Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Holidays, pt. I: Christmas, Code Word “Cheer”

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My year ended on a gluttonous spree of events from pre-Christmas through New Year’s Day. This wasn’t my first bout with the holidays sans family. I managed to bunker myself into a small piece of America in 2004. Literally. A good friend’s family invited me in during a wayward tour of Europe. They lived on a USAF in the middle of western Germany. That was a fantastic holiday. “Bitte Ein Bit!”

My Asian adaptation began with me walking the streets of the ghetto dressed head-to-toe as Jolly Ol’ Saint Slick. My reinterpretation featured a skinny Santa, with a white Tai-chi belt, red Pumas, and a pair of reflective aviators. I went door to door Ho-ho-hoing with Xmas presents for my kindergarten students. My school had made a list and checked it twice. We provided these kids with their first ever Santa experience. Only two pegged me as Teacher Miles.

I joined my entire school staff for hot pot after the festivities. My boss and good friend made sure we feasted. This checked off the non-traditional Christmas holiday feast from the “Cultural Activities” list.

The next morning, I was the guest of an overly-generous Taiwanese family at The American Club. Brunch. My fav. It was opulent and classy. Afterwards, we took a short hike up into the hills behind the ACC. In Taiwan, they build intricate little paths up into the hills either to large graves or, as in this case, badminton court campsites. Each site usually offers some type of shelter, usually with a kitchen, a courtyard for sitting, and a badminton court.

Groups of families lease the land and construct their own site. My Taiwanese family, as I think of them in name and spirit, have been at this camp for 20 years or more. We showed up and sat for tea, prepared in about 125 intricate moves that Mr. Hong knew like the back of his hand. This may be a literal phrase considering the amount of scalding hot water he poured over his fingers without the slightest wince or pause. A true veteran, I have the feeling.

I battled my 13-year old student in badminton. It is true that Asia loves this game. It is also true that almost all the people on this hillside enjoying the beautiful 75 degree winter day were older than 40. Most were retired citizens. Older citizens get out and get going here. Whereas the youth are generally crammed into English “cram” schools for 12 hours a day where they are taught to hate the sun and the beach. Imagine it.

After getting out of the crowd, I plowed right back into it that afternoon at the Handicapped-Flower-Jade Market. I am still unsure how these three managed to lump together, but it is a sprawling complex of arts and crafts, bonsai and bamboo. It has taken me a while to ship, but the whole ’tis-better-to-give mantra boosted the holiday shopping mood.

Next stop, dive bar! Saturday, the night before Christmas Eve. There was a mosh posh of characters assembled near the college hangouts in Lane 86, featuring two of my comrades the size of Andre Rene Roussimoff. They make for rather uncompromising drinking buddies. We all got nice an’ cozy. There was a white Christmas tree in the corner, and one could feel the holiday cheer. Most were pouring a big cup of it.


Written by Miles

January 2, 2007 at 1:24 pm

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