26 December 2005 2005 nian 12 yue 26 hao

Letter: Last Christmas in Qinghai

"Christmas is great, I like to celebrate it! It's just that I often forget!" (Anonymous)

"Why do Chinese celebrate Christmas? What's so strange about that! It's very simple, Chinese like festivals." (Guyun)

"To tell the truth, Christmas is in fact another form of Valentines' Day existing in China. The most important influence comes from Japanese popular culture and cartoons (Japanese cartoons love to use a snowy Christmas scene to express romance)." (locifer)

"Jesus belongs to everybody, so Christmas belongs to everybody too. Any country can celebrate Christmas, and nobody can discriminate. If all the people of the world could celebrate Christmas together, wouldn't that be a happy thing?" (Angel huan)

"The moment they have a bit of wealth and have read a few books, a lot of Chinese immediately busy themselves forgetting that they can trace their roots to a farming village within the last three generations. They're willing to go to KFC and eat food that costs several times more than things like jiaroubing. And they're willing to celebrate some religious festivals that originally only believers from other countries celebrated, though they don't even know what 'Sunday' is." (joozee)

— from comments made on my chinese blog

Dear Friends,

I have just celebrated my second Christmas in Qinghai, but in about ten days I'll be gone. While I am not exactly sad to be leaving, I have a feeling that I will always look back on these 18 months as one of the most interesting periods in my life, and indeed a period which has changed my life in more ways than one.

Christmas this year was, as usual, inescapable. It seemed to have all the things I dislike about Christmas in Australia (such as commercialization, kitsch decoration, Jingle Bells, and anxiety over choosing presents), and none of the things which I actually like (such as fruit mince pies, a real Christmas dinner, or any genuine Christmas atmosphere). The fact that I celebrated with several good friends did mitigate this to some extent, but why we celebrated at all is still a mystery to me. They said it was for my sake, and they were just along for the ride, but I was only celebrating for their sake!

As for how we celebrated, that was very simple: we went out for a meal first, and then sat in my friend Yuxiang's dormitory eating snack food, playing cards, and listening to Christmas carols which I had downloaded from the internet. On Christmas morning I ate tangyuan (glutinous rice balls).

However, there was one thing about Christmas this year which I was particularly pleased with: our tree. Yuxiang has a potted tree in her dormitory about 1.5 metres high. I'm not sure what kind of tree it is, and it has an odd lean to it, but we made do. We decorated it with crepe paper streamers, strings of popcorn, stars folded from plastic ribbon, chocolate coins, individually wrapped cubes of dried yak meat, and a few store-bought ornaments and tinsel. It's not an entirely traditionally Christmas tree, but we were satisfied with our work.

Our Christmas Tree

At the moment I'm quite busy, preparing for the move to Beijing, trying to finish off unfinished work, and saying my goodbyes to everyone that I've met here. Goodbyes are never easy, but to be completely honest I have to say that although I ended up making quite a few friends here, not many of them are the kind of friends that I will miss greatly. That's partly because I didn't see them often enough for us to become particularly close, and partly because many of them (especially those people I know in Minhe) lead lives very different to mine. It seems we never really have very much to talk about until after a few drinks.

As for work, the main tasks that remain are the translation of a lengthy report and the writing of a three-part project proposal to build sheep sheds, a small bridge, and an improved waterbox in Guanghui Village. Mr Zhu has basically left the investigation and planning of this project up to me, and although it has been a long process of trial and error, at least it has resulted in a viable project design. On the other hand, the women's health education project, which I expressed my hopes for in my last letter, had to be abandoned in the end. The final blow came when I had the opportunity to speak with some visitors from the Yunnan Health and Development Research Association, an organization which has carried out participatory, community-based women's health education, and I realized that SDA simply does not at present have the capacity to do this kind of project the "right" way.

When I look back on my time in Qinghai, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to live so closely with my chinese colleagues, particularly Mr Zhu and his wife. I've learnt a lot of things which I could never have learnt while living alone in my little apartment in Dalian. Rather than being seen as a "foreigner" first and foremost, I feel I have been treated as an ordinary worker, even a member of the family, and for that I am very grateful. SDA has given me a lot of valuable experience, and it has also radically changed my career aspirations. When I first arrived in Qinghai, I planned to work as a volunteer for 6 to 12 months, depending on how long my savings lasted, and then look for work as a translator in a big city. But although I like translation, I began to lose enthusiasm for it as a career when I realized that it shared a lot of similarities with my old job as a computer programmer: spending hours alone in front of a computer, working on topics you might not have any personal interest in, carrying out a task that is challenging in its details yet ultimately repetitive. At the same time, I found that I was really interested in social development work. And so here I am, a year and a half later, looking for work in the NGO sector, but unfortunately lacking any qualifications apart from my experience at SDA.

Although I'm looking forward to seeing my friends in Beijing again, and I hope to lead a more "cosmopolitan" lifestyle there, life may not be very easy for the next few months. Luckily I have a friend who I can stay with while I look for work, but the odds of finding a well-paid job in the NGO sector are currently looking a bit slim. That kind of work remains my long-term goal, but in the short term I may be forced to look for part-time work translating or tutoring. The rat-race beckons.

The other question which some of you might be curious about is just how much longer I'm going to stay in China. That's hard to say at the moment, and will certainly depend on how things work out in Beijing. I feel that at least a visit home is already overdue though, so that is definitely one of my goals for next year.

But until then, Merry Christmas.

Love Todd

hi todd, i enjoyed your writing about SDA very much. good luck in beijing.

i have a friend, tom, who runs an NGO called Nomadic Marketing, www.nomadicmarketing.com. although his is a marketing website that does work for other NGOs, he may be able to help point you in the right direction for jobs in the NGO sector. give him a shout, perhaps he can help you. all the best and happy holidays!
dezza [homepage]
28.12.2005 , 01:44

i'm gonna cry out !!!
yesterday i went to the Providence Health Care to volunteer myself. but they only need someone whose English is good enough to communicate. WHT!!! i just want to help
30.12.2005 , 13:06

Comments disabled. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Previous Index Next