Monday, December 21, 2009

Away in a stranger (land)

While the novelty of Christmas in China has pretty much lost its sheen – the sight of Beijing noodle store clerks in red and white elf and Santa hats no longer bemuses me – I gotta say there are some moments.

An outdoor bike repairman who fixes tires and adjusts gears and cables near my apartment in the coldest weather recently strung some scrounged silver and gold tinsel around his portable worn wooden work table. A nice touch and if I had a bike I’d mess it up just a little just so he could fix it.

There was also a 10 or 11-year-old Chinese boy skateboarding slowly in my apartment lobby while sawing away on a wincingly bad version of Jingle Bells on his violin as his father shot video for gawd knows what purpose. If he'd been a dog it would have been excellent for one of David Letterman's old Stupid Pet Tricks. Nonetheless, I watched for about 10 minutes and left happier than when I'd arrived.

Another are my newspaper’s plans for a holiday party, to which only three foreign staffers that I know of have been formally invited (as in told specifically where and what time it will be.)

I am not one of them and I not miffed. I know we are welcome but I've long since learned Chinese protocol when it comes to foreign employees frequently simply does not include niceties such as clear invitations that give us time to plan. It simply never occurs to them just has it never occurred to me that spitting on a public bus is perfectly normal and hygenic behavior. We're just supposed to suck the info up via telepathy or osmosis and then jump at the last minute.

But most of us won’t be jumping anywhere except to our own makeshift expat gatherings or on a flight back home as the party is being held after sundown on Christmas Day at a far distant hotel and – due to skinflint budgetary concerns – will be lacking booze and food, though I’ve heard rumors of “free fruit.”

Mmmm, mmmm. “Hand Santa baby another brown apple, a wrinkled saggy Mandarin orange and a couple of those gratis grapes, won’tcha my little Sino-elf?”

“Who holds a Christmas party on Christmas Day?” asked one American rhetorically. Indeed. But it's not just any Christmas party. Dozens of Chinese employees have been roped into learning traditional Sino song and dance routines (none having to do with the holiday, which isn't officially recognized, of course) – many on their days off with no overtime – in order to bring cheer and reflected glory to their benevolent leaders.

“I did not go to university to dance like someone in the North Korean mass games,” remarked one slightly cynical reporter. “But I need this job.”

She had just emerged from a large conference room as deadline loomed where instead of working on the next day’s stories, she and three other reporters had been frantically rehearsing steps, dips, sways and bows as an instructor hired for the occasion clapped and counted “one, two, three, four … again!” in Chinese.

The irony of a newsroom on deadline being used for choreography purposes for a foreign holiday in an atmosphere where the staff is frequently harangued to “work harder, work longer!” wasn't completely lost on her.

“Dance longer! Dance harder! And make deadline too!” I replied. “Merry Christmas!”


Ben said...

and Merry Christmas to you Justin! I had stopped checking in on your blog, thinking you were posting somewhere else or not posting at all. Glad to see you're back. Happy Holidays from sunny SoCal.

Anonymous said...

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