Christmas Eve

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all throughout Kingsley’s

All the laowai were stirring, could I get a neat bourbon please?

Secret Santa was finished; I got 2 bags of coffee!

Now it’s time for tequila shots, while for the third time, someone plays “Get Lucky.”

China is the fourth country I’ve celebrated Festivus in – England, Iceland and America being the other three. My observations over the past three years have revealed that booze plays a major role throughout the season in pretty much any place other than the American South, because it’s of the devil there. Things haven’t changed here. All of us expats met at Kingsley’s to eat pizza, do Secret Santa and consume copious amounts of alcohol. Nearly everyone turns up on holidays because we’re as much of a family as anyone has in this tiny, frozen corner of China.

Aside from Secret Santa, it was just another night at your local expat bar. Barflies at the bar, having groundbreaking discussions on politics or bitching about their school/China and people on the dance floor doing the Electric Slide to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” as if it’s the biggest innovation to come out of 2013. There was a new guy there who kept buying us tequila shots. He was an oil worker, just visiting, lived with his boyfriend about 3 hours away. I smoked too many cigarettes as we broke common ground over coming from the South and somehow ending up in China, liberal as they come. We all ended the night at KFC after one more shot.

Christmas Day

I awake to a pain in my head and a turmoil in my stomach

Santa seems to have given me a holiday hangover from his sack

Kate cooks a wonderful meal for laowai friends, cheer is had by all

Later I open presents on Skype, thank you Chinese internet, no dropped calls

We both woke up pretty hungover, which sucked because there was a shitload of cooking and cleaning to be done in the next 4 hours. We were originally going to have a quiet Christmas dinner with one other couple, but word gets around…and you’re cooking for twice as many people. I duck out in a rush to the school. My package from home has arrived! The school also gave us gifts – two really nice faux-china tea sets that we have no idea how the fuck we’ll get back to America/England without breaking completely. We enjoy an xmas dinner of all the normal stuff as well as a crispy duck, just like A Christmas Story.

I have to give mad props to my mom. This was my third consecutive xmas abroad and she still sent me a gift. I ring my family with their beaten up package in my lap, expecting shards of whatever used to in it before the careful attention of USPS and China Post got to it. I called at 10pm, just in time for my dad, mom, bro and sis to be around the tree Christmas morning. We opened presents just like we would have if we were at home. Christmas is just another day to me. The only part of it I really celebrate is being together with family, which in some ways made it harder than if it were anything more than that to me.

The Day After

Now today some mandatory fun the school has planned

Unsure of what to expect, I drink a beer on the bus with a friend

Later we find ourselves being eaten by fish, passing around a  jar of wine

Sounds pretty weird but it was actually a good time

The day after Christmas, the school threw quite a good staff party at a (apparently ’7-star’) hotel and spa. Both foreign and Chinese teachers boarded a bus and an hour later we’re sitting in a hot tub surrounded by a fake forest in a biodome-esque structure with what I’m sure is a choral version of “What is Love?” playing in the background. We try to play a drinking game with the Chinese teachers, but truth or dare isn’t that great when it “devolves” from asking what things you’ve put in various holes to “Are you from Heilongjiang Province?” Thankfully, just the right amount of huangjiu makes anything interesting.

There’s a different sort of pool in the spa, the sort where little fishes eat the dead skin off of you. For some new age treatment that would have cost $40/hour in the States we drop $5, hop in and let the weirdness begin. At first, it’s unbearable. I can’t keep my feet still for five seconds without giggling. But then you kinda get used to it, and ease your entire body in (with your hands around your shorts, of course). Ten minutes later we’re kicking back, passing the aforementioned huangjiu (which happens to be in an epic ceramic jar) back and forth while the fish eat their fill, sort of coming to terms with the fact that, yes, we’re in China and this is happening.

Jargon

laowai - colloquial term for a foreigner; will be shouted at you with wild abandon

huangjiu - a tasty yellow wine; better than baijiu

I originally had another article in mind for this week because I thought that I had already missed the mark as far as how relevant this article would be. Most of you already have your decorations up, have purchased gifts and maybe wrapped them, and possibly are already at your holiday destination.

But I figured that if one procrastinator (I’m right there with you) reads this and implements some of the forthcoming tips, it would have made a difference. So here goes!

The holiday season is known for family, cheer, goodwill, and eggnog. You get to see people you haven’t seen all year and share an enormous meal with them (and more eggnog). In addition to all the familial warmth, the holidays are also the most wasteful time of year in America. It’s a season of great excess that knows no bounds. So instead of picking a month to really hammer the earth, let’s try to make this year’s Christmas a green one. I think even Santa drives a hybrid now! All I know is someone owes me a new roof.

Here are five tips to reduce your footprint in some of the biggest areas of waste during the holidays.

1. Modest Decorations – Throughout December, Americans watch their meter go up, up, up, further than it’s ever gone the rest of the year. Roughly 83% of us decorate our homes for the holidays (Electrical Safety Foundation Intl.). Of course, the majority of these decorations are lights. In addition to turning our homes into a virtual tinder boxes, we our wasting our hard-earned cash to see who’s house can be the gaudiest monument on the block for a single day of the year. It’s kind of ridiculous.

Instead of trying to be Chevy Chase this year, let’s all have an exercise in moderation, tastefulness, courtesy to neighbors that like to sleep at night, fire-safety, and efficiency by using decorations that use little to no power.

2. Utilitarian Gifts – I bet some of you already have that person in mind that you know is going to give you something that you will never use in any lifetime. In order to avoid wasting your money on something that you haven’t a clue if it will be used or not, get a specific list of things that people definitely want because they know that they’ll definitely use them.

There’s really no way to avoid looking like a tool by telling someone what you want unless you’re asked. If you do get something that just makes you wonder “why?” then you can always donate it to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Just don’t throw it away or re-gift it to someone else who isn’t going to use it either (read: passing the buck).

3. Gift Bags – Think back to the last Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanza/Winter Solstice morning you had, and visualize all of that colorful paper carnage that littered the ground after the gift-giving frenzy was over. Most of that cannot be recycled because of the shear volume of ink used in production. 

A lot of the gifts exchanged in my family come in those gift bags that you shove tissue paper in. Once you savagely tear out that paper like a wild beast (still just as satisfying as ripping off wrapping paper), you can put it back in and save the bag for your gifting next year. Saves money, and the environment!

4. Local Foods – Most of us, myself included, turn into voracious eating machines during the holidays. Whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, or borderline carnivore, I think we can all admit that we see an increase in food (and alcohol) intake around this time of year. While we’re stuffing our faces, we could help out the environment, our bodies, and the local economy by trying to limit ourselves to locally sourced, organic foods.

While being especially tasty, local organic foods are fresh and contain no harmful preservatives. I always feel better about what I’m eating when I can pronounce every ingredient that it took to make it. Also, you are limiting your carbon footprint by choosing to buy food that didn’t have to be shipped in from halfway across the globe via plane, train, and automobile (and sometimes boat).

5. Energy Efficient Travel – According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, long-distance trips during the Thanksgiving holiday period increase by 54% while trips during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday increase by 23%. That’s a huge increase in emissions. By no means at all am I saying to just leave your family hanging and stay home for the holidays, but there are some creative solutions for long-distance travel.

An obvious one is car-pooling. Communicate with others in the area that are going to be attending your gathering, and even ones that aren’t but are going somewhere nearby, and organize a big car pool to take those cars off the road. If all else fails, those Greyhounds are gonna be on the road no matter what, so you could always pile in to take your car off the road for the holidays.

These are the five biggest areas of waste I can think of. If there are others that I’m missing, please feel free to bring them up in the comments, along with any creative solutions to reduce, reuse, and recycle. And if you happened to get the plate number on Santa’s Prius this year, let me know.

I hope some of you still have time to employ these tips, and if you do, wow what are you waiting for?! It’s going to be hell out there these next few days! Have fun fighting other shoppers for that last whatever. But also thank you. Thanks for waiting the last second so that you could possibly stumble upon this (or literally StumbleUpon it) in time to make a difference. Those of you that are already prepared, bookmark this for next year!

Be safe everyone, and have a great holiday!

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