Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tradition Preserved: Decorating Christmas Cookie

We  have been having all the students over to our apartment in groups of about 6. Great events. Our Fridays get dedicated to groups from about 3 PM to 9 PM. The kids need to take a one hour ride into the old campus to get to our place and then a one hour ride back out. If they can't get the school bus, they spend almost 2 hours on the public bus. But no one would miss it. They love being in our home. The love the extra English speaking and conversational activities. And they love the activities we do together.  For the month of December we had the groups decorate Christmas Cookies - just like we do it at home. 
None of them have ever done such a thing and most have not eaten anything as sweet as a decorated cookie. Most of them have never cooked at all. [Their moms take total care of them before college because they "need" to constantly prepare for the "monstrous" Chinese version of the SAT. During all four years of college must live in kitchenless dormitories and they eat 3 meals a day in the cafeteria for 60 cents to $1.50 per meal.] They have loved our cooking activities. We have loved them too.

As to the cookie decorating, even though they are total rookies at it, it is pretty much 100% like doing it with our kids at home during their high school and college years. It has really been fun. Our apartment decorated for Christmas, Josh Groban or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir  playing Christmas Carols. A seasonal scent from a burning candle.

The evenings are great for their English, very rewarding for us, and super opportunities to talk about all things American, families, traditions, and more.

Our little but wonderful Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas

One of our favorite seasonal activities is watching the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional and the accompanying Christmas music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. If you have not see this, it is well worth taking an hour to watch it. We are grateful we were able to watch it over the internet.

Christmas is everywhere in China. All the stores are decorated and there is music everywhere. In fact, the other day in class I thought I heard "Jingle Bell" outside. I opened our classroom window and sure enough, the school PA system was pumping Christmas music all over the campus. While not quite as broadly as in America, the malls and stores are pretty much playing the music.

Santa in the student cafeteria
This first Santa display dominates the entrance to the student cafeteria  It has apparently been up 365 days a year for several years. And of course lots of Christmas music is often played in the cafeteria. But I don't think there is much Christian belief in the season. We have a few students who are Muslim. We don't have any Christians in our classes. Catholicism and Protestantism are legal in China, but I am unaware of an evident presence.

This second Santa is typical of a Target or department store, or mall Santa. Lots of them around. There is apparently some gift giving that goes on in the spirit of the season. Generally though, our students tell us that the big "Spring Festival" in early February is the Chinese equivalent of Christmas when families get together and lots of gift giving goes on.

The students are very interested in the cultural, family, traditions, and religious history of the season. In Ann's pronunciation and oral classes she has her kids enjoying many seasonal songs and activities as the content for  their oral work. I am actually hoping to get a clip of them singing the 12 Days of Christmas to add to our family compilation.

Christmas in China is a vital economic holiday in America that drives billions of dollars of purchases from China keeping their economic engine running. So most definitely a Merry Christmas from and on behalf of China! As time goes by, I think we will see more and more of the real meaning of Christmas permeate the hearts and souls of the Chinese. We miss you all and hope that you are able to enjoy the blessed spirit of the joyous seasons with your families.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Just a little bit."

Major success. I think I (Paul) figured out how to communicate "Just a little bit" to a Chinese barber. I am not sure if it was the spoken Chinese. Very doubtful. Or maybe this one had some English skills. Doubtful - this is China. Maybe it was my pantomiming, or charades, or body language. Or something. But unfortunately I only got it half right. I meant, "Only cut a little bit." He understood, "Just leave a little bit." Shortest haircut since my 10 year old buzz cut. Communication really is an interesting challenge. Better me than Ann, right?

No photos this posting!

It is interesting to also note that in our circumstances, the blessings of the gift of tongues is regularly exhibited in effective communication rather than as an actual language skill - unless it is a Chinese understanding our English way beyond their normal ability. And alternatively, someone is constantly being placed in our path when we need assistance. Neither one this time though.

I am surprised to discover it has been 2 weeks since our last post. Time does fly. Things continue well with constant new adventures. Thanksgiving was a pleasant, enjoyable surprise. Monday our BYU supervisors were in town and took a group of 16 of us to a small local restaurant for a totally authentic American Thanksgiving. Then on Thursday a slightly different group of 16 of us went to a Westin Hotel for a nice dinner buffet. Not totally authentic, but still a delightful celebration. Ann says we had greyhound turkeys!

For a good number of the BYU teachers whose teachings schedules have Friday open, a Thursday-Sunday trip to Beijing was the order of the day over Thanksgiving weekend. For us, except for the special meals, the routine of he week was relatively normal.