Monday, 30 December 2013 Filed in: China | Shanghai
Christmas is over! Maybe not officially, but it’s over in my head. Mr Oh has gone back to work. Little A has gone back to playschool. I think he’s quite relieved. He was starting to think that he was kept at home as punishment for something. It was hard work trying to keep him entertained last week. Every day, he needs to be taken out to ‘burn off the coal’, as Mr Oh calls it. Burning off the coal is not a straightforward affair in a city with radioactive pollution levels, no green spaces and a set of pavements that double as a freeway for motorbikes.
Speaking of motorbikes on pavements, my pet hate of the week is when you’re walking along the pavement, as is your right, and a motorbike zooms up behind you and beeps aggressively until you get out of its way. I am sometimes tempted to push these people off their motorbikes. In my head, I do it all the time. I give the obnoxious motorbike rider a solid sideways shove and he goes tumbling to the ground where he immediately repents for being an ass in the first place. In reality, it would be unlikely to pan out this way. In reality, the motorbike rider would get up and beat me with an iron bar. It’s not worth being self-righteous - you might end up with a black eye and a few cracked ribs. That said, I’ve never experienced any overt violence here although it’s probably mostly because I don’t act on my daydreams of attacking passing motorists.
Enough about my pet hates, my pet like of the week is the way China has embraced Christmas thereby facilitating me to decorate my home in a manner befitting the grotto of an overzealous elf. I was able to source organized bunches of festive greenery with strategically located candles (I have no idea what the official name for these things might be - “Christmas candle shrub”?). I was also able to source a real Christmas tree - although being a perishable item with a small market base in a Godless country it was not the most cost effective of my financial transactions. Some chancer up in the flower market was trying to get us to pay €180 for a tree. Mr Oh refused to even negotiate with him and almost abandoned the idea of buying a tree altogether until I accused him of trying to steal Christmas from me with his Grinchy ways. Finally we found one that did not cost €180 but still cost more than I am willing to admit in public (or private).
There are two peculiar qualities about Chinese Christmas trees.
1. They are very spiky. So spiky, in fact, that Mr Oh had to wear protective gloves while decorating the tree - an endeavor that took him over two hours to complete due as much to the constant pricking of his hands and arms as his Christmas tree OCD. Christmas tree OCD is a disease of the mind which prevents you from walking away from a tree decorating session until everything is symmetrical. This condition is aggravated by the tree itself being lopsided.
2. They come with friends. About an hour after our Christmas tree was delivered, I heard silence in the living room. Always suspicious of silence, I went in to find Little A on his hands and knees crawling around my silk rug (the same one he had poo’d on several months earlier) cavorting with a frog. Little A and the frog appeared to have struck up a firm friendship, one that I was afraid would end up with the frog in Little A’s mouth. I did what every modern woman would do. I put a bucket over the frog and waited for my husband to come home and deal with it.
The tree looked pretty in the end. Little A broke three baubles in the first ten minutes prompting me to relocate all the dangly things to the top half of the tree, which threw Mr Oh’s tree OCD into a tailspin but I promised that he can have a symmetrically decorated tree again when Little A moves out or stops wanting to eat broken glass, whichever comes first.
Santa did not come to our house because Little A does not know who Santa is. We gave him presents in the weeks before and, on the day itself, he had plenty of wrapping paper to fling at the ceiling which, it seems, was the best present of all. Ayi, our ayi, was totally perplexed by the whole affair. Her horror that we had brought a molting tree into the house was compounded by the fact that I told her how much we had paid for the dead specimen (actually, I didn’t tell her, she asked the man delivering it). Equally confusing for her were the crib figures on the mantelpiece, she kept picking up the baby Jesus and examining him, perhaps for signs that he was about to magically transform into Santa. For Christmas lunch, we went to a hotel with free flow champagne, all you can eat turkey and dancing Chinese ladies dressed like hookers…sorry, elves.
It was a good Christmas. My mother was made the arduous journey to Shanghai in mid-December to spend a festive week with us before jetting back to Ireland in time for Christmas. In her absence, my father had unilaterally taken the controversial decision to ask the butcher to take the legs off the turkey and de-bone them. She listened to his daily updates on the state of turkey with increasing alarm and had she not been afraid he would eventually ask the butcher to take all the meat off the turkey and turn it into mince for a turkey spaghetti, I think she could have been convinced to stay longer ;-)
Thankfully, Mr Oh’s brother - DJ Bubbles (so named for his penchant for music without words or apparent melody) - came over from Tokyo to spend Christmas with us. He proved to be most excellent at ‘burning off the coal’ and spent many hours teaching Little A important life lessons that seemed to involve jumping off furniture and disco dancing. He also proved to be proficient at burning off Mr. Oh’s coal and the two of them often disappeared into the lights of Shanghai after I had retired for the evening. Unfortunately, one of us had to stay and look after Little A. Also, I know that I cannot go drinking with DJ Bubbles. He’s 24, he has more coal than Inner Mongolia and he does not appear to need sleep. I let Mr Oh take the hit for the family.