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The Transience of Expat Life- A Musing

When you live abroad (wherever that is) you find that things are constantly shifting.People are constantly coming and going.Many people come here for a short while and they move on.We came to China 3 years ago and we have moved to another city,leaving behind people we met,had a great time with and then said goodbye to.In Lin’an we made some great friends,but at the end of the year we had to say goodbye to them as we moved on to Xiamen, not knowing if we would see them again.Some we have managed to stay in contact with,some we have seen – one colleague came to live here, our “Chinese daughter” Ting and her boyfriend Computer Boy came down here last year in May for the holiday , and we chat a lot on Skype,but staying in contact is hard, and it’s certainly not the same as when she dropped by our apartment for supper most days.

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Ting and Computer Boy on their visit to Xiamen University

When we arrived in Xiamen we made a wonderful friend called Ivy who helped us out many times reading stuff in Chinese and showing us around town.But she got another job up in Tianjin and went there.I can chat to her on WeChat but it’s not the same as hanging out together in a new coffee bar in Xiamen or going together to a party…I can’t blame her.She got a great job and she said that “Northern boys are better than the ones here”.. so bye bye Ivy.

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Lovely Ivy at one of our favourite Xiamen Coffee bars.

So all the time we meet people,have a great time with them and then say goodbye.Many expats actually prefer this lifestyle.They want the casualness of life here,the lack of obligation,the “no strings attached” side to it.And it does have its appeal.WE always know that new people will be coming.There is a 5 year rule in China that after 5 years you are supposed to move to a new school.It is sometimes enforced and sometimes not.In some areas you cannot teach after 60 or 65 (retirement age for Chinese is 50 for women and 55 for men) so every year we are wondering who will not be invited back.Of course there are always people looking to move to a new area or to return home too.Last year we said goodbye to Renee and Barry our dear friends from Hawaii.James and his wife Wenxia went back to Canada,Karen and Lazar and their daughters back to Australia,Jonathan and Allie and their daughters to El Paso, and so it goes on.You meet people you have fun you move on.WE even have people who “do a runner” and disappear into the night for various reasons.No goodbyes there!

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Friends from Lin’an Diana,Barry,Renee and Patrick

At this time of year the situation is pretty complicated.The universities are looking to renew contracts with some teachers and fire others.Many teachers have not given the school a reply whether they intend to stay or not.Some are undecided whether to move schools.Others are going home.They school may wish to fire some teachers but don’t know yet how many they will need as other teachers have not replied about renewing the contract.So of course we know we are going to be saying goodbye again this summer to many people,and that is all part of the nomadic life we have been leading.It’s great to meet lots of new people but sometimes it’s hard knowing that our paths may not cross again.But then, we kind of like the dynamic aspect of it too.It’s all par for the course when you move around a lot.What do you think? Would that kind of lifestyle flummox you? Or are you up for meeting people,getting friendly and then letting go?Feel free to comment!

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Wonderful colleagues from Lin’an-Ted,Ding,Teresa and “Chinese Mark”

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Mid Autumn Festival (the bigger picture for my bro)

Well today’s post will be a little cultural/anthropological in orientation as my brother read my blog and complained it was too personal and focused on food and trivial details.So today I want to give a bit of background on the current holiday in China,which is called the Mid Autumn Festival.This festival is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese people on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Lunar Calendar. It is also known as “Mooncake Festival”, Lantern Festival” or “Moon Festival”.It is customary at this time to visit your family and friends and to eat a celebratory meal,and to go to beautiful places to look at the full moon.Since it is a National cultural heritage holiday there is an official holiday so that people can travel and visit their relatives.But in Xiamen where we live,there is a special tradition which is only observed here.IT is called “Bobing” and it is a kind of gambling game.

“WE experienced it for the time last year,when our university took us (all the foreign teachers and some Chinese ones) to a lovely five-star hotel.There we were given a buffet lunch and then after that we went upstairs to some tables,where we rolled six dice in a porcelain bowl.The rules are a little complicated but basically the number four is your friend.According to the number of fours that you throw you can win prizes.

Explanation as follows:(skip if you aren’t interested in the details)

“The 300-year-old custom of mooncake gambling dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The inventor, Zheng Chenggong (1624-62), a general of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), stationed his army in Xiamen. Zheng was determined to recover Taiwan, which was occupied by Dutch invaders since 1624.

When every Mid-Autumn Festival came, the soldiers naturally missed their families but fought with heroical determination to drive off the aggressors.

General Zheng and his lower officer Hong Xu invented mooncake gambling to help relieve homesickness among the troops.

The gambling game has six ranks of awards, which are named as the winners in ancient imperial examinations, and has 63 different sized mooncakes as prizes.

From the lowest to the highest, the titles of six ranks are Xiucai (the one who passed the examination at the county level), Juren (a successful candidate at the provincial level), Jinshi (a successful candidate in the highest imperial examination), Tanhua, Bangyan and Zhuangyuan (respectively the number three to number one winners in the imperial examination at the presence of the emperor).

Game players throw the dice by turns. Different pips they count win the player a relevant “title” and corresponding type of mooncakes.”

In simple language:-

If you get a six on all the dice you get the jackpot.If you get 1 through 6 that is the highest score.But even if you only throw two ro three fours,you can win something.So we all went home with tubes of toothpaste,soap ,blankets,boxes of mooncakes and other prizes.

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Mooncakes

This year we were informed that due to budget cuts and suchlike from the Government we were not able to go to a hotel so we only did the gambling game in a room at the University,and the prizes were only mooncakes from small to large.But when I got home I was invited by a neighbour, whose husband is a University teacher,to the neiighbourhood¬† Bobing game downstairs outside our building.There the residents had clubbed together to buy various prizes and there were two tables of gamblers,one for kids and one for adults.I joined in there but didn’t win anything.It was great to watch the faces of the kids as we all threw the dice in turn.

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Our neighbour’s daughter Ray shaking the dice

Yesterday we went for a walk around Jimei (our neighbourhood) and checked out the new Wanda Shopping Mall that has opened here.It was being built when we left for the summer holidays and now it is open and was buzzing with people because of the holiday.It has 4 floors,one floor completely devoted to restaurants,and there was a sort of traditional dance show  going on when we arrived,but I think it was just an ad for a cellphone company or something.Anyway,the mall has an IMAX cinema complex,Haagen Dasz ice cream and all the usual Chinese -American favourites ie Pizza Hut,McDonalds and so on.But it looks very upscale and expensive.IT is also spotlessly clean (for now!)

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Dance show at the Mall

 

We also met up again with our friends Jennifer and Hamburger last week and went with them to Jiageng Stadium near our house where there was a very silly exhibition of trick art or 3 D pictures where you can insert yourself into the picture and take a photo.This is kind of childish but amusing fun especially if you have small kids or friends who behave like kids.We took lots of silly photos,and it felt good to be back with our Xiamen friends again.There are quite a few new teachers at XMUT,and we have not had time to make everyone’s acquaintance yet.I hope we will have the opportunity to do that,once the holidays are over.Next week is National Week and we have 8 days off so we are off to Taiwan -t’s kind of like the Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur-Succot period in Israel when you can’t really get anything done until after the festivals.So far the classes I have seen have been very nice and with quite a high level of English.More after Taiwan!

 

A week left and counting..

We came back home to Jerusalem for a month over the semester break and it has been rather weird. Firstly of course it was great to see all our friends and family again,to eat our faviourite Israeli foods that are not available in China, and to sleep in our own (extremely soft) bed. It was great to go to Pilates classes again and tell people we are just here for a break and are living in China.But it was also odd that we very quickly found ourselves missing China, Xiamen and our life there. I miss the students, I miss getting up every day in Xiamen and not knowing who we are going to meet or what is going to happen.I miss the challenge of trying to make myself understood in Chinese.And I miss the surprises every time we order in a restaurant and have no clue what is going to appear on the table.

It was great to be met at the airport by our younger son,to hear what he has been up to,and to spend time with my Dad,and my brothers and see all the family together for my brother’s birthday.But now we feel that we are in the way.The boys have their own lives to lead,and really don’t need us around.My dad is doing fine and is okay with us going back.

Today is Chinese New Year, and although we planned not to be there during that festival I am a little disappointed now I see it all on the TV that we will be missing the festivities.So maybe we will stay put next year and see them for ourselves,wherever we are.

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We did have some fun here.We went to see a couple of movies and we are gong to a concert this week. But we kept checking the prices in the restaurants and shops and comparing to Chinese prices. We spent some time with friends of ours from Xiamen who came to visit, Steve and Viny, who are of the Bahai faith and came to Israel to go on a pilgimage to their temple in Haifa. We showed them around Jerusalem a bit,went with them to Yad Vashem,to Ein Karem,Abu Gosh and the Tayelet to see the views of the Old City.

We also had a coffee with Aliza and Shimon who will be joining us at XMUT next semester.So that was fun too.So roll on next Monday when we get on the plane and go back to Xiamen via Hong Kong,Macau and Shenzhen.

Steve and Viny visit Abu Gosh

Steve and Viny visit Abu Gosh