December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

The sky flared red tonight as it set for the last time in 2010. We were stuck in traffic on the raised superhighway, the generic concrete buildings were crisp silhouettes against the gauzy golden glow. 

I had two resolutions for 2010: write one thing that I learned everyday, which aside from a brief hiatus this summer came true. And my second was to have an address in January 2011 in a place I had never been or ever imagined going. Check and check. I had never even heard of Hangzhou in January 2010. 

Now I feel pressure to come up with some brilliant resolution for 2011 that can be achieved with as much clarity as 2010's were. I'll get back to you on that though, I'm still thinking.

We ended the year with a week of social events, each night this week Alex and I have had an outing to go to. Weird. We actually have social lives here now! Tuesday night was the staff New Year party at a buffet in a hotel. It was the first buffet we've been to since our very first night in China. Needless to say, we navigated it with much more grace, though we were still clueless to some of the dishes.

On Wednesday we went out to dinner with Jenn's family visiting from Texas. Thursday we went to a German orchestra performance sponsored by the provincial government. It was an event for foreign teachers and employees in Hangzhou. There were a number of government officials there and it was awkward and formal -- distinctly Chinese.

We arrived late, thanks to our taxi driver who admitted his mistake. It didn't help that we had tickets for the second row. After a few awkward moments, we grabbed two open seats near the front just in time to hear the vice governor of the province speak. He would speak for a minute in Chinese and then wait for his translator to repeat him in English. It was one of the first times here that I've heard direct references to "5-year plans" and other clearly Communist rhetoric. By all accounts, it sounds like China is headed for bright and harmonious places in the next half-decade.

After the speeches, an impossibly thin western man came on stage and nervously began speaking in Chinese. His hands were shaking. Then he spoke in English but had an indistinguishable accent. In between each song of the performance, he came on stage to describe what we would hear next. Thankfully he calmed down as the concert progressed, we learned he's German and has lived in China for 20 years. He had more troubles with English than Chinese. The audience taught him how to say "pluck," while he tried to describe a certain polka. 

The orchestra was brilliant. It was made up of all ages, but it was primarily people around my age. I had a great time scoping out the jokester percussionists and the bored-to-pieces English Horn player who only got to pipe in for the four march and polka selections. The director was a tall middle-age man who looked like he would be a very fun director to work with. 

Throughout the performance random bits of confetti fell from the ceiling onto the worn out stage, we thought for sure that we would get rained on at the end. It never happened though. The performers were seated on folding chairs and the two Chinese escorts had torn and ill-fitting traditional costumes. Yet, it was painfully formal. That's why it was so much fun watching how the director and percussionists reacted to the whole scene. The other instrumentalists were too occupied with their instruments, but it didn't stop them from nervously eying the falling confetti.

I woke up this morning to hear about the blizzard in Fargo. Thankfully, I won't be bringing in 2011 stuck in a white out. I hope all of you who are celebrating with the blizzard stay warm! 

Cheers, 2011! May you be a harmonious, healthy, and very clever year! [advice given from my students]

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