‘Tis the Season?

The halls are decked with boughs of holly and stockings are hung by the fireplace with care, and yet, I can’t quite wrap my head around the season. Is it really Christmastime again? (Okay, really, my million miles of staircases are decked with glittery, plastic garland and my stockings are hung on the bookshelf, but it’s close.) But, how can it be Christmas? I am wearing a sundress and sandals and my hoodie never sees the light of day. The Christmas tree is up, sparkling in the corner of the living room and I’ve put “winter smells” on the Scentsy, all in hopes of making 90 degrees feel like December in Idaho. But, the tiny lizards skittering on the wall behind the tree are a gentle reminder that we aren’t in Kansas (or Idaho) anymore.

So far, with five months under our belts (five months already?!?), Kuala Lumpur has been a great second posting. The city is easy to live in (well, if you don’t count the slightly crazy traffic patterns) where you can find anything- for a price. While I hear people complain of pollution problems, it is a million times better than Chengdu, so another check in the “positive” column for us. Physically, Kuala Lumpur is a much simpler place to get by on a day to day basis than anywhere we lived in China.

But, the thing that really gets to me is not the physical aspects of living here, but the mental- it’s all about the seasons.

As a native Idahoan, I’ve seen my share of chilly winters. When I was a kid, we’d get snow drifts in the backyard that were ripe for tunnel and fort creation and the canyon behind our house was prime sledding real estate. We’d bundle up in our rainbow colored moonboots, dorky earmuffs shaped like fuzzy rodents and uber-puffy coats with mittens on a string and head for the hills. Literally. Years later, as an adult, a similar process would take place at my parents’ cabin in the mountains. Although I was lacking the over-the-top 80s outdoor gear, layers upon layers were easily accumulated and adorned before heading out in search of the perfect place to make inaugural runs down the hillside. (Sometimes, making your own path has its own perils. I’ve got a scar on the small of my back to prove that going top speed down an ungroomed hill isn’t always as fantastic of an idea as it appears when you are standing at the top of the abyss. You never know where a sharp spike of a branch lies hidden just below the surface of the snow…)

I don’t love cold, but I am willing to make the best of it.

The lack of cold was actually one of the huge selling points for me when we looked at KL. Strangely, after twenty-or-so weeks, it is the thing that has been hardest to wrap my head around here. I can understand why people park their cars in the street, blocking traffic (pretty much because, why not? No one does anything to discourage/stop it) and I get why malls are the hottest entertainment around (can you say “automatic air con?).

But no seasons?

How does one mark time? When I look at photos from the last half a year, I’m wearing my Malaysia uniform in all of them- brightly colored, layered tank tops and neutral shorts with a pair of strappy sandals. Was that taken in July? October? December? Who knows!?!? I’d never have a problem picking out the time of year a photo was taken when we were in Idaho, Utah, Washington DC, Chengxian or Chengdu. These places all have seasons!

Eventually, it does start to mess with your mind. Time flows wrong without the passage of seasons. I can look at a calendar and know subjectively that Halloween/a birthday/Thanksgiving/Christmas is upon us, but as soon as I glance away from the calendar, those thoughts flee like cockroaches from Thad’s shoe.

It really is strange.

The best way to remedy thoughts of it not being the holiday season is a quick trip to one of the local malls. Currently, they are all blasting carols throughout their corridors and the bigger the mall, the more massive the Christmas display erected in its center court. (We’re talking several stories high trees, snowman that look like they got make-up advice from the Joker, animatronic elves- each and every one bucktoothed, as if it is a genetic predisposition, and even small Ferris wheel that looks like it belongs to Santa himself.

So, with December and the holidays having sneaked up so stealthily, my one wish for the man in red this year is for post #3 to have seasons. They don’t have to be long or dramatic, but seasons where the temperature fluctuates and my wardrobe requires at least a minimal rotation, maybe a nod to some cute boots or a fashionable scarf and definitely the desire for a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. I’ve been good this year, I promise, and my list is short. Seasons. Mild ones, even.

Season’s greetings, from the land of no seasons!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Most *Fabulous* Time of the Year

The holidays can be stressful. There’s no getting around it. From searching for the perfect gift (something I obsess over and start working on in September!) to decorating and wrapping, to holiday parties, there is always lingering things on my to-do list. When you live overseas, some of that stress lessens, as the hectic hustle and bustle of mall shopping in non-existent (okay, in China, it exists, but as the status quo, since you’re sharing the mall with a million other shoppers on any given Saturday) and you’re used to being flexible with traditions. (In the States, we *always* had a full-sized, live Christmas tree, but now that we are constantly on the move, we’ve got an adorable 3-foot tree that stores away on top of an armoire eleven months out of the year, but does the trick.)

But, this year, I ran into a whole new level of holiday craziness. No, it wasn’t the four parties in seven days. That was actually pretty fun: one fancy house party for sixty, one staff party for eighty, one cookie exchange that I baked not one, but *two* kinds of cookies for (the only place I spent less time than the kitchen is the gym!) and then a low-key, enjoyable evening with friends to wrap up the hectic holiday week.

So, if four parties wasn’t the cause of my quickly graying hair, what was? Santa. Plain and simple. It was Santa.

He’s a staple of Christmas parties and was scheduled to make an appearance at not one, but both of the events that I hosted this year. With that in mind, before Thanksgiving, I was checking on my red velvet suit, coal black boot covers and white wig/beard combo. Last year, it was borrowed by some folks at work for their personal Christmas party and it then spent the rest of the year at their place. When I went in search of it a few months ago, I was told by the borrowers that yes, they had it, no problem.  Then, once I tore of the penultimate page of my calendar and was facing down the holiday season, I again inquired about the suit. This time, the news was not good. What the borrowers thought was my Santa suit turned out to be a Mario Brothers costume! (I know. You are currently wondering how in the world the two could be mistaken, but without asking too many questions, I’m chalking it up to seeing a lot of red fabric in a bag and assuming it belonged to Santa, rather than Mario. (Yes, I did just have to look up which brother wore red. Thank you, Google.)

That left me a week before Santa was supposed to make his inaugural appearance and with a middle-aged Italian plumber in place of a jolly old fat man with a massive white beard. I don’t think I’d be able to pull that one off, even for the toddlers!

No good.

Talk about ramping up the holiday stress! Four days and counting, with no Santa.

Chengdu was searched, high and low, to no avail. Malls were walked. Markets were scoured. Schools were called. Hotels were contacted. Nothing.

Just as I was starting to contemplate two holiday parties with no guest of honor, a Christmas miracle appeared out of the fog (pollution?). A colleague mentioned that her apartment complex had a holiday party the weekend before, where Father Christmas made an unexpected appearance (along with dancing pandas and dinosaurs  reenacting “What Does the Fox Say?” and scantily clad girls gyrating to Christmas classics, but that is an entirely different story!) This colleague’s husband made a few calls and sent a few emails and within hours we were in possession of a FABULOUS Santa suit. (And believe me, it was fabulous. The white around the collar and the boots was rainbow glittered and the belt was gold and just sparkly enough to summon unicorns, but I was in no position to negotiate my suit accessories. Fabulous Santa it would be!)

In the end, my two volunteer Santas suited up and did a marvelous job, entertaining the young and the less young alike. So, while others are pondering their last minute gift shopping needs (I did have to run and do stocking stuffer shopping at the last minute, on my lunch break today), I’m using Google to search out the nearest hair salon to our hotel in Honolulu. Santa may be blessed with snowy white hair, but after this holiday season, I’ve been gifted with stress-given gray!

Fabulous Santa #1

Fabulous Santa #1

Celebrating Twelve Days of Chengdu Christmas

Okay, we’re still 23 days out from Christmas, but sitting here enjoying my one-inch square, waxy piece of chocolate shaped like a deformed bell, I’ve already jumped into the eggnog pool with both feet. So, to kick off my month of glitter and sparkles (in red and green, of course!), here’s my newest version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

12  Days of Christmas- Chengdu Style

On the first day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
A single glowing ray of sunshine

On the second day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the third day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Three wheels of terror,
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the fourth day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Four fully clothed dogs,
Three wheels of terror,                                                                                                                                                                                        Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the fifth day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Five air purifiers,
Four fully clothed dogs,
Three wheels of terror,
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the sixth day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Six scooter collisions,
Five air purifiers,
Four fully clothed dogs,
Three wheels of terror,
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the seventh day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Seven cabbies a-smoking,
Six scooter collisions,
Five air purifiers,
Four fully clothed dogs,
Three wheels of terror,
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the eighth day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Eight grandmas advising,
Seven cabbies a-smoking,
Six scooter collisions,
Five air purifiers,
Four fully clothed dogs,
Three wheels of terror,
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the ninth day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Nine Saturday outings,
Eight grandmas advising,
Seven cabbies a-smoking,
Six scooter collisions,
Five air purifiers,
Four fully clothed dogs,
Three wheels of terror,
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the tenth day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Ten sidewalk loogies,
Nine Saturday outings,
Eight grandmas advising,
Seven cabbies a-smoking,
Six scooter collisions,
Five air purifiers,
Four fully clothed dogs,
Three wheels of terror,
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Eleven unsmiling PAP guards,
Ten sidewalk loogies,
Nine Saturday outings,
Eight grandmas advising,
Seven cabbies a-smoking,
Six scooter collisions,
Five air purifiers,
Four fully clothed dogs,
Three wheels of terror,
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
Chengdu sent to me
Twelve stops on the Metro,
Eleven unsmiling PAP guards,
Ten sidewalk loogies,
Nine Saturday outings,
Eight grandmas advising,
Seven cabbies a-smoking,
Six scooter collisions,
Five air purifiers,
Four fully clothed dogs,
Three wheels of terror,
Two jin of jiaozi,
And a single glowing ray of sunshine

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(A few years ago,as I avoided spending another hour with my Chinese textbooks, desperately wishing for some ayi vocabulary but only learning to express my opinion on six-party trade talks, I wrote an FSI version as well. It’s here, if you are interested.)

I Feel it in My Fingers, I Feel it in My Toes

There’s a chill in the air. (Not an Idaho-chill, but still, it is cooling off enough to kill all but the hardiest of mosquitoes.)  Last week my flight back from Shanghai had English Christmas carols blaring during boarding. (Not that Christmas carols are indicative of anything more than the desire to play foreign music, as I do hear them all year long in the supermarkets, but I particularly enjoyed the evening’s rousing rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.”) And the fruit stands are overflowing with mandarin oranges. (These things are the nectar of the gods and my favorite part of late fall in Chengdu!) All of this adds up to just one thing- the holiday season is upon us!

I’m a sucker for Christmas! I know all the complaints about it being overly commercialized and I understand those sentiments, but I also get frustrated when I hear them uttered by the same people who are plowing through the Black Friday crowds to get the last Play Station 4. (Although, I hear Black Friday is losing a bit of its appeal, as so many retailers are opening on Thanksgiving. That is sheer madness!! Go home, eat some turkey, read the ads in preparation for Friday and watch the Lions lose to Green Bay.)  Christmas is what you and yours choose to make of it. If you want to go whole hog on the retail side of things, go for it. Have a prettily decorated tree with a pile of gifts underneath and stocking overflowing with sweets.  If you want to focus on the service and selfless giving side of the holiday, make shoebox kits for the homeless, teach your children to love unconditionally and put an extra effort into making others happy. But, I don’t think one has to choose between these two distinct versions of the holiday.

For me, it takes great amounts of will power to hold off on the Christmas music and decorating until the day after Thanksgiving.

I totally didn’t make it this year!

It started with the Chengdu International Women’s Club holiday bazaar on Saturday and then quickly devolved into full-on holiday-ness on Sunday.  The start of the weekend saw me manning the US Consulate booth at the bazaar, selling the Chinese silk stockings that the ladies of the consulate community had sewed over the course of the last three weeks. (It was a veritable sweatshop for charity!) After a bright, warm day that felt nothing like the white Christmases of my childhood (this is Chengdu, no sunshine, just brightness), but was filled with Santa and stockings and middle school band performances,  the holiday was coursing through my blood.  Still, I thought I could hold off for just ten more days. But no. One of my favorite Christmas movies is Love Actually, which I had been telling myself I’d watch the weekend after the turkey feast, but then we had a friend in town who had never seen it, so I just couldn’t put it off two more weeks. Into the DVD player it went!

Over the weekend, the holiday seal was broken and now I’m dying to jump in with both feet!

I’ve got boxes of decorations stashed away in my apartment’s one closet. My tree (fake, of course) is tucked away in a cardboard box on top of an armoire in the spare bedroom, just waiting for the acrobatic athleticism it is going to take to haul that thing down from eight feet up. And, my Christmas gifts are all in the mail. (I his “send” on the last Amazon order, headed to friends in DC, this morning.)

Now, all I need are the Christmas music CDs and candy canes from America that are set to arrive in Chengdu on Saturday night and a tad bit of patience to make it through two more weeks until I decorate both home and the office and let the festivities ensue!

Thumpity, thump, thump

Thumpity, thump, thump

Look at Christmas come!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night

Merry Christmas from China, round three.

After two Christmases in western China as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I would have told you with a rather high level of certainty that Shengdan Laoren would not be making another visit in my life. Oh, how wrong I was!

Granted, the holiday season in the Foreign Service bears little resemblance to that of a Peace Corps Volunteer. This year we had a whole like-minded community with which to celebrate, several Christmas parties to get us in the spirit and the good fortune to have access to pouch shipping, which allowed family and friends to send gifts knowing that they would make it without being riffled through by various post offices along the way.

Christmas in Idaho entailed a morning of gift opening at our place, followed by the lively and a bit chaotic gathering at my parents’ house, an afternoon nap and then a trip to Thad’s mom’s place for the evening. Throughout those various get-togethers, there is enough food to feed a small army, which to be fair, is what we comprise when the entire McDaniel family is all in a room together. (Over the last few weeks, as I’ve chatted with Mom about winter plans, she has twice mentioned that they might go tubing at Bogus Basin since no one is pregnant…that she knows of. Is this a bit of wishful thinking on Grandma Joycie’s part?)

Christmas is China is much mellower, lacking the bedlam created by young ones full of belief in Santa and sugar cookies. Family is still a part of the mix though, with calls home for the big day. (Apparently, every foreigner in China had the same idea this morning, as FaceTime was unusually choppy and computer-to-computer Skype was unusable. Thank goodness for regular ol’ Skype long distance.)

Now, as bread is baking in my brand new bread-maker, I am curled up on my couch with Ellen Degeneres’ latest book and a wheat-filled lap warmer making me just a tad bit cozier, as Thad loads his Revolutionary War themed video game and we contemplate reheating the last of the Christmas Eve lasagna on our pretty, new plates. (The bread warmer was a welcome surprise, as a loaf of bread is astonishingly difficult to find in China. I can buy several slices of very soft, almost cake-like white bread, but it will cost $3US for just four slices. The other choices are small loaves of bread at local bakeries that are always filled with unsavory surprises. I lovingly call these loaves “shit-in-the-middle” bread. Sometimes it is a red bean paste that hides inside the crust of a seemingly safe loaf of bread; at other times, that bread has a ribbon of raisins and custard slicing through the center. None of these breads are fit for a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. From now on, all bread in my house will be Ross-made bread!)

Is China Christmas the same as the one we would have in the US? Nope. No way. Not a bit. But, it is still Christmas in its own unique way and we get to spend it together as our little 2-family, so there will be no complaints from me.  Not all are so lucky.

So, as the day winds down on our side of the world and many of you are just starting to celebrate, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

圣诞快乐.

Merry Christmas from the Ross family

Merry Christmas from the Ross family