They use a totally different calendar and for them, December 31 is not the last day of the year. It’s an ordinary day that doesn’t end in a colorful bang, at least not in majority of towns that are not major cities chock-full of foreigners. Christmas decoration is even more sparse and non-existent than before (new rules, I was told), so for traditional celebration-averse people, going to China during the holiday may be the perfect cure for the uber-consumerist tone of the season. No matter the rituals observed, it’s still the time for reuniting with family and friends.
We started with the usual welcome by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s families, spoiled by the excellent cooking of Xiao Dan’s mom.
Manila or Tianjin, Joshua must get his football fix. The football club in Dagang welcomed him plus dates with favorite playmates arranged.
We had one ski destination each week sandwiched in between the requisite visa-run to the Philippine embassy in Beijing for the kiddos. Nanshan near Beijing was easy enough for Jimmy and I to enjoy but we left the more professional, technically difficult trails of Wanlong to the true champions of snowboarding — Joshua and Jason.
Four of our previous Hero’s Journey campers were part of a theater group whose performance we were lucky enough to catch and see how much they’ve grown.
The Hero’s Journey is on from January 24 to February 1, 2019 and we had a quickie meeting of partners to discuss the camp. The more important purpose of the visit was seeing Xavier and for Jimmy, it was Evan’s generosity with his Pokemon cards and beyblades that made his day. Samantha knew we were bibliophiles like her so she showed us her stash of beautiful new children’s books from Taiwan.
Mike and Joshua missed each other. Joshua had been wanting to visit Mike in his home and finally it transpired. We discovered it IS possible to have an X-box like experience with a projector but you need a PS4 instead. If you don’t have the video camera, you can use the cellphone but it’s limited to dance. Dance we did with joy and abandon.
Remember the library in Dagang Youtian that we started with a group of moms who love books and wanted to pass on that passion to their children? That group has always been part of an active organization of Youtian moms who planned an amazingly full repertoire to greet the winter solstice (dong zhi). Kids sold and traded products, food and drinks followed by tug-of-war. The Mom who is into Waldorf education told dong zhi stories. Then the community made jiaozi (dumplings). We’ve been having Chinese dumplings for two straight days and this was the most delicious, freshly made with lots of love.
Joshua and Yinpu were kindergarten classmates. It’s hard to believe that they had more years apart than together but they still play so well together. Yinpu’s Mom, Susan showed me Yinpu’s amazing artworks.
It was a blessing in disguise that Jimmy got a fever when we got to the Wanlong ski resort. The temperature outdoors reached minus 23 degrees. Jimmy and I wouldn’t have stood that long skiing or snowboarding but the other pair had two full days in the blue and black-grade slopes. When Jimmy was well enough, we sled down two times a tiny, tiny hill and cowardly rushed back into the warm indoors.
December 29 was Jason’s dad’s birthday and how happy he was to be with his grandchildren. He gave a touching speech before dinner started. It was as good as Christmas for the kids with all the toys we managed to get for the cousins.
Vacation is a series of playdates, but then again so is non-holiday time.
Jason’s sister, Jiang Ping is probably the best teacher for Joshua and Jimmy. They listen to her and follow while I can only learn from the expert.
And the food!!! We had hot pot, barbecue, our favorite street food breakfasts, our favorite rib place, unbeatable noodles and this newly opened restaurant stoked our taste buds for extreme spiciness. This table had a thin layer that looks like wafer solar panels but is used to warm the food. A big piece of waxed paper is placed over the whole table and they pour a mix of seafood and veggies braised in Szechuan pepper and chili. The best way to eat is with your hands so they provide you with thin plastic gloves, one of which was humorously packaged like condom side by side other designs featuring Chairman Mao and Hello Kitty. I really miss China but I’m also ready to go home.
Online photos make it appear our vacations and lives are perfect. The drama is not seen between the photos. A friend of mine occasionally posts pictures of her children crying just to remind everyone, not all is rosy. In this case, what I was taking a break from Manila is what makes me want to go back. I miss having problems to solve, tons of work to do. A part of my mind is with the things I left unfinished back in my country.
But I am truly grateful for the quiet, no-fuss simplicity of this Christmas and New year in northern China. I get to hug and snuggle more with these two in the freezing cold of winter.