Holidays with my “Ersatz” Family in China


Happy new year or as is said in China, “Xin nian kuai le”!

It’s incredible to believe that it has been more than four months since we arrived here in China. Already our first semester here has wrapped up. We’re starting to feel settled and navigate our way around Nanjing comfortably. Slowly but surely, we are learning little bits of Chinese. I am starting to feel like an old pro when it comes to taking the “black cabs” which are cars driven privately by people for extra cash. I’m able to bargain and make it clear with by brief words and actions that the 10 RMB that they think they can charge this foreigner, is indeed too much- which we both know. I put my hand up showing what looks like an “L” sign and tell the driver, “Ba quai!” which gets all the other drivers waiting around laughing and imitating me. Indeed there is a satisfaction with playing their game on their terms.

Additionally, we’ve made some nice friends here- both Chinese and Western. It just seems that when you live in a foreign city (or any new place), you organically become part of a circle of friends. Derek and I have been lucky to have Mike and Tien in our lives here and they have introduced us to a wider circle of friends as well. Our friend Lucy from London (not known as “Lucy from London”) has been a great downstairs neighbor and a dear friend as she and we both adjusted to living here. We’ve also made some friendships with the Chinese. We’ve enjoyed getting to know our friend Jason and his girlfriend Scorpio who we’ve dined with a few times (loved the dumpling but not a fan of the pigs’ feet!).

It was nice to have our extended “Ersatz” family around on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Christmas here in China was especially memorable. Derek and I hosted a Christmas day pancake breakfast with bacon, Gluehwein and Bloody Marys! Both Chinese and foreign teacher friends came. For many of our Chinese friends, it was either the first time they had “celebrated” Christmas or spent time with Westerners on Christmas. For the Chinese, Christmas is indeed seen as a Western holiday or “our” holiday so people love wishing you “Merry Christmas”. Anyway, in the evening of Christmas, we went to a potluck dinner hosted by two of the foreign teachers here. Secret Santa gifts were exchanged; food ranging from rosemary chicken to Chinese duck was gobbled up; and then there was lots of alcohol consumption. After the potluck dinner, we all went caroling at the student dormitories. The students loved it!!! We felt a little like celebrities.

Christmas was indeed different but memorable. As for new years, that was fun but came and went without any particular fanfare. It could be because January 1st is just another day here. It doesn’t compare in significance to the spring festival or Chinese New Year. The Chinese do indeed enjoy the festive side of the Western holiday season. It’s not uncommon to see ornaments in shopping areas, people dressed up in red Santa outfits and to hear Christmas tunes playing. However, all of that is quickly shelved on December 26th. Now everything is decked out for the upcoming spring festival or Chinese New Year in early February.

For Spring festival this year, Derek and I will be in Vietnam celebrating their Tet Festival and then wrapping up the Chinese new year festivities in Southern China. Today we (along with many of the other foreign teachers) will be going on an overseas trip to the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Yunnan province in Southern China. We won’t be back in our Chinese hometown until February 17th. There is much anticipation for both Derek and I as we head out on this trip, especially as we visit the Philippines. In addition to linking up with Derek’s father and his family, I am anxious to see my former home of five years from my childhood and early adolescence. Many of you know me as someone who is super nostalgic for the 80’s, particularly through cheesy 80’s tunes. Many of my associations and memories from the 80’s come from those five years in Manila from 1984-1989. I’m anxious to explore for a day with Derek where we lived and some other old haunts. I would love to go back to the old campus of ISM where we went to school but I know that ISM has now moved to a new and swankier campus. I know it’s foolish to expect to arrive back in Manila and for it to be the same as it was in 1989 when we left. However, I just want to relive some of it- briefly for a day. And, I’m curious to see how much Manila has changed in the 20+ years!

So, while we’re celebrating our holidays belatedly here in Asia, we will be thinking of all of you- our friends and family all over the world.
Xin nian hao (Happy Chinese new year!)!

Originally published: January 7, 2011


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