Last month, while I was in the States, I rummaged through some of my many boxes that are stacked in my mom’s garage. I came upon some interesting things—old yearbooks (scary, those are), stuff from my early days in China (way back in the 80’s), and a box full of all the letters that I sent to my parents in those early days. Yes, they really kept them all. It was easier to do back in the day when letters were actually written on paper. Once the electronic era hit, saving them became more problematic. I think I filed away my emails somewhere on a floppy disc, but a lot of good that will do me now! Anyway, as you can imagine, I had some good chuckles looking at the junk from that time and reading the old letters, being reminded of adventures I’d long forgotten about. Be warned: I’m going to revive some of those old stories here on this blog in the coming weeks. It can be sort of a ‘Back in the Day’ series of posts, of which this will be the first.
…then the story…..
The year was 1984, and we were 6 very green, very young, and very clueless teachers getting ready to spend our first Christmas in the People’s Republic of China. Unlike today, Christmas was unheard-of in China at the time, and still considered a bourgeois capitalist ritual, so we were very unsure of how our school officials might acknowledge and help us celebrate our most important holiday.
The first thing they did was help us get a “tree.” Actually, it was just a tall plant (in a pot) upon which we hung a few cut-out snowflakes. A nice gesture, really. A few days before Christmas we were informed that the college president would host a Christmas party for the 6 foreign teachers. We had no idea what to expect. We had in our possession gifts to give the president and other officials, although to this day I can’t remember what they were. At the appointed hour, we were ushered into the conference room of the administration building, and welcomed by the president and other various college officials. The table was arrayed with the ubiquitous items of the day: teacups, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, fruit, and candy (hey, some things don’t change do they?). The officials said some nice words to us about wishing that we would have a happy Christmas in their country. We said nice words in appreciation to them for helping us celebrate. Then came the gift exchange. The 2 men on the team were given a little box of fuzzy chicks made out of pipe cleaner. All different colors. The 4 women on the team were given these nightlights. Seriously. We stared at our gifts dumbfoundedly, lost in a swarming mass of cultural confusion. Were these serious gifts? How could that be? Or were these gag gifts—the officials pretending they were serious just so they could see the confused looks on the foreigners faces? You know, to this day I have never been able to answer that question to my satisfaction.
What I do know is that I never dared to actually use the night light. The thought of waking up in the middle of the night and getting a glimpes of that was just too scary.