The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Why Spend Christmas in Tongliao?

(Besides the fact that I have no choice)

I'll tell you! Why, Tongliao has 4 highways and 6 railroads running through it! And kids, remember what I always say: no Chinese Christmas party is ever complete without a visit from the party secretary. What party is that again? Well, the Communist Party, silly goose! We were all (including Mom and Dad, in town for Christmas, bless their little hearts) treated to an introduction to the Inner Mongolian Father Christmao himself on December 25 at the party the school threw for us. And man, from what he told us about them highways and railroads, Tongliao sure is the next...oh, I don't know...Boise, Idaho.

Rewind to December 22. Mama and Papa-san arrive in Tongliao to spend the holiday weekend with me. I bring them to the New Century Hotel, which is surely the finest establishment of its kind here. I told Dean Zheng to book them the nicest kind of room they had, which even so had me a little worried, knowing the Dove standard. Well, I needn't have stressed - they ended up with a massive 2-bedroom suite, complete with heart-shaped jacuzzi, sauna and massage table in one of the 2 full bathrooms. Now I know it seems like a terrible waste to pay for such excess, but sometimes you're willing to pay $100 a night for such luxury. And the extra bedroom didn't go entirely to waste. I made myself quite comfortable there for a couple of nights. Or rather, I made myself quite comfortable in that fully-equipped bathroom, since these days I'm willing to do most anything to score a hot shower (turns out solar-heated water tanks don't so much heat as stay very cold when it's sub-zero outside and windy).

After a day on campus watching me teach and touring some of the buildings (very quickly since few are heated save for the classrooms themselves), Mom and Dad praised me heartily for doing a good job teaching and enduring the biting cold, the likes of which they're surely hoping never to experience again. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen either of them so close to suicide before. What I didn't tell them at the time, however (and this stays between me and you), is that the Chinese goverment decided to make it especially cold just for the time they were in town, since they have the gall to make their home in Japan. Keep that fact on the DL though. We don't want my blog getting censored, now do we? Oh WAIT it already is.*

Christmas Eve rolled around, and Mom and Dad offered to take all us foreigners out for dinner, which we gladly accepted, having turned down an invitation to the New Century Hotel's Christmas Eve party, which promised little more than extremely mediocre Western food and tacky decorations. Little did we know that one does not just "politely decline" to appear at the New Century's party. Indeed, they were determined to make us their Western monkeys on display, come SARS or hard water. We were told as much by Dean Zheng, who said that it would be rude for us not to attend the entire party, even though we offered to make a brief appearance with our explanation being that Christmas for us is a time for close friends and family, not being toasted into a highly-visible drunken oblivion by whoever feels like staring at the local white people.

I guess that's not a fair thing to say about the Chinese. So after proceeding with our own dinner plans, Mom and Dad having been accosted themselves by a hotel employee (who creepily knew that I'm a dancer and wanted me to dance AT the party) wanting them to come to the party and who wouldn't take no for an answer, we gave in and made an appearance later that evening. And sure enough, I was too harsh in my assumption that it would be an excuse to put the local white people on display. There were black people there too.

As a result of our Christmas Eve good will to all men, I woke up hungover on Christmas morning in Mom and Dad's suite. Welcome to quasipseudotransitional adulthood, Diana. There's no rest for the drunkard in China, though, as the school had us at their own Christmas party drinking beer and baijiu quicker than I could say, "bu yao xie xie." Mom and Dad being the most distinguished laowai in the room, they were the object of numerous toasts and speeches, including a request by my Chinese co-worker, Nina, that she be their Chinese daughter. That makes her my sister, and I don't know about you, but I totally see the resemblance.

Fast-forward to the visit from the Communist Party secretary, improvised Christmas caroling, bilingual drinking games, and the end of Mom and Dad's visit. I accompanied them to the airport that night and thanked them for making the trip to spend Christmas here with me; it sure was weird enough without having to miss my parents on top of all that. Their response? "No problem, honey - it was wonderful to see you. We're going to Bali now. Merry Christmas!"

So between their visit and the Arts Festival going on here at the school (we gladly make ourselves the performing monkeys here, just not for the New Century Hotel), I've been kept extremely busy this holiday season. I'm now knee-deep in final exams, red pen in hand, looking forward to the month-long Spring Festival. It's weird to give exams to my 6- and 7-year-olds, but I have to admit to a perverse pleasure in being on the other end of the teacher-student relationship. Finals are one thing I will not miss about college! Well, except for the singular joy one cannot achieve by any other means than finishing one's last final. But you know what? In China, I don't take finals and I still go on a month's vacation! I'll be touring southern China, hitting up Tokyo again, and even making an appearance in good old Beantown, believe it or not.

Damn, I'm even jealous of me.

Happy New Year!

*Yeah, you can't open blogs in China. I use an "anonymous" website to read them from here. I'm so edgy, I know.


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