This month was our first Christmas away from home! We kept up a few of our Christmas traditions and created new ones with new friends! This post is about our December in Beijing, China!
This month was another great one, filled with old and new. December 1st started off with a visit from our Elf on the Shelf, Nate Carter. We got Nate about 5 years ago and every December he shows up to spy on Calvin for Santa. I wish I had gotten a picture of Calvin’s face when he realized that Nate had followed him to China! We had only brought our Christmas stockings and a Christmas cook book from Arizona, so we set out to buy new ones! Honestly, it wasn’t that hard to find a cheap tree and Christmas decorations in Beijing. Over the years, the Western expat market has gotten a lot larger and many stores carry those items in stock. Although, I still had friends ordering things that were harder to find off of Taobao (like candy canes). This means that we got to keep some traditions alive like decorating our tree and finding Nate everyday. We didn’t really watch too many Christmas movies as usual or get to make Christmas cookies, but we still kept the spirit alive! The Chinese public schools don’t have a Christmas break off or anything, but my school has a 1.5 week break so yay for us! We decided to spend it in Thailand, but I have a separate blog for that adventure! Check it out if you are interested.
Unlike American schools, our finals are in January. So many classes were still teaching and doing projects throughout December. The art teachers even started a project in conjunction with the science teachers to paint a mural in the science hall. They had the students design their murals and picked one that covered environmental science. I believe a 9th grader won and they decided to paint her mural on a large wall in the hallway. Now, this thing was going to need a lot of people to help complete it and they didn’t want the students involved because there wouldn’t be adequate supervision. So, the art and science teachers invited other teachers to come and help paint to get it finished before the break began. I spent at least 5 hours helping work on this thing and it turned out great. My team leader called it my ‘art therapy’ and it really was! I was just following the sketch and it made me forget all about the world and I focused primarily on my task. I learned a lot about painting and had fun too! The project was finished in about 2.5 weeks and I think it turned out great. I am even trying to generate interest to create a history mural in our hallway before the end of the year!
I may not have mentioned it, but I am also one of the supervising teachers of Volunteer Club at my school. We are a group of about 25 students that are interested in making a difference in the community. Last month, we had a charity event to gather sweaters and jackets for underprivileged kids and raised about 100 jackets/sweaters. We were very happy with our numbers and decided to do another good deed before our Christmas break at the senior center! We had a small group go to the senior center and spent an hour with the seniors drawing or sweeping up the front courtyard where they liked to sit. I brought Calvin with me and we both spent an hour drawing with a few grandmas in the front room. Keep in mind, it is not considered rude to call them grandmas because that is what they are called traditionally once they reach a certain age! In fact, one of the ladies introduced herself as ‘Grandma Jia’. We could not speak the same language, but the ladies seemed really appreciative that we had come to spend some time with them (we had a Chinese teacher with us and she translated whenever we wanted to make conversation). Calvin is a very talented artist and spent his time working on one really good drawing. He gave it to Grandma Jia and wrote a little note to her in English. She was so touched she gave him a drawing as well with a note in Chinese. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and Calvin and I hope to visit again soon.
Later that weekend, Korey took us to a mall that he had visited with his buddies called Wukesong. It is the amazingly beautiful outdoor mall that is directly next to Cadillac Stadium, home of the Beijing Ducks basketball team. This mall was so cool that I know my pictures won’t do it justice. The mall has a ton of restaurants that are both Chinese and Western and are absolutely delicious! A few are familiar but most were fancy places such as steak houses and peking duck restaurants. There are also plenty of fun family activities to do like outdoor ice skating, KTV (karaoke), and several arcades, some virtual reality! We had a great night walking around and shopping for Christmas gifts at all the little vendors before spending a ton of money at the arcade. There were live performances throughout Wukesong and some of the songs were even familiar because I heard it on the radio or at KTV. Every corner of the outdoor mall had a modern art sculpture and it was nice to see these giant sculptures hovering over the crowds. Also, I don’t know if it was for Christmas or all the time, but there were bright lights everywhere in all sorts of colors and slides from the second floor to the bottom for the kids (Calvin even tried them out)! I found our later that there is a subway exit that exits right into the mall so I know we will back soon! I definitely suggest it to anyone that might be visiting Beijing!
We also explored the area around our home a lot more over the month of December and found some hidden gems that we kept walking by unknowingly! The place that really stuck out though was a place called Peking Building, right across the street from our apartment. We never noticed it because there is no sign and you need to take an elevator up to the third floor (no access via the other elevators we used in the past). Korey found it on his new app and saw the restaurant had an unusually high rating. We walked across the street to try it and were not disappointed. Their restaurant is decorated in a traditional style complete with songbirds in ancient-looking cages, so it feels like you went back in time when you first enter! All of the staff are dressed in traditional garb and they looked amazing. We were seated close to the traditional ovens so we could see the duck cooking in the giant stone caves and be pulled out via hook. I was so impressed! The staff didn’t speak English, but were unbelievably kind and helpful. We also happened to sit next to a man that spoke English and he helped us out with a few of our questions. We order the duck and it was heaven sent! They cut the duck in front of us into thin slices and served with tortilla-like pancakes and sauces. Looking back, we must have been butchering the little tacos because they sent over a waitress to show us heathens how to eat Peking duck properly. As we were leaving, we were taking pictures of the displayed throne and emperors clothing and they insisted we dress up! Before I knew it, my husband and son had been transformed into a little prince and emperor sitting atop the throne! We also tried out the neighborhood theater and took Korey to see his first movie in China, Knives Out. The movie was actually pretty good and we liked the theater too! We all sat in lazy-boy recliners and ate what we thought were french fries when we ordered. It tasted like fries, but they were dehydrated, hollow, and shaped like squares. There was a seasoning that almost tasted like ketchup on top. It was unexpected but somewhat pleasant considering I don’t like sweet popcorn (that is the only kind they sell).
The last week before school and break, we had another large snowfall. It was unexpected because Beijing doesn’t usually get this much snow this time of year, it is typically to dry. We were happy with it though, having never lived in a state that had a white Christmas! Our school was taking part in traditional Western activities, such as a Secret Santa and a Winter Concert. The concert was amazing, with both teachers and students performing traditional Christmas songs and ones they created themselves! It was a big production with singing, orchestras, and everything you could imagine! The music department really pulled out all of the stops for this one. Secret Santa was a lot of fun too, but it was definitely another example of culture shock. Calvin and another boy turned out to be each other’s Secret Santa which was pretty funny. However, I wasn’t so much amused by the gift Calvin received from the boy. I am the advisory teachers and clearly said that no weapons are to be exchanged during Secret Santa. So imagine my surprise when Calvin unwrapped a 3.5 foot full-functioning BB gun. I was absolutely shocked! As I mentioned in another post, the culture about guns in very different than in the states. Because most Chinese can’t own/use guns, their only interaction with them is through games or toys. This makes these weapons just that, games or toys, nothing seen as dangerous. I had a problem with it earlier in the school year, when a boy had brought a handgun BB gun that looked JUST like the real thing. He pulled it out and started chasing another boy around with it and I had a heart attack for a full second before I realized there is no way this kid could possible have access to one. Anyways, now I was in this awkward position where my son had something that I wouldn’t have given him myself considering we live in an apartment building with no where to shoot this thing. I don’t consider myself anti-gun, but I would never gift something like this to a child that wasn’t mine without discussing it with their parents first! In my part of the world, you can ruin friendships with that kind of thing. Maybe others from the states don’t agree with me, but that is just my own personal rule. You know, don’t buy weapons for kids. As it turns out, Calvin is more of an art kid anyway, so what would we do with this giant thing? Luckily, my team leader didn’t mind trading Calvin his deluxe water color pencil set for the BB gun and Calvin was much happier with that!
The last few days before Christmas break, the school’s teachers had their own Secret Santa and my best friend got me! It was great because she knew I needed a pair of new gloves and gifted them to me. I got my Secret Santa some chocolates and I think she really like them. I exchanged some gifts with my Social Studies group and got a few goodies like a Chinese paper-cutting poster and knick knacks! Calvin and I also made his friends a few Christmas gifts to make themselves at home. We have a Christmas cookbook and it gives you ideas for gifts and we made hot cocoa and cranberry pancakes Christmas gifts! The kids loved them and I am sure it helped them get into the spirit. The school surprised each of the teachers with a Starbucks gift card for 500 rmb ($72) which was awesome! They also gave us a great ‘goodbye lunch’ on the last Friday before break. There were a ton or sweets and a giant mutton leg! It was so delicious I went back for seconds! I appreciated that the school did so much to make us expats feel as if we were home for the holidays. A few of my friends are flying home to the U.S. (one is bringing me back grape jelly) but my family had an amazing time in Thailand! Check out those blog posts to see or amazing adventures!
When we got back, we found that our apartment complex has a farmers market that sets up every few days in the center of the courtyard! They had apples, citrus, garlic, onions, etc. We got a few different items and were amazed to find that all of it was only 18.5 rmb ($2.66). That is even cheaper than the grocery stores! We have already shopped there again and the deals are worth it. We also noticed that all of China seems to be gearing up for the upcoming New Years! The mall has transformed to a temple of red and everyone is buying door decorations, charms, etc. to celebrate the year of the mouse! We decided to celebrate the New Years with a few teacher friends at a Mexican restaurant at Andingmen called Pebbles and then headed to KTV afterwards to ring in the New Years. I am pretty sure they kicked us out 10 minutes early, but whatever! I expected a lot of fireworks for New Years but there were NONE! I was told by friends that those are usually reserved for the Chinese New Year during the Spring Festival in late January. I was bummed but decided the wait will probably be worth it! Happy New Years to everyone and talk to you soon!