The university held a party for the foreign teachers on the 24th of December. They called it a New Year’s party when they told us about it. In the emailed announcement Mr. Li sent out he asked each of us to respond telling him what we would perform in the talent show portion of the party. Independently of each other and to Mr. Li’s disappointment each of us responded that we did not have any talents that we were the most untalented people in the world and had diligently practiced the lack of talents every day of our lives.
The week before the party Daniel had come around to our classes bringing each of us a gift. Inside was a porcelain tea mug with a saucer, lid and strainer. The mug was decorated with a dragon design. When I got home I noticed that they had left the price tag on. Leaving the price tag on a gift isn't considered tacky here. Some people want you to know the price but my feeling is that most just don’t think about it. The tea mug cost 230 rmb which seems fairly expensive to me. It is the kind of thing that I like having but would never have spent the money for myself.
Not everyone attended the party and some had to come late due to their class schedule. Once we’d all set down people from the school brought each of us another gift. The bag was brown and across the front it said Cutty Sark. The custom is not to look. Perhaps not looking at the gift is their equivalent to our removing price tags. I pushed the gift under the table and waited till I was home before I looked at it. Inside there was a wooden box with a glass lid. It held four boxes of different kinds of tea. None of these teas are Chinese. They’re mostly English varieties.
At the party there was a concert in which a group of girls played a couple of traditional Chinese songs. Four of the girls were playing the erhu, a two stringed instrument held upright and played with a bow. The others in the group played guzhengs or Chinese zithers. This is another stringed instrument. All the ones that I’ve seen have been made of wood. I've seen a couple of different sizes but these were about the length of a park bench. The strings run across the top of the wood. There are at least eighteen strings on a guzheng though most today have twenty-one strings. For each string there is a movable bridge. The player sits at the zither the way a person would sit to play a piano. She plucks the strings the way a person would a harp. The zither looks a lot like a harp laying down.
The concert was followed by a play. It was a strange play. I believe that the play was an adaptation of a Chinese story. They added things to it from English stories and put their own small twists on the story as well. The result was a Chinese Emperor asking his magical cellphone who was the most beautiful man in all his empire, then plotting to assassinate his rivals so that they don’t find out that he is better looking than they are. This was at the very beginning of the play and it was the last thing that I understood. The rest of it, while entertaining was also confusing. The confusion may have added to its entertainment value.
After the party we were taken to an expensive buffet restaurant in Jei Dao Kou. Buffets like this are great. There was sushi, crab, Thai dishes, Beijing Duck, lamb chops cooked in a black pepper sauce. There was a chocolate fountain to dip fruit in. There was an arrangement of breads, small deserts, a cabinet full of gelato and a cabinet full of Häagen-Dazs. To drink there were different kinds of juice and at one end they served hot chocolate. There were several things there I didn't recognize and after eating one or two I still don’t know what they were.
Christmas day we had off. There was a Christmas party held by English Salon. I attended this only because I thought I had to. Had I known that most of the others weren't going to show up I wouldn't have been there either. I sat at one of the tables and talked to the students sitting around me. One of the foreign teachers who is in his late forties and dyes his hair blonde and who has absolutely no talent for singing enthusiastically sang Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I would have rather been anywhere else on the planet at that moment.