Monday, December 27, 2004


I told my students last Thursday that I was not coming in on December 24th because I was the real Santa Claus, so I would be too busy to come to work and teach English. Despite my earlier assertion that Mommy and Daddy are really Santa, and despite my ongoing routine where I tell a big lie on Thursday morning, they believed this new information. It helped my credibility when all the other teachers played along. I told my students to ask anyone they liked, and everyone would say the same thing--That I am Santa Claus.

So imagine my students' disappointment when Christmas came and they got nothing. One girl said to me, "You lie. You are not Santa because I did not get a present." That's harsh. True, but harsh.

To salvage the situation, I explained that no, I am not really Santa, but I believe in Santa. And if you believe, then he's real. But, for him to come on Christmas, your parents have to believe, too. I told them that I still get presents from Santa (I Mom sends them), and that my Mom still believes. I also pointed out that they all got a Christmas present from the school when we had our Christmas performance last week. This all helped a little, but I could tell they were still smarting from that meanest of life's lessons--that grownups suck.

I don't think any of them were too crushed. But somehow I imagine a few of my students sitting up on Christmas Eve waiting for a big jolly fat guy to bust in their door and hand them a present before flying away in a reindeer sleigh. A fat guy that!!

p.s. For any concerned, the giant tsunami this week did not affect Taiwan.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

It's (Not) Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Yes, It's Christmas Eve. I just went into the local Toys'R'Us, and discovered that there were only about 10 other shoppers.

Last night at one of Taichung's biggest department stores, I was able to walk up and down the escalators. Anyone who lives in a big city knows why this is surprising. Subway stations and other places with public escalators often have two lines: one for standing, and one for walking. But in department stores, the same courtesy is not offered. People stand two and three abreast, and no one walks. Even down. So if you want to go down 15 floors (this is a big store), you can wait for 10 minutes for the elevator (which stops on pretty much every floor both ways), or you can queue up with the herd slowly, mechanically, and irritatingly making their way down the escalators. But yesterday, I walked around like it was a Tuesday afternoon in July.

I haven't seen one Christmas special on TV. Even the movie networks have not shown any Christmas classics (Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th St.) , or even any of the rotten new Christmas movies (Jingle all the Way, that one where Michael Keaton plays a snowman).

I couldn't find Christmas wrapping paper in three different bookstores (which are, in Taiwan, the usual place to go for gift wrap and stationery supplies like ribbons, cards, bows, stickers, etc...)

(Man, I do love the parentheses...)

Today's weather: 24C and sunny.

I feel like I need to counteract this non-spirit of Christmas. Though honestly, why I'm still so hung up about it is a mystery. I guess I do need a piece of "home" sometimes. So...

I received some Christmas cards...very cool. They are on display, though not on a fireplace mantle. Bookshelves also do in a pinch.

We have a fake tree, a real poinsettia, and other festive decorations about the living room.

We are borrowing our friend's (imported) DVD of Christmas Story (the evil DVD-region-encoding being conspicuously ignored by manufacturers in Taiwan and China)

I've taken the day off, since there's no holiday other than the usual weekend. Don't get me started about that again.

I'm sorry if you're not religious, or of a different religious persuasion, but I'm glad it's here. I think I needed it. Merry Christmas. Honestly.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Proverbial Ton of Bricks

For the longest time, you just go on thinking "Yeah, Christmas is coming, but I haven't done anything about it." Before you know it, you're writing cards and making trips to the stationery store for Scotch tape and more ornaments.

I read "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" to my kids this morning. It took a long time to set up...the punch line of the story is hard to explain:

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas--perhaps--means a little bit more

These kids have no idea about the meaning of Christmas, and their grasp of English doesn't go deep enough to explain the commercialization of holidays by the popular culture.

Also, having grown up watching the cartoon every year, the book is a little bit less interesting for kids. It's basically black and white drawings with a little spot color (red.) We're going to watch the cartoon on Friday if Tim brings it home from his school, where he's been showing it to classes of Taiwanese elementary school kids.

So, I'm getting ready for the holiday, much to my own surprise. I actually got chills today describing to my kindergarteners the anticipation and excitement of my childhood Christmases. They talk about it, and learn about it from foreigners teaching them English, but this is not really a holiday for them. Chinese (Lunar) New Year is their big one, when they get envelopes filled with money from basically everyone older than them.

And yes, I'm serious about the Christmas cards. I wouldn't have made the offer if I thought I would get lots of responses. It's more like a club. Those who have e-mailed me, I'm hoping to go to the post office tomorrow with everything. But I think that the offer will have to end by, say, Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Christmas Season Comes to My House

I've been too mean lately. So here's what I'm going to do to atone for the mean-spirited drivel I've shoveled at the 6 people who read this:

The only new Christmas tradition I've managaged to start for myself in Taiwan is the sending of Christmas cards. Though some of the cards have some strange English on them, mostly they're just pretty. And they're blank inside, saving everyone from the famous Hallmark Schlock.

If you want a Christmas card, e-mail me your address, and I'll send you one, anywhere in the world. I know some of you might be sensitive to giving that information to a stranger, so just give me enough for the mailman to find you. I'll write them on a piece of paper and immediately delete the e-mails. I do NOT need a credit card number to get you started.

I'm serious about this. I know how the digital age has changed us all, and maybe you're not even a Christian (I'm certainly not, though I look the type), but it's just a genuine offer, presented in the spirit of...something or other.

So there. That's my offer, and have a nice day.

Monday, December 06, 2004

More Mean-Spirited Observations...

Asian culture generally, and Chinese culture specifically are noted for their lack of civic-mindedness. This is not a fault to my way of thinking, just something that strikes a lot of Westerners like me as meanness. They are, instead, concerned mostly with their family ties. They know where they stand in their work collective, their job, their family or their classroom, but they don't place themselves in the whole picture. This is one reason why so many Asians will ask you "Are you married?" and "How much money do you make?" as introductory questions. They have to know where they stand right away.

This is also why they are such inconsiderate drivers. Strangers don't figure into their moral thinking. Some people even drive with their headlights off at night. Partly to "save gas," but also because they can see just fine without them in a bright city. It doesn't occur to them that the purpose of headlights is so other people can see you.

It's also why it's so difficult to find a public trash can. Even city parks don't often have them. The logic being that then people from the neighborhood would just stuff all their house trash in the park cans. And they would. Once the trash is off their property, it's someone else's problem, even across the street in a park. People clean their cars and throw all the trash on the street. I've actually seen this.

Now I have to figure out how I'm irritating them...