affecting my throat, it meant that I sounded sterner in class which was nice, but the slight fever meant that I could not control my temperature and therefore didn’t wear enough clothes in class (according to the kids. I assure you all, I was well covered!). While it made me short-tempered, I was able to enjoy my Christmas classes with the students and the Christmas party with the foreign students. (Cultural Exchanges).

The annual Christmas gift from the government this year was a kettle. Sounds underwhelming, but it has the ability to keep water hot! This has been very useful lately. After the handshake, we had to go for lunch with some of the officials, which was bizarre, but had good food! Plus the restaurant had fish everywhere which I kept staring at 😀

Last year on Christmas Day, we had a lovely buffet meal at the Hilton, but this year with the day being a weekend, we had to settle for Christmas Eve Eve! After faffing last year with expensive wine we brought our own in, and proceeded to have an excellent night chatting, eating and being merry. Unfortunately, the combination of wine and flu meant that I woke up on Saturday with a migraine which immobilised me all day, and I missed out on the Christmas Eve get together.

By Christmas Day I’d recovered enough to have brunch and secret Santa with the squad downstairs before trekking across the city, cooked goose in tow, for more celebrations and food at Sarah’s apartment. I’m still not sure how we all crammed into her living room and cooked more than enough food for all of us in her tiny kitchen and oven.Eventually everything had been cooked and we sat down to a meal which included goose fat roast potatoes, YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS, gravy and mash. It was spectacular!! Afterwards a couple of people slightly died and we all just chatted and played games.

All in all it was a good Christmas, even if it was ridiculously polluted and I was sick!

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Stories from China: The Dumpling Shop

Fair play, this isn’t actually one story, but I took some funny footage in the dumpling shop and really wanted to share it with the world.

Many times in my blog i’m sure i’ve made reference to the Dumpling Shop. It’s a local restaurant about 2 minutes from my flat which has become our regular spot for cheap and easy meals when we want to be social or don’t feel like cooking. It was the first place me, Izzie and Sam ate when we arrived here and it will probably be one of the last places I eat at too. It’s speciality, shockingly enough, is dumplings, but it also sells lots of other dishes.

Like I said, we go there often, probably at least every 2 weeks in winter and more in summer when it’s less polluted. The staff know us, we have nicknames for them, they keep beer cold for us sometimes and they know I hate spice in my food. Being foreign and usually in a big group means that the other patrons like to stare at us, and after they’ve had enough to drink, they come and chat. Sometimes we’re not in the mood and leave early, but if we’ve had enough to drink and its late enough, hilarious encounters ensue, the latest one of which I managed to film some of. Rather than write anymore, I’m just going to put 2 videos here of when a Chinese man we’d previously met came for a chat the other week.

Cheers!

Discussing Rap…

Discussing Languages (my favourite video)…

Cultural Exchanges

In December the foreign teachers and I were lucky enough to be invited to 2 separate parties celebrating the festive season. At the first, the foreign students had prepared several small performances and the foreign teachers had prepared nothing, so hastily assembled and wowed everyone with a rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’. The Christmas party was much less formal that what I expected, and once the performances were over we were able to just chat and mess about (mainly with the wig we’d bought for the New Years party).

As part of the New Years celebrations at the school, we sacrificed one of our lunchtimes to attend a party with the foreign students, the senior special classes, everyone in the foreign affairs office and small children and their parents. I’m still not entirely sure who the small children and parents were but they seemed to enjoy themselves. Now, like the party I attended in class 4 last year (新年快乐!) this was less of a social affair and more of a talent show. After much complaining, we were informed that we had to put on some form of performance for everyone, and after a quick accidental brainstorming session on the staircase one evening, we decided to stage a traditional English pantomime, complete with a panto dame, audience participation and free sweets.

Putting my A-level in drama to good use, I became a minor character (although I received good feedback from the students!). The basic story was that after skipping school, naughty students opened up a rift in space-time and fell into a strange world where an evil cat witch was turning everyone into cats. Poor Sean was tasked with narrating in Chinese, and everyone else got to prance about on stage. Although we were worried they wouldn’t understand what was happening, the students laughed at the jokes as well as at the panto dame and the physical comedy and it was a right laugh.

After our spectacular performance, it was the turn of the foreign affairs office who had also been forced to do something on stage and then the special students and the foreign students. I was genuinely impressed by what the students were doing, including playing traditional instruments, painting, rapping and dancing. One class performed an extract from Merchant of Venice (which included a spectacular mustachioed student) and as well as remembering their lines, they actually added emotion into the dialogue too. I had to leave early to teach (even though I begged Sarah to move my class) and was gutted to miss the students performance of King Lear.

However, as luck would have it, I taught both special classes that afternoon. I’d quickly realised that my lesson plan on animal synonyms would kill the adrenaline and happiness from the party so decided to play games with them instead. It also meant that I got to see an encore of King Lear after asking nicely.

I was really apprehensive about the performance and the party in general but it ended up being a great lunch and I enjoyed myself.

I’m dreaming of a smoggy Christmas….


Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you had a fantastic day and Santa was generous to you all! As was to be expected, Christmas in Shijiazhuang was a unique experience and very different to my Christmases in the UK and Australia. To start with, the Chinese don’t really celebrate Christmas at all, it’s not a public holiday, students still go to school (mine even had exams!) and to most people here it’s just another day. Christmas Eve however has its own tradition: Apple giving. A few weeks ago I noticed that a lot of my students were writing ‘apples’ on the board when I asked them to write what they knew about Christmas. After some questioning and explanation, it turns out that on Christmas Eve, many students give apples to their teachers to convey peace and good fortune. I got 3 myself,not bad at all!


Yep, under all that wrapping is an apple!

So instead of having a typical Christmas Eve of wrapping presents I worked until almost 7pm. After that a few of us went out for dinner (tradition of Chinese food on Christmas Eve still intact) which was paid for by some Chinese friends of ours which we ran into. That was much appreciated and began the feeling of happiness and merriment which continued into the early hours of the morning, (I eventually kicked Sam and Izzie out around 3). I also finally replaced my phone with Sean’s iPhone so spent the evening practicing panoramas – expect to see many in the future. With a countdown to Christmas Day at midnight,  it turned into a great evening.

Christmas Day I woke up early and immediately put on Muppets Christmas Carol and made a  cup of Yorkshire tea with asda milk. After watching Love Actually, it was time to swap secret Santa gifts. I ended up getting some Japanese tea from Marta, and Sam brought me down a much appreciated M&S mince pie! Then it was time to get dressed up and head to the Hilton for a dinner.


  
We were at the Hilton from the minute it opened to when they asked us to leave. There was so much food, and such good wine. Because there were so many of us we had our own private room which meant we could laugh and talk loudly, just like a regular Christmas meal. We were even able to have turkey, although with a side of potato wedges or hash browns; I had 5 plates of food!!

        

After a nightmare getting a taxi home, I was eventually able to crawl into bed , watch the Grinch and skype family.

Boxing Day dawned bright and early, and me Izzie and Sam ventured to Sarahs house for gift giving and movie watching. We had all eaten so much the day before that we weren’t hungry in the slightest, and we were going out for dinner that night with Mr Johns mayor friend, so we wanted to save our appetite. The late night had got to those of us who had gone out the night before, so whilst me and Sam watched Harry Potter, the others slept.

      

Once we’d woken them up it was time to go to a fancy Chinese restaurant and have a Pingyao reunion. We quickly found our appetites, and had some lovely Peking duck and more good wine. By the end of this meal I was exhausted, and not looking forward to lesson planning the next day!



  
All in all, it was a very different Christmas compared to what I’m used to, but I enjoyed every second of it. 圣诞 快乐!