Christmas in China was very different. Of course. The week before, Kat and I did manage to do some festive things like spending a night baking Christmas treats for the people we work with, making our own wrapping out of ribbon and Christmas paper for said treats and even watching Love Actually whilst sharing a bottle of wine that was the colour of apple juice and tasted like cleaning product. N.B. Do not get excited by cheap Chinese supermarket wine, and next time, do not buy three bottles without tasting it first.
The last day of school before the Christmas weekend was odd although it did turn out to be quite fun. In the morning, Kat and I put our Santa hats on and went round the offices handing out our Christmas presents. Everyone seemed very happy about them and were even impressed with our packaging that looked like it had been made by five year olds. We had a relatively lazy morning with no classes and then after lunch it was time for the dreaded parents observation lesson. As I sat at my desk with my stomach feeling like jelly, Sabrina, one of the girls we work with, said “Hannah, you always look so calm when you’re nervous”. Ha. I didn’t feel it. The lesson however, seemed to go smoothly enough. I tried to impress the staring, stony faced parents by saying ‘Hello, welcome to my class’ in Chinese which gained a huge round of applause from my students, definitely a confidence boost. The only awkward part of the lesson was when I asked the students to write and, as usual, they began to work in complete silence with their parents sitting by them, also in complete silence. This lasted for an awfully long ten minutes and I grew more eager to break the silence with awkward and unnecessary comments that would not be understood, but I managed to hold it in.
With the lesson over I breathed a huge sigh of relief and to celebrate, we were then treated to a party. I say party but it was the strangest party I have ever been to. Various students performed songs and played musical instruments on a stage whilst everyone watched in between which, what appeared to be very complicated to explain party games were played with Christmas cards still in their wrappers handed out as gifts. We also received a party bag containing bananas and sweetcorn flavour crisps. As Kat and I were in the middle of speaking to each other over the noise, we suddenly heard our names announced and the music to ‘Hey Jude’, the song we had decided to sing two hours previously, began to play. Completely unprepared and dazed, we ran onto the stage where, once again microphones were thrust into our hands and we had to begin to sing. Due to our delay at choosing the song, and thus not practicing, we had to bring a piece of paper with the words on stage and unfortunately as the song went on, we found ourselves at different lines on the page and so therefore singing different words. When I say singing what I really mean is shouting into the microphone and by the stunned looks on my students’ faces in the audience, they were beginning to realize why I always refuse to sing for them in class. With a failed attempt at audience participation for ‘Na na na, na na na nah…’ the song was finally over and everyone was free to uncover their ears.
After this amusing party, there was a special dinner for us and the other English teachers. This was the traditional Chinese dinner party way of eating around a big round table with glass on the middle that moves, making everything easier to share. As the food was put down on the table, I got very excited to see potato salad but like everything that looks like something in particular in China, it never is, and as the plate came spinning round to my end of the table and I eagerly put the first piece of potato in my mouth, it was clearly melon. Served in a creamy sauce with cucumber. Obviously. Still, it is surprising how well fruit and yogurt goes with roast duck and spicy seafood soup all on the same plate, helped along by 14.8% red wine. Yes. After dinner, Mr Jing handed out Christmas presents to us all and I received a pretty bracelet, a very generous gift.
With the wine going to our heads and the happy feeling that the week was over and it was finally Christmas, Kat and I persuaded the other teachers to come to the bar with us. Although they didn’t stay too long, me, Kat and a new teacher, Violy, managed to stay out until 3, dancing to the live band and eating abnormal amounts of peanuts with our beer.
The three o’clock bedtime seemed like a good idea at the time but when my alarm went off four hours later it was not so fun. However, no school and a trip to Shanghai was enough to have me rolling out of bed and we were soon on the bus sleeping off our hangovers.
We got off the bus in Shanghai and went straight for lunch, to a noodle shop just next to the bus station where we watched the chef make our noodles from fresh dough, stretching them out in his fingers like cat’s cradle and banging them hard on a steal surface to flatten them before throwing them in the pot of steaming water. Delicious.
After this we spent a good two hours of our Christmas Eve trying to find a hostel that neither of us had printed off any directions or address for. When we finally found it, it wasn’t really the most homely of places and so we left to explore the Shanghai evening. We headed straight to the French Concession where lots of cafes and restaurants were lit up with Christmas lights and festive music played whilst we strolled through the little streets. We went to a posh bar for a drink but suddenly the realization hit that it was Christmas and although we tried to force excitable feelings, it didn’t feel quite right. I did have a very nice glass of wine though. We decided to cheer ourselves up and go to a carol service but, on arriving at the church it seemed that this was a tourist destination for the Chinese on this day. The church was packed, people jammed around the door taking photos and the grounds were full of people too. Feeling a bit annoyed, we listened to one carol shown on a big screen outside and then headed to the only bar we could find, most of the clientele being really drunk sixty year old English men who spent the night saying things like “You can pull my cracker…hahaha”. No thanks.
Christmas morning was very strange. Kat had got up early to speak to her family on skype and so I woke up in a dormitory with no one I knew, pitch black because three of the girls were still sleeping. The girl who was awake said hello and so I replied with a ‘Merry Christmas’ to which she looked at me as if another head had just grown from my shoulder. Things got a little better after this as we bought bread and cakes from a bakery and went for coffee. It was a beautiful sunny day and so we walked along the Bund with roast chestnuts that we bought from a street seller and enjoyed the morning taking pictures of each other next to various different Christmas trees.
We then had a trippy experience in the ‘Sightseeing Tunnel’ that goes under the river to the other side of the city where you travel in a little glass train as lights flash and sparkle and huge inflatable people wave at you. After this we were on the Pudong side of Shanghai, a much more quiet and calm area of the city but one that is much more expensive. We decided as it was Christmas day to treat ourselves to a ticket to go up the financial tower, the second tallest building in the world, where from the 100th floor you can see out across the whole city, or at least try to through the smog. The view was amazing and definitely a cool thing to say I have done on Christmas day.
After this, Annah, Lindsay and Lucy arrived from Ningbo and we went for a late lunch at an Italian restaurant. The food was delicious, probably mostly due to the fact that I have not had cheese for so long. We spent some time catching up and then in the evening went on a ridiculous quest to find a bar (apparently a difficult thing to come by in Shanghai) involving taxis dropping us off in different areas and a taxi taking me and Kat for a twenty minute journey to the middle of nowhere when all we wanted to be was two minutes down the road from where we had got in. We finally all met back up again and, finding a dark, shady bar, decided we had to go in for at least one drink and so we sat in a dingy corner and all managed to see the funny side of what a strange Christmas day it had been.
Kat and I had been given boxing day off too but before I knew it I was back at work in the cold office spending my day doing revision lessons and talking about indirect speech. Never before have I wanted my pyjamas and a turkey sandwich more. Really not long to go before we finish now though. Today there will be another ‘party’ at the school, this time for celebrating New Years. For some reason Kat and I have been asked to perform again and so to prove the point that we do not enjoy being forced into public singing, we are going to give ‘Hey Jude’ another bash….