Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Hao hao hao!

If I'm perfectly honest, I was a bit worried that Christmas in Beijing would be something of a non-event: a day spent trying my best to put on a brave face and to not become too wistful about family gatherings going on back at home. Not so! Celebrating the festive period here has been a brilliant experience and whilst spending it half the world away from my family is not something I'd like to make a regular thing of, this has without doubt been one of the best Christmases I have ever had.


It was a lucky coincidence that Christmas day fell on a Saturday this year- had it been on a weekday, we would've been in lessons doing revision for our fast approaching end-of-term exams. Christmas eve's lessons were spent playing games and exchanging white elephant presents with our classmates, which ranged from the attractively decorated bottle opener I received (my teacher let out a squeal of amusement when I opened it, exclaiming that it was a really fitting present for me) to a packet of chicken's feet which luckily no-one had the misfortune of having to open. The day was made even more amusing by the fact that three of my best friends had decided to dress up as Father Christmas (or 'the Christmas old man' in Chinese') for the day, which garnered them a huge amount of attention, particularly from gaggles of female Chinese students who seemed to delight in the opportunity to have their photo taken with three Western Santas.


We also had a get-together in our halls the night before to do a bit of carol singing which was fantastic and got us all into the rowdy Christmas spirit, but unfortunately the maintenance staff didn't quite have the same appreciation for our singing and on more than one occasion we were shushed and told to move on. Looking back I can't really blame them though as I don't think any of us exactly has the voice of an angel and we were being very loud.

Just before Christmas, my friends Dan and Tom told me they were going to seek out the only microbrewery in Beijing and, being an avid beer drinker in the mood for a bit of adventure, I tagged along with them. As the brewery was situated a fair walk from the nearest subway station and with temperatures of around -8°c outside we decided that we would be daring and take a ride in a slightly dodgy-looking motorised rickshaw. These tiny vehicles are basically a motor-trike with an aluminium cover over the back and I very much doubted their stability over the bumpy hutong roadways with three people squashed into the back seat, but our driver seemed dead set on proving me wrong, turning corners at break-neck speed and zooming across potholes in the road with seemingly no regard in the slightest for the safety limits of his little cab. By the end of the ride my nerves were thoroughly in tatters and I had a newfound appreciation for the steadiness of the ground beneath my feet.

Unfortunately the brewery was not the easiest of places to find and we ended up wandering around in the dimly lit hutongs long enough for our toes to become quite numb from the cold. At last we came across a small sign reading 'Great Leap Brewing' and stumbled into the semi-warmth of a sparsely furnished bar. We were greeted by a young Chinese man who told apologetically told us that the place was closed as the owners were away, but he must have noticed our crestfallen faces and told us that we could come in for a drink if we wanted. We gratefully sat down at the bar and ordered our drinks- I had a delicious chocolate stout whilst the boys went for pints of pumpkin ale. The man (apparantly the IT guy although at the time he seemed to be tending to the large fridges chilling the alcohol) served us a bowl of spicy nuts and as we chatted for a while about the owners it transpired that they hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, which also happened to be Dan's hometown. Eventually we said our goodbyes and vowed that if we had enough time, we would pay the place another visit before we went home.


On Christmas day our group of friends decided to go to one of our favourite restaurants in the area, a Japanese place where you can pay 58 kuai (about £5.80) for all-you-can-eat-and-drink for two hours in a little private room with a low table. The atmosphere was fantastic and I needn't have worried about not feeling festive as the Christmassy feeling seemed to be shared by everyone. After having stuffed ourselves with sushi, tempura and fried tofu, we sat round giving out secret Santa presents and taking part in a quiz set by my friend Alex which, incidentally, our team managed to win. That night we went out to a Korean bar and drank huge shots of a spirit called soju whilst each of us gave short speeches (most of which left me with tears in my eyes) about how much we would miss everyone and how thankful we were to have found such great friends whilst stranded over here. The evening was rounded off by hiring a room in a KTV karaoke bar, highlights of which included tuneless renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody and a bold attempt from Alex to rap a section of Justin Bieber's 'Baby'.

What can I say- Christmas in Beijing has been an unexpected yet unequivocal success! Now to get our heads down for the exams looming in the near future.. but it's not all doom and gloom as we're currently finalising plans and booking flights to go travelling around China in a couple of weeks. Until next time- zaijian!

1 comment:

  1. I do love your little stories. Sounds like you had an awesome time. Wish I could eat sushi on Christmas...! x