Adventures Abroad: Christmas

Adventures Abroad: Christmas

(Picture by Liam Shalloo)

‘Tis already December 26 for me and it’s the same sort of Monday I’ve had for the last ten months or so. There is some Christmas in China, but it’s more akin to say Catholics trying their hand at Chanukah. They know there are some candles involved and it lasts for a few days and something about a top, but they have no idea why they’re doing these things or what they mean. Same thing for China and Christmas. There is a giant inflatable Santa outside one of the stores and a few Christmas trees scattered about and—for whatever reason—many, many, people walking down the street dressed like Santa Claus. But there’s no spark to it.

When you walk down the street in the States during December there’s a low key buzz in the air. People are excited, they’re stressed, they’re happy, they’re a roller coaster of emotions all focused on this one day. My family doesn’t do the religious aspect of Christmas; it’s a time for family for us. We have a big get together with my aunts, uncles, and cousins over at my grandparents’ house the Sunday before Christmas and have dinner and exchange a few gifts and catch up on everything that’s happened. Christmas Eve my mom makes a ham and we do a big dinner and watch A Christmas Story until we can recite the movie verbatim. Then Christmas day Grandma and Grandpa come over and we do a special breakfast and exchange gifts.

There’s none of that in China. Christmas Eve and Christmas day are shopping days like Black Friday. The only part of Christmas that has trickled into Chinese culture is the commercialized and materialistic part of it. We had to do a Christmas party for the kids which was a waking nightmare for me, I’m pretty sure I still have a headache, but the school wanted either myself or Roommate to dress up as Santa Claus.

Uh. No.

They spent half an hour trying to negotiate with us on dressing up instead of shrugging and moving on or, you know, telling the guy who stays and the school and doesn’t do anything else to dress up, because for them Christmas is all about Santa Claus. In their imaginings of Christmas, not having a Santa Claus is like not having a Christmas tree. Sure for little kids Santa is a pretty big part of Christmas, but with all the holiday movies we have the idea that this is also a time for family gets through a bit.

So it was yesterday while I was at school, as usual, while 7000 miles away my mom and sister went through our Christmas Eve routine that I had my first true moment of homesickness. My sister commented on my FB page that she had said or done something weird that reminded our mom of me and that now Mom was missing me more. I was sitting in the office five minutes from starting my next class where I spend just as much time trying to keep the kids from fighting and screaming as I do teaching them basic English words, I had just finished giving one of my older kids a dressing down for spreading pro-Nazi propaganda during class, and the lobby was full of kids screeching and running back and forth. And I really, really did not want to be there anymore. My sleep pattern has been nonexistent and I’m starting another round with this head cold that I seem to remember having in February that is just a perpetual cycle of congestion, sinus headaches, and a sore throat most likely caused by all the coal dust in the air. I miss the cats and dogs, my dad has a new puppy I haven’t snuggled, and—seriously—thirteen months without any sort of animal nearby is a goddamn crime. I was done with all of this and ready to be home.

If that is true homesickness then I’d like to have a word with some of the authors who have written their characters being homesick because they dropped the goddamn ball. I can understand why people would up and leave short notice, because if I felt like I did during those few minutes in the office all the time I would have left in July. Actually, I would say Laini Taylor in her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy captures the feeling pretty well. Those books gave me so many feels, you guys. So. Many. Next trip I make out of China I’ll be adding them to my kindle so I can put all my feelings through a shredder again.

Great books, cannot recommend enough.

But, I didn’t get on a plane and head home. I went to my class, stopped the kids from fighting, might’ve taught them a word or two and carried on with my day. I have twenty-five days until we break for Spring Festival and after I get back from that planned excursion I have only eight straight days of teaching to get through and then I will be on my way to snuggling kitties and puppies.

And getting some goddamn peanut butter.

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Home Wistful

Home Wistful

Today is Mid-Autumn Festival here in China. As with most festivals and holidays around the world, this day is meant to be spent with family and close friends. The traditional food eaten today is the mooncake, and it is delightful. The mooncake is not just a delicious breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack option; it also has its share of symbolism. As my CT explained to me, it’s round to mirror the full moon’s face that goes back to the story of Mid-Autumn Festival, and as none of my CTs seem to be natural storytellers, I’ve had to piece to story together from vague mentions.

oOo

Once upon a time, there were ten suns. The suns took turns being in the sky, until one day they all rose together. It was a disaster. Crops and people caught fire, the rivers dried up, and animals died. An archer named Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns, leaving only one for light and warmth.

The gods were so impressed with him that they offered him a drink of immortal water. But Hou Yi had a wife, Chang’e, he loved very much and didn’t want to become an immortal without her. So he gave the water to her to hide away so they could stay together.

Hou Yi also had an apprentice who knew about the hidden immortal water. He was a greedy man and wanted to be immortal. So, on the fifteenth day of the eighth month (Lunar calendar) he waited until Hou Yi was out hunting and forced his way into the home where Chang’e was working. He demanded Chang’e give him the immortal water.

Chang’e refused and instead drank it herself and then flew away. She couldn’t stay on earth anymore since she was now an immortal, but she wanted to stay close to her husband. She flew to the moon and built a palace there.

When Hou Yi returned from his hunt and found out what happened, he was heartbroken his wife had fled to the sky. So he took her favorite fruits and cakes and left them out where she could see. He also sacrificed animals for her. The others in the village soon learned what had happened to Hou Yi and Chang’e and, being sympathetic to the pair, also began leaving out fruits and cakes and sacrificing animals.

oOo

It’s a pretty cool story. China is rife with neat legends and stories like that. The problem is finding someone who will sit still long enough to tell you the story. Aside from that, Mid-Autumn Festival is a harvest festival and those around the world are a time for families.

So of course my CTs have been asking incessantly if I’m homesick.

Well, if I am, what are you going to do about it?

I’m not, for the record. I prefer the term Home Wistful. I keep explaining to them that I talk to my parents usually once a week. Skype isn’t blocked, so we talk on Monday or Tuesday and I tell them about my classes and they tell me about work and whatever’s going on in the neighborhood.

I don’t require proximity to people. The only time I missed home was the three weeks I was in Vietnam and that was because we were all busy and didn’t get a chance to talk. Let’s be real, I miss the cats and dogs the most. I definitely need to find a traveling companion before my next big trip. A year without little paws padding behind me is unacceptable.

I do miss a few things about home, chiefly peanut butter. But we’re getting into my favorite season: Autumn. I love fall and Halloween and both of those things are not a big deal here. Sure, the kids know about Halloween, but no one goes full on haunted house, there are no skull and bat decorations, no costumes. No freaking pumpkins. No apple cider, which I’m pretty sure is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

In Indiana, autumn has a scent. There’s a shift in the way the air smells as the leaves start coming down. There’s a bite. When you wake up and open the windows you can smell the dew on the leaf litter. It’s one of my favorite smells. There’s none of that here. There are trees. But, there’s not really any green space. No matter how early you wake up or how late you go to bed there’s always a tang of diesel in the air. I haven’t smelled grass in months. When I water my plants I pretty much stick my face in the pot just to smell that damp earth scent I didn’t realize I smelled every morning I woke up in Indiana.

I love going through pumpkin patches. I can spend hours wandering up and down the hills searching for the perfect pumpkin. But my favorite thing to do is curl up on the couch with a mug of hot cider and a Tim Burton movie while the clouds are grey and heavy with rain and the wind is too chilly even for a sweater. There’s always a cat close by, either on my feet keeping my toes warm or on my lap trying to get into my cider.

Or when I’m at my dad’s house and there’s a fire in the fireplace and the dogs and I sprawl out in front of it and watch football or a movie with pizza on the way.

Those are the things I miss. I miss the smell of autumn and I miss having a purring cat on my lap or a big farting dog next to me. People I can talk to, I talked to a friend for almost eight hours this week. I knew way back in January that fall was going to be the time I missed home the most, but being halfway through September and not seeing even a pumpkin window cling I think I might miss it more than I thought I would. So I wouldn’t say I’m sick with missing things, but wistful for my own little autumn traditions.

And peanut butter, dammit.

Be Nice

There are a great deal many uncomfortable and cringe worthy words and phrases in the English language (see: Moist) but there aren’t many that can get my hackles raised faster than “Be Nice.”

I’ve been hearing it all my life. Be nice. Be nice. Be nice. It’s been used as a warning for upcoming events. Be nice, she’s new here. It’s been used, more often than not, as an admonishment. Be nice. And I hate it because it implies that I’m being mean. I’m not. I’m being me and whether you like it or not I’m often moody, standoffish, aloof, and irritated. I like to be alone. I don’t like talking to people. I like silence. I like being left to do my own thing and those that interrupt that are often met with silence or an unamused stare. I’m not trying to be mean, most days, I just rarely care or have a stake in anything that’s being said or done. I don’t care.

By whose standards are we being nice? I often wonder if I was male if I would hear that phrase so much. Should I be watching June Cleaver and taking notes? Should I fake laugh and carry on conversations with people I don’t like because it’s not nice to not talk to them? Should I feign interest in someone’s child because I’m a female and that’s the nice thing to do?

But still, I hear it. All The Time. BeNiceBeNiceBeNiceBeNice. Hold your tongue. You could hurt someone’s feelings, don’t say that. Don’t do that. Be happier. Be gentler. Be softer. Be positive. Why are you so angry? Why don’t you smile? Why don’t you talk?

Why Aren’t You More Like Me?

My sister gets away with not being nice because she’s funny and that takes a hefty dose of the sting out. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone tell her to be nice.

I’m a cinderblock wall embedded with blades. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m not being nice. It doesn’t occur to me that not laughing at someone’s stupid joke or carrying a conversation isn’t nice. I don’t see a point in presenting people with a façade that isn’t true to who I am. If they’re not going to like me I’m not going to come up with a more palatable mask. Why should I?

If that’s not nice then I can’t help you. That’s your problem.

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the holiday season, huzzah-humbug. I’m not necessarily a Grinch. I like Christmas. I’m just not really excited about the compressed awkward family time.

My grandparents host a family Christmas a week before the 25th and as my cousins have gotten older the event has gotten a bit bigger as they bring their significant others. This year the only two singles in the family will be me, the oldest cousin, and my youngest cousin. That’s it. Everyone else will be bringing boy/girlfriends.

Usually these things don’t bother me, if I even take notice, but the holidays are always different. Someone there is going to ask if I have a date and the short answer is No. But the long answer is more complicated so I usually just go with the shoulder-shrug-and-ask-for-another-roll technique.

I’ve been spoiled by fiction. There’s Aubrey, from Amelia Atwater Rhodes’ book Demon in my View. I can still repeat passages from that book verbatim. I love it. It is one of my all time favorite books and I adore the menace that is Aubrey. Then there’s Nalini Sigh’s incredible “Guild Hunter” series with Raphael and Illium, hell, even Venom. Just writing the names makes me want to re-read the entire series from beginning to current book. And, of course, there’s Rhage and Rhev from J.R. Ward’s “Black Dagger Brotherhood” series.

These are the men I love. The huge, planet sized, problem with them is that they aren’t real. I can’t go to New York City and catch a glimpse of Illium weaving between the skyscrapers. He’s a golden eyed, blue winged, lethal piece of Nalini Singh’s imagination. But Singh is an amazing writer and when you read her stories, for a moment, those pieces of her imagination are real enough to touch. And then you finish the book and have to come back to the real world where there aren’t any angels buzzing around NYC. There are no centuries old vampires running amok in Caldwell, NY or anywhere for that matter.

You read these stories about these characters that make you laugh and cry and want to hug them and you get to know them, how they think, how they speak. And then you go out and meet some guy who does something pedestrian like bartend. Not saying bartending is a bad thing. The trick bartenders are pretty cool, but you’re not holding a candle to an angel or a werewolf or a vampire or a fae or a geomancer or a necromancer or a dragon rider. It’s like waking from a great dream. Sure there are great people out there, but I’m just not interested.
It is well known to my close family and friends that I’m oblivious to the “hey, how you doing” signals people send out. I say hello to people because I’m from the Midwest and that’s the polite thing to do. I’ll talk to you if I can’t find a polite way to leave or not talk to you. Somehow, this is misconstrued as mutual interest.

Nope.

No fangs? No wings? No supernatural abilities? I’m not interested and not paying attention. And this is why it’s so hard for me to answer the “Are you seeing anyone” question family members like to casually toss out.

Yes, because the newest Guild Hunter novel, Archangel’s Legion, by Nalini Singh is out and I do get to see them. I can pick up Demon in my View whenever I want and see Aubrey. I can re-read Lover Eternal and Lover Avenged by J.R. Ward today and see them.

But as far as the real world is concerned, no, I’m not seeing anyone because it’s just so boring.