Hopefully over the next two years I'll be sharing some amazing stories and photos, from what I know is going to be a life-changing experience.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy (Gregorian) New Year!

This holiday season has been a strange one.  It's been a lot of fun - full of good food, good people, and a bit of adventure - but it never really felt like Christmas to me.  I think that's due to a few reasons.  The city itself didn't have that festive energy, and I didn't get to do any of my usual Christmas traditions.  So here's the story of my Chinese Christmas Holiday.

Christmas Eve
A boy band gets the night's
entertainment started!
A mother from our school owns a large restaurant, and often hosts holiday parties.  She gave the staff free tickets, including ones for family who were visiting.  In all, 24 of us went.  When I arrived, I was greeted by a ticket taker, and 3 Santas and a clown handing out apples.    Three of us tried to communicate that we were the teachers and looking for our tables, which were supposed to be reserved.  Finally, I called another teacher who speaks Mandarin to talk to a waitress.  Another reminder of just how different English and Mandarin are, and how little I can actually communicate.  Dinner was served buffet style, and included a lot of sea food, and surprisingly good turkey.  You had to get your ticket stamped if you wanted giant shrimp or abolone, as those were limited to 2 per person.  Once the entertainment started, it became clear why every table had some hand clappers, multi-coloured light up mini light sabres and whistles....cheering and applause is a big thing here.  The acts included a Korean boy band cover group, Korean girl cover group, a guy who stopped a saw with two fingers, ballad singers, a transvestite singer (one person doing what should be a male/female duet) and more that I'm probably forgetting.  I actually knew the Korean songs - I was a little shocked that I recognized anything at all (thanks to the senior students for showing me music videos).  Prizes were also handed out.  One teacher's mom (from Canada) won a hot plate, which is actually quite a good prize as many Chinese apartments don't have real kitchens.  The principal won 8 crabs.  Apparently of the very high quality, rare, expensive variety.  But still, the principal won crabs.

Christmas Day
I attended a church service at one of the international churches with some of the teachers.  It wasn't actually a service, mostly a lot of singing and the nativity story.  It was unusual in that the regular Chinese public were allowed to attend.  Normally they aren't allowed to go to foreign churches.  I'm not entirely sure why...
Later the 4 of us went to dinner with some teachers from the high school, and a group of people they know (mostly students from Korea and India).  We went to a famous dumpling restaurant, and were seated in a room with a very large table, with an equally large lazy susan.  We ate multiple types of dumplings (my favourite was the egg/green pepper), both fried and steamed, plus rice, stir fried vegetables, mashed potatoes and a custard-y dessert. After eating for a few hours, our bill came to 36 kuai per person.  That is, a large meal at a fancy restaurant cost me about $5.50.

Mid-Week Trip to JinShiTan
Secretly taking pictures in the Tang Dynasty
Hot Springs Resort Lobby 
On Wednesday, Monica and I took the light rail train into JinShiTan, which is technically a suburb of Dalian, and consists mostly of the Maple Leaf junior high and high school campuses, the American School campus, a Disneyland like park, and a beach/golf resort.  We spent the afternoon at the Tang Dynasty Hot Springs, which recently opened.  I quite enjoyed it - particularly the white wine with flowers pool.  Another highlight was sitting in the coffee pool outside while it was snowing.  Everything was clean and well-kept.  Towels, sandals, shampoo and other shower items, tooth brushes/tooth paste, and t-shirt/shorts were all provided.  It also had a 'rest area', which I also encountered at a massage place I went to a few weeks ago. Basically it's a giant room full of recliner loungers, and each one has it's own tv.  Snack and drinks are available.  Technically you could sleep there overnight for no extra charge if you felt like it - which makes me wonder how the business at the attached hotel is.  The only annoying thing was that half of the outdoor pools were closed (empty).
We then went to the Maple Leaf campus and had dinner with a friend of Monica's at the Lopunny Cafe, which is owned by a 15 year old student.  Entrepreneurship is alive and well in China.  We stayed overnight with another friend, and drooled over her on-campus apartment.  It was like being in Canada...with a bathtub and everything!  The next day we toured around campus, and sat in on some classes.  The campuses (there are 2 - a boys and girls) are huge.  Like small university campus size.  However, as soon as I walked in the door, it felt just like being in high school.  Except all of the students are Chinese.
Final act of the Gala
That afternoon there was a New Year's Gala performance put on by all of the Chinese teachers.  I had been warned that it was going to be terrible, but opted to go anyway, since my other option was to sit outside the auditorium waiting for the teachers I was going back to Dalian with.  The gala was entertaining, and very China.  It consisted of dance and singing acts, and everyone decked out in sparkly, over the top costumes.  Overall I enjoyed it, even if I didn't understand much.  One exception to that was one dance number that included two 6 year old girls, decked out in flashy, incredibly short dresses and a lot of make up, dancing in a very provocatively way, that they could only have learnt from a dance teacher. Incredibly disturbing.  The other surprise was a song done by none other than our Super Intendant (although if I had looked at the pictures in the program carefully I would have known ahead of time).

New Year's Eve
Linda (from the high school) and I
at Brooklyn's
The night started with dinner at Brooklyn's, a restaurant that serves great western food (the owner is from NYC).  There were about 16 of us, mostly all Maple Leaf teachers from a few different schools.  The Specials menu included a drink called the 2011, and when I asked what was in it, they wouldn't tell me what was in it ("You'll know when you try it").  I figured they wouldn't feature something awful, so I ordered one, and it was quite good - probably vodka, with some kind of orange/citrusy mix.  After dinner, some people went home, others to their hotel room, and others to change.   8 of us met at Club Mango - or at least that's what I thought it was called - the sign read ManGo, so from now on it will be Club Man Go.  As far as we could tell we were the only foreigners, which unfortunately garnered some unwanted attention.  I'm glad we were almost evenly split gender-wise.
Random pyrotechnics at
Club Man Go
Highlights include the random pyrotechnics and bubbles, German pop music, and dance/song performance at midnight.  As it was packed and very smokey (one of the most annoying things about China) we decided it was time for some water....which was stupidly expensive so we decided to leave and go somewhere else.  I should probably point out that if I had bought the water, it would have still been cheaper than in Canada, especially because the clubs here don't charge cover.  But really the heat and haze were enough to drive us out anyway.  We walked down the street to a foreigner's pub called Friendly Pub, where it was much quieter and relaxed - a good way to end the night.

And that was the end of 2010.  This time last year I would have never imagined that I am where I am now, so I'm expecting 2011 to be an interesting year.

1 comment:

  1. Sara!!! Happy New Year!!! Your post made me go "aww" and laugh and miss you a lot! I'm so glad you had a great Xmas and New Years - sounds like a blast!! I wish you only the best for 2011 - it will surely be a wonderful year!! Keep the posts coming xoxo