The week leading up to Christmas was quite full with all kinds of singing and schmoozing. On Tuesday the foreign language department teachers and staff (plus me) were taken out to dinner by Chairman Zhang, the president of the school. It was significant because Zhang is so happy and chummy all of the time. I can't help but smile any time I think of him. It was also significant because the food was very good and very different than I'd ever had before.
Two dishes really stand out: the baby shrimp and corn dish, which were fried (I think). Does it make me a sinner for really loving fried baby shrimp?
Next was what can only be described as crunchy corn & apple pizza with sprinkles on top. Absolutely delicious. And bizarre. But mostly delicious... until it got lukewarm. Lukewarm corn isn't any good, even with sprinkles on top.
After dinner we bundled up and headed out to the local KTV. KTVs are very popular in China. Essentially they are karaoke joints. But erase all your ideas of American karaoke bars and exchange it for cozy rooms with mirrors on the ceiling and waiters who bring tables of snacks while you and your group of 10-15 friends sing to your heart's content. Everyone joins in, even the people who seem very shy. And people don't need alcohol to really get going either. Matt & I sang a couple of duets, including the illustrious "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." I think I need to start a KTV revolution here in the states. So much better than bowling (and I love bowling)!
The next night was an even fancier shin-dig at Xiaogan Hotel where all of the foreigners in town were invited to a big dinner reception to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with the mayor and several other city officials. There were about 50 foreigners present and around 75 people there total. Matt was asked to give a speech (about 4 minutes long) about living in Xiaogan. He was the only foreigner to give a speech. The mayor loved his speech so much, that Matt's name and part of his speech made it into the local paper the next day.
Following the speeches was a dinner of more courses than I can remember. And finally, the entertainment. Some of it planned, some of it on the spot. The mayor, who seemed to be a very happy fellow, attempted to sing a Russian song with a Russian lady acapella. Afterwards Matt & I performed our rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", which was received so well that the mayor himself requested an encore of "My Heart Will Go On". This is a favorite in China, so Matt has sung it a lot already this year. I, however, had never fulfilled my eighth grade dream to sing this Titanic hit to a crowd of strangers - a dream that lost it's luster somewhere around eleventh grade, but no matter, here was my chance! So we grinned and did our best to remember all of the words as some foreigners rolled their eyes, others cheered, waved their arms in the air and took pictures, and the mayor sung along from the front row.
A dream come true.
Christmas day was filled with bliss, too. Matt cooked up a brilliant breakfast (I helped) of pancakes, maple syrup (from scratch), applesauce (also from scratch), scrambled eggs and French pressed coffee. Mmm. We spent the day with the other foreign teachers, exchanged gifts and had an incredibly memorable Christmas dance party at Karen & Jeff's apartment (they are both foreign language teachers from Cameroon - they have an adorable five-month old boy). And as Matt & I strolled back from dinner and dancing, we got to watch fireworks going off just a few streets away from us.