Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holidays in China, copy of 2001 post

January 10, 2001

Well, we've made it through the western holidays and are headed into China's

big holiday, Spring Festival, which comes around the Asian lunar new year,

which is different from the Jewish lunar new year--well, anyway, it starts

maybe 10 days from now and runs for around 10 days, ending with the Lantern

Festival, another festival of light.

But I'm ahead of myself. This was one of those years when Hannukah crosses

Christmas, so, as is the custom in our family (something Michelle started, I

believe)when there's a decent-sized gap in there, we hung up our "stockings"

(Anne-Sarah has her Mickey Mouse sorcerer hat from last year, Seth and I

each had a small shopping bag) the day after Thanksgiving and put random and

sometimes funny (like the two stuffed green pigs A-S gave me--they're

nose-to-nose and when you pull them apart one vibrates until they meet

again!)presents in each others' stockings when we feel like it. It's fun,

and also yet another way to take some of the pressure off Xmas. When

Hannukah began (Dec. 21 eve), we stopped the stockings until Xmas eve. We

lit our menorah, sang the boruchas, had a few friends over, made

latkes --potatoes, onions, eggs, and flour are available here, although we

had to chop the ingredients for lack of a grater (we've since acquired a

couple of graters consisting of a metal grating surface mounted on wood, but

also actually had another batch of latkes after Hannukah when I found one of

those plastic sliding slicer/dicer/grater doodads with the drop in blades in

our local department store!)

On Christmas eve we made our 2 boxes of stovetop cornbread stuffing using

our own Chinese chicken soup base plus onions, celery, eggs, milk, and some

of the lovely seasonings sent by various friends from Kunming ot Brazil

(thanks again, one and all--what a difference THAT made) and our turkey

gravy mix, also seasoned, and we had fresh snow peas that Anne-Sarah found

at the market--it was a lovely meal. We all had filled "stockings which we

emptied--we lit the menorah , but don't do Hannukah presents on Christmas


A couple of days later we went out for a "Western" Christmas dinner with the

principal and a few other people--it was right after that awful fire, so we

had to change our destination--A-S and I suggested a fast-food place we'd

found that does the best western fried chicken we've had in China, but we

ended up at a somewhat nicer restaurant, where we got what was billed as a

western steak dinner--overcooked, rather tough meat in a very spicy sauce,

spaghetti, a nice salad of grated cabbage and carrots with a sort of Waldorf

dressing, excellent rolls, really delicious broccoli (a side dish--barely

cooked, with just a hint of sesame oil) , and some wonderful fresh figs. It

was expensive, too--our consensus was that we would have done better at a

Chinese restaurant.

Oh, and of course we had the traditional Christmas dinner in the school

cafeteria--it was much better this year than last. There were some patties

that might have been chicken but were probably pork nuggets, spaghetti with

actual tomato sauce ("almost like real spaghetti-os" Seth), sort of French

bread with jam (no spam), white bread with spam and cucumbers (I took this

for the cukes, but it turned out to be just one thin slice per "sandwich"),

fried rice (with spam, corn, peas,), and some cooked snow peas. I may have

left something out--there were probably one or 2 other boiled meat dishes

and a veggie like greens and mushrooms or bean sprouts. And of course the

traditional kettles of hot instant NesCafe and hot Tang (they did actually

provide disposable cups instead of our usual metal bowls for this(.

Actually, it wasn't bad--it just wasn't western.

For my birthday, on the 29th, Anne-Sarah, David, and Seth set up a party of

what turned out to be about a dozen people at a nice Muslim restaurant where

we had individual hot pots at the table to cook our food, which came in all

sorts of varieties--meat, eggs, noodles, veggies, mushrooms, fish balls,

etc., etc., all beautifully presented on a revolving table. Three of my

second-graders were allowed to join us--Daisy, who's become sort of another

grandchild, Amber, who speaks the most English, and Sarah, who's my best

reader. They're all delightful and managed to amuse themselves decorating

the potted trees with origami boats while we finished eating (I insisted on

having the cake AFTER the meal, a very un-Chinese thing to do, but they were

very patient with me). The cake was enormous, delicious, and topped by a

monkey AND a dragon--A-S' idea. We ate about half and I shared the rest with

the girls' class, which had just managed to achieve a class average of 89+

on my oral English exams, the next day.

This week we've had 2 banquets--ons at school and one at the Peony Hotel

(see photos of the peacock sculpture (made of eggplant, sweet potato?, and

candied cherries with the cabbage and carrot phoenix barely visible on a

plate in the background, plus one of your intrepid correspondents trying

some pretty decent local red wine.

The school banquet was very good--a wide variety of meat, fish patties,

really good mushrooms, sponge cake, little cakes with bean paste, eggy

pancakes, and beer or shwae-bee (phonetic, not pinyin, spelling)--Sprite. We

unfortunately didn't know about it until after we'd eaten dinner with the

kids, so were unable to do it full justice.

The Peony Hotel banquet, as usual was superlative--- a

buffet--standouts--crispy duck, a pork roast and broccoli in a wonderful

sauce, real rolls and real butter, superb tangerines, little dessert sort of

doughnuts in what might have been a honey suce, and, best of all, TWO

SALADS! Real salads--lettuce, tomatoes, uncooked cukes, in one, beans,

corn, and cabbage in the other. A rather thick but pleasantly mustardy

dressing as well as what looked like thousand island. Can you guess what

occupied most of my plate?

We have decided to give ourselves a family gift of a digital camera for all

these assorted holidays, so I was also busy on the net doing research and

shopping auctions. The cameras (we ended up with a small cheap one, a Fuji

for David, and an Olympus for us, as well as a World Wrestling Federation

SlamCam sent to our grandson (maybe we'll see some photos now?), plus an

Iomega drive that will let us download 40 megs of photos away from the

computer) have not arrived yet, so we're all anxiously waiting and hoping

to have them to take on our vacations.

Somewhere in there we also spent 2 days at Longmen Grottoes as it was

dedicated/celebrated as a world cultural site (so declared by UNESCO),

looking foreign and being photographed. Today we discovered that Seth and I

had our pics in the local paper (maybe on Jan. 1?) as the first foreigners

to come to Longmen after the declaration had been made! David's scanned the

photo and is trying to email it to me--if it works (or if we can download to

a disk and do it that way) I'll try to attach it.

The second day of that celebration we were also visited by 2 foreign

teachers, Shannon and Alison, and Shannon's son, Cameron, who's one of the

most self-possessed and confident 7-year olds it's been my pleasure to meet.

They will be returning this weekend not only to teach at our school, but to

go on our Spring Festival Vacation with us--we are quite delighted, as is

the aforementioned second-grade class, which gets Cameron as a classmate.

And of course we had all the usual classes plus the individual oral English

tests we're each expected to do for 300 or so students. Actually, I managed

to pull off a sort of western-style school winter holiday party with my

first and second graders just before we left for the short break that ran

for about a week before Christmas. I told them that it was traditional for

the last class before the vacation to be a party, and that, in the west,

parties ALWAYS include treats to eat--so I handed out lollipops to all of

them. And parties usually have decorations or favors--so everyone got a

double balloon. And we had some singing--we'd been doing "O Christmas

Tree/O ShangDan Shu", and had talked about decking the halls, so we sang a

lot of "fa la las"--a great way to teach the use of commas to even

kindergarteners, by the way, since the number of notes doesn't change but

the grouping does--and drew pictures, and generally had a relaxed good time.

Now, about the candy and balloons--one of the places I went with Shannon and

Alison was the huge GuanLin market, on the way back from Longmen.

It's not our everyday market--it must cover several acres and we're not yet

sure what all is sold there, but some of the street vendors obviously buy

there (need a hundred plastic glow-in-the-dark-Buddha keychains for 59 yuan?

this is the place)--we got about 150 lollies for 4 yuan (about 50 cents),

200 double balloons for maybe 25, trading cards, origami paper, etc. at

similar discounts--I also picked up an artificial Christmas tree , which we

decorated with red flocked lanterns, paper chains, Santa lights, and various

origami and cutouts form students, and various other decorations and

goodies. We still haven't found the fabric section, but are assured that

one exists. We'll be back.

I took some pretty good videos of the Longmen celebration and have now been

informed that I can have my videos put on VCDs which you can then play in

your VCD/DVD players, so we're going to give it a try. The sounds come

through fairly well, but I wish you could get the smells, too.

We didn't leave town for the short holiday, but took advantage of the free

time to visit the Guangzhou market, where we do much of our shopping, and

also the "new" reopened Shanghai market--it now has a wide paved walking

plaza, with ornate lampposts and buildings that I'm sure most of the

previous vendors can't afford to rent along it--also a magnificent white

building with ornate gold lettering proclaiming "Water Closet" in English

and Chinese. However, we noticed that there are still some spaces between

the buildings and that some of them lead to alleys. Naturally, that's where

we go--we've found a wonderful and very friendly Muslim restaurant there, a

nd Anne-Sarah just had a gorgeous chi-pao (Chinese traditional dress) made

(for about $25, including the fabric) at a shop in the across-the-street

part, which hasn't (thank goodness) been yuppified yet. I asked David who

could afford to shop at the new market, and he said, "Think about

it--Luoyang has 6 million people-1% would be enough." and he's right, of

course, we live in a poor province, but not everyone's poor, and there are

enough people who aren't to support this sort of thing. It's too bad,

though--the flavor of shopping here has been diluted, and we can go to the

candy store beloved by A-S and Daisy and spend more on 6 cones (50

gm.---less than 2 oz.--each) of candy than we did on lunch for 4 people!

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