Christmas 2005 in China – Letters from a Jamaican in China

Nothing compares to being with your family during the holidays. However if you must spend it away from home, there’s no better way to do it than in China. It was my third Christmas in China and with it came the three things I’ve come to expect from a Chinese Christmas and more. They are as follows: inappropriately expensive gifts from rich Chinese friends, at least 3 of your friends getting arrested, and twilight zone of holiday cheer.

I’ll begin with the gifts. Christmas is relatively new in China. My first year here, I got about 3 wind chimes from students and holiday-themed wrapping paper was non-existent. In the pat 2 years China, has evolved into a hub of holiday madness. Most still don’t get the concept or meaning behind Christmas but the malls are just as full and decorations are everywhere. It’s also, the perfect opportunity for the “new money” Chinese to show off on each other by buying their kids’ English teacher a ridiculously expensive gift that they want you to open in front of everyone, in the hopes of topping what the other parents have given you. The first gift I got was Belgian chocolate, I knew there was only one place that sold them and they were about $200. I felt uncomfortable and politely refused and they insisted. The more gifts I got the more uncomfortable I felt. Then I met a veteran teacher who explained that it had nothing to do with their appreciation of me. It was about big ballin’ so, nothing to do put sit back and reap the benefits of their exploitation of me. And you know, I’ve found he was right. I haven’t taught in over a year. I am still pretty close with some of the parents and I have say, I made out like a BANDIT! For what is Christmas in China without keeping up with the Zhangs’?

Now to the holiday legal issues. On Boxing Day, I usually sleep in my living room and await a call from the Bo’an (police) about someone who has been arrested on Christmas Day. Why? Well because some foreigners have a little too much eggnog and get a little wild at the bars. But instead of bar security beating them within an inch of their lives like normal, in the spirit of Christmas they are simply detained until they sleep it off. This year was different. I got a call from Hong Kong, saying that 3 of my friends were detained in the WTO protests and had lost all of their ID. Which would make them unable to come back, leave or do anything. So I had to go the landlord to enter the apartment, get the copies of their ID and take them to their Consulates and let them sort it our. Not the call I expected but I admit, I am proud of them. It would take you living in a country such as China to make you understand why people are so passionately against globalization. It would eradicate farmers. My friends made it back in time for Christmas. And just when I thought I’d had my holiday arrest for the year, a “scuffle” breaks out at the Catholic Church here. There is only one, and it gets packed with people who feel its their duty to crowd the church on Christmas day, even though they never go anytime other time of year. This one happened because some Chinese-Australians tried to enter. Mainland Chinese are not allowed to enter the church, if you look Asian you are required to show your passport. Things got wild with people trying to get in, police trying to keep people out and people inside shouting about religious freedom. They were released and we continued with our Christmas. For what is Christmas in China with out political and religious unrest?

And then there is the general Christmas spirit here. They compare Christmas to their Spring Festival; time for family and celebration. When walking down the street, you have people walk up to you and saying in their very best and very practiced English “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year” or “Happy Season’s Greetings and Merry Holidays”. I find it so strange that everyone here is so accommodating to something they don’t truly understand. It feels more sincere here than it does in the west. Simply because they know it’s a thing westerners do, and even though its foreign to them, they still go out of the way to acknowledge it. For what is Christmas in China or anywhere in the world without sincerity? Happy New Year!