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Well, its been a long time since I wrote last. Too long, I think. I've been looking through my previous letters and I reckon the last one was on 14th October. How time flies! I've been busy as per normal, most recently by marking nearly 250 1,000 word essays from my third year English majors.
The good news is that I am now on a 6 week break. The New Year holiday is just beginning for the students and will begin for everyone else in about a week's time. Everyone in China will try and get home to spend the festival with their family, the transport networks go crazy and lots of businesses close down. But that's getting ahead of myself. Now I've got a little time I thought I'd do a quick re-cap of the last couple of months.
We've had Christmas here. Christmas is not meant to be a major festival, however, things in China have changed and people are lapping up the Christmas commercialism with an Asian-Tiger form of a vengeance. Nearly all the shops and bars in the city centre had large amounts of Christmas decorations and every shop blared out Jingle Bells. It turns out the Christmas eve is now regarded in China as a kind of second Valentines Day. Courting couples will spend the evening together, with lots of them even going to church, to spend a bit of quality time with each other in a way that ensures that not too much intimacy will be take place.
I had a nice big (plastic) tree in my house which was tastefully decorated. I didn't have a star or fairy for the top of it, but I did have a toy moose which I brought with me which did very well. On Christmas Day itself a dozen English teachers from different parts of Hubei came to visit. We had a lovely all-you-can-eat turkey (and lots of other meats and sea food) dinner at a plush, revolving restaurant on the 26th floor in Hankou ( the main business part of Wuhan) for a extortionate six pounds each. We then came back to my place to open presents. Before the big day itself I had had a variety of Christmas parties to go to. I played the piano at a children's party (where the kids got so excited they stormed and mauled Santa) I was invited to various student gatherings and I had my own party.
It turns out Chinese people are very demanding guests at a party. Anything with the word party in the title is actually expected to be a show. People are very unused to making talk, big or small, over one or two drinks. Indeed, whilst there are at least a dozen Kareoke bars immediately outside the university gates, there are only 3 bars near the university where you can talk to your friends and not come out with bleeding ears from the high volume, high pitch sing-a-long. Even these three are very small and none of them are doing very well. So when you throw a party in China you best make sure you've got the entertainment laid on to, otherwise people will be completely bemused by the concept of talking to the other guests. Luckily, I had picked up on this before so we did an impromptu Nativity play, I taught them The 12 Days of Christmas and we sang Do they know its Christmas?
One of the main things that has kept me busy in the run up to Christmas was the play. I was asked by the English Department's communist party office (a kind of student union with a more authority and fewer elections) to help out a group who had been working on Hamlet. We worked together for about 5 weeks before the show finally went up on the 18th December. The foreign "Experts" (me and 11 other teachers from abroad) were also asked to put on a secret play to surprise the students. We put on a kind of pantomime called "The Wizard of Wuhan" There was no 'Somewhere over the rainbow' but there was lots of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road". The style of the play completely foxed the Students Union. They sent a delegation of Student Union staff (not students) to view the show the day before the curtain went up. We were not only playing the characters of Dorothy, Tin Man and the rest of them, we were also playing ourselves doing these roles. After they had sat thin lipped through our last run-through they were very unhappy and asked us what the play was trying to achieve . Suddenly worried whether we were being much too sophisticated for the next night's audience, and aware of the displeasure we were about to cause, we didn't go into the next day with very high hopes. However, the students (600+ of them) loved it and all previous fears were allayed.
Other things I've been doing is a few more appearances on Wuhan TV (including talking about loans and credit in the UK, playing the piano for a world friendship 'party', talking about Hamlet and doing an advert) I've also been on a few more trips to places a bit further a field including the wedding of someone who works in our International Office.
The last major thing I've been doing is writing a website. You can now see this tremendous project with your own eyes at the modestly titled www.russelleagling.com. There you can see pictures of Wuhan, Shanghai and the other places I've been visiting, you can see pictures of Hamlet in rehearsal and you can even read the script that almost caused so many problems. In fact you can find out more about nearly all the things above by visiting the site so I hope you can find a few moments to spare to take a peek. Forwarding on the address to other people is also very much encouraged. It still needs more work, so please don't be too harsh in your judgments.
I'm very excited because in a week's time Ed will be flying out to spend the rest of the Spring Break on our very own odyssey around China. We're going to be pulling in Beijing where we'll spend Chinese New Year itself, The Great Wall, The Terracotta warriors in Xi'an, The Three Gorges and hopefully Shanghai and a few other places too.
Hope you've had a merry Christmas (sorry about not sending any cards!) and I hope you are having a happy New Year or will have a happy Chinese New Year (The actual date is the 21st I believe)
Anyway, I must go. In the week before Ed gets here I'm trying to do some more work on my Chinese, I'm also going to Tai Kwon Do classes and I'm even getting up at 6:30am to do morning Tai Chi. I'm also making a Diplomacy board so that I can teach my students this new game. Its almost complete now and I just have to write the names of the different places on the board and then I'm done.
Catch you all again soon.
All the best
Launched on December 25th 2003