Yuletide Cheer

How does one celebrate Christmas, when you grow up in a Taoist country?  How do you celebrate Christmas when you spend two years of your childhood in a Chrsitian country, where your parents tell you the story of Jesus through an old Dutch Bible, something you’ve never really come across?  I thought Jesus was as magical as Santa until I went to Chrsitian school at age eleven.

When we moved back to Taiwan after a couple years in Holland, where Sintkerklaas was a bigger deal than Jesus, Christmas kind of disappeared.  I say kind of because we still celebrated it at our missionary school as if it were the biggest day of the calendar year, but the only tradition was a half day of school on the Friday before the Christmas holiday, and a music concert featuring Christmas songs on the Thursday (I was lead soprano, bitch).  And when we all came back after the holiday, some of our friends talked about their Euro trips and our missionary friends talked about the few gifts that they got.  My sister and I got to pick a present, too, at the local department store where we usually picked a Barbie, or, later, shared our two birthday gifts and Christmas gifts to combined-ly get an Ipod mini, or something along those lines.  My dad, in true Dutch tradition, bought a ceramic manger scene at Costco in the early years.  It comes out every Christmas (at home), and my favourite Christmas trees were actually tree branches we decorated with the few very pretty baubles we’d brought back from Holland.  Usually, the weekend around Christmas Day, my mum would cook a large meal.  It always consisted of an amazing abelone (sp?) soup and various other delicious treats.  And we would usually also have a Western meal around that day as well- often it would be steak with ‘Dutch mashed potato’ (seriously it’s the best ever, and contains two secret ingredients).  It was never a serious affair, and that suited us fine. Because my parents ran the English school, we would always have a big tree and fake presents at the school, and we usually did a ‘party’ with the kids, that included some games and silly prizes.  Everyone went home having ‘celebrated’ Christmas.

Fast forward to my gap year in Spain.  I spent Christmas in Holland with my family, and that’s when I realised Christmas as the big family affair that it was.  It was a day of eating, drinking, and playing board games.  Everyone pitched in to make dinner and do the washing up as we went along.  Dinner was usually three or four courses spanning a few good hours.

Then comes the UK of GB.  Presents galore, everything, everywhere, all the time.  Sale this, sale that.  It’s actually mental, really, if you think about how people are shopping for it months in advance (disclaimer:  I don’t pretend Holland, or even Spain, doesn’t do this also.  But because I see this come in and out year after year in the UK, it’s more in my face, and feel the need to discuss it). It’s a holiday of excess and gluton, and no doubt jealousy as well.  I try and avoid it as much as possible every year, buying presents onine where possible and buying them in November before the inevitable ‘Christmas rush’.  Come end of November you have to be mindful of the ‘Christmas traffic’ into town at the weekend and the slightly dreaded Christmas guilt trips that require you to give money to charities and buy at least one or two extra Christmas puddings.  *sorry Dobby is dying on TV in the other room, excuse me while I grieve a little*

I know it’s a big family time thing for the Brits, and I commend them for that.  My ‘adopted’ family have day after day of family parties (I still have a raincheck to attend, actually, come to think of it).  Everyone on my Facebook feed is going crazy with cheer and laughter, which is frankly relieving to see, as most of the other Christmas cheer I get is from crappy TV ads.

As an ‘expat’, this time of year automatically makes me miss home a bit.  Everyone is talking about seeing family, meeting up with friends from yesteryear, and it reminds me that I can’t do that.  I was always going to be an expat, wherever in the world I was, so it’s not even that I regret the choices I made as to where I live, or don’t have a ‘family’ of my own here.  The heart always wants what it can’t have, and this time of year is a stark reminder of that.  Usually I have an ‘end of year review’ where I remind myself and everyone on social media how grateful I am of my crazy life, but I don’t really feel in the mood for that this year.  Too much is going on and my sister will be distracting me from that next week anyway, thank god!

So to all my friends everywhere in the world, the ones that saw me through everything, everywhere, I miss you.  I wish I could have an MAK/KAS meet up at Mega (or, you know, whatever is cool nowadays), I wish we could all head to Plaza Cervantez for some tapas, I wish we could go down to Hyde Park pub for too many drinks, or that we could cross the street to Fat Cat’s after work for that permanent happy hour they seem to have… or, well, everything in between really.  I hope you guys have all had a great Christmas with lots of cheer and, of course, a few cheeky days off work and study.

Friend: Deleted

In this Facebook age everything is broadcast.  Every meal you eat that you Instagram, every fleeting thought you have that you decide to put out there in the Twitterverse, you are broadcasting all sorts of things.  People go to jail for tweeting or posting Facebook statuses.

And then comes the inevitable awkward moments of friend requests.  Every few months I have someone that wants to add me that is from my past that I haven’t even given a second thought to for years and years.  It’s not me saying that I’m popular (have you seen the amount of FB friends that I have? Not that many), but it’s a question that arises- what would you possibly want to say to me now that will suddenly make us friends when going to the same school and eating lunch two tables apart didn’t make it happen to start with?

It’s the age of stalking, so of course you want to keep tabs on people; adding someone that was your sister’s classmates brother is like rain on a cloudy day- expected.  Except that it’s not with me.  When I add someone on Facebook, I don’t go look at their recent 1000 photos tagged.  I don’t read previous posts or like every single profile picture they ever had.  I’m not interested in your past, I’m interested in what our future, as friends, is going to be.  But let’s say that I do add you, person-that-I-have-never-called-a-friend-and-took-me-ten-minutes-to-remember-who-you-are, then what?  We don’t speak, we don’t interact.  Your updates don’t even show up on my newsfeed because you live on the other side of the planet and I don’t get your posts.  What was the point?

And then, deep breath, drum roll please…. The Friends Purge.

Every once in a while, quite a lot of people will go though their Friends list to see who they are still friends with, and end up deleting some people.  I used to do it religiously every year, but I’ve kind of stopped doing that now.  I don’t really see the point, because they end up re-adding you at one point anyway.  And if you don’t want to see their updates because, say, one guy keeps liking pictures of girls half-naked and big-breasted and that’s half your morning news feed, then you just block them.  It saves you from the embarrassing moment they re-add you, or when you for some reason get back in touch with them years down the line and they ask you why you deleted them.  How do you nicely say, ‘I got annoyed by your Facebook posts’ or ‘I really thought I would never see or speak to you again’.

You kind of get that feeling when you find out someone’s deleted you.  You want to write on someone’s wall because you remember the last time you had shots together and you ended up dancing on the bar and you want to let them know you’re still thinking about them, and… Facebook tells you you have to add them as a friend in order to message them.  Oops.  Welcome to the 21st century.  You’ve just been deleted out of someone’s life.  Until you try and add them again.

I remember this issue when we used to email instead of like status posts.  My first ever email address was friends_r_4eva@…. I once got so angry at my friend that I changed the password to something hateful and forgot it, so I had to get a new account.  I was still so angry I wanted to call myself hatredrose, I was livid.  And then before I hit the ‘create account’ button, I hesitated.  Surely, I wasn’t going to be this angry forever.  Surely, we would eventually find a solution to our argument and we would, if not be best friends, at least be civil again.  So I changed my email to be htredrose… I would be hatredrose when it suited me, or hotredrose when it suited me probably most of the time.

A couple months ago I got in an argument with a friend, and I decided I didn’t really want to speak to them anymore.  I was going to delete them off Facebook: I wanted nothing to do with them ever again.  But as I was logging in to Facebook, using my email address, the rational side of me won an internal argument about the ‘deletion’.  Hesitantly, I ‘blocked’ them from my news feed rather than delete them.  Maybe we would be friends again one day, maybe we would work it out.  Funny thing is, this week, I wanted to go and say something to them… and I couldn’t.  I’ve been deleted. I have to say, I was a bit hurt.  We clearly aren’t chummy enough to be able to make it through- I thought we would be, but apparently the feeling isn’t mutual.  If they wanted to sever ties, well, I wish they’d had the balls to just say it to my face.  This wasn’t our first argument, and it certainly was not going to be the last, or so i thought.  Secretly, I hope we kiss and make up again in the future.  Because then I will be able to ask them the question, ‘why did you delete me?’  Then they can sit and sweat it out a bit.  I was trying to be a cool-headed adult, they were clearly being a petulant child (oh man this isn’t going to win me any brownie points is it)

In the meantime, I won’t be deleting people from my friends list but I will probably be using my ‘Friends list’ a little bit more and filter some people…. actually, I don’t know how much I should filter people.  I don’t actually think anyone wants to know about the 100s of Taiwan articles I share every day, but alas, that is who I am and I don’t really want to hide my passion for… well, mostly food.

Growing up and being British

I FINALLY FOUND IT.  I finally found it.

It’s part of growing up and being British‘  Of course it’s a Monty Python thing.  Of course.  My parents’ British room-mate in Taipei in the early eighties said it, and it has stuck with them since.  Every time, growing up, I had to do something I didn’t want to do, or was going through a particularly difficult time, my parents would shrug and say, ‘part of growing up and being British, my dear’.  Because life hands you lemons, and you have to … I don’t know, pucker up like they did in Victorian times and deal with it or something.

My youngest sister, at the tender age of sixteen, has moved out of the house, and in with her friend and the friend’s mum.  It’s a bit of a terrifying thought, her alone in the world, trying to make ends meet, working to pay rent and buy food.  Literally what I’m now trying to figure out in my mid-twenties.  Who would have thunk that anyone would voluntarily learn the pressures of this world and enjoy it.  Well, she is.  And I haven’t seen her this happy for a long time, so I wouldn’t want to take that away from her, and from what I can tell, she’s doing a stellar job so far.  I’ve never seen her turn lights off so quickly to save electricity, let’s put it that way.

With two younger sisters, it’s hard not to feel maternal about them when it comes to their life choices, especially with one nine years my junior.  It’s hard not to want to tell them off, or stop listening to them and just telling them what to do.  I always thought of myself as a bit of a rebel- going to Spain for a gap year, going to England to study instead of Holland, but it turns out I’m not a rebel at all.  I’m conventional.  Boring.  Everything has to be done the ‘normal way’, or at least a way I approve of.  She’s challenging that.  I want her to be happy and be well.  But her way of succeeding just isn’t going to be my definition of success (and let’s face it, I’m not exactly Role Model of the Year).  And also, who says success has to be now?  Surely with our lives getting longer thanks to medical advances, it means that success might not come until we’re further down the line?  Maybe even, gasp, when we hit our fourties?

So she’s growing up, and she’s being British.  She’s taking a stand for what she wants, and taking it in stride.  She will struggle on her minimum wage job, but she will do her darndest to make it work, because she wants this.  It’s making me think- what do I want?  Do I want what I’m doing now?  Is this how I’m going to define my success, or am I still waiting it to happen?  And if I’m waiting, what am I doing now that’s going to help me succeed later?  Because there isn’t anyone wanting to help me to make that happen, I’m going to have to take a leap of faith and jump in the deep end of the pool.

Bravo, lil sis, bravo.  You just schooled the person you used to accidentally call ‘mum’.

Reunions

My life is marked by reunions.  I move around so much, and the people that I love are spread so thin across the world, it’s hard for us to be able to meet up without extensive planning.

My family tries to meet once a year, depending on everyone’s personal situations, and unfortunately this year we didn’t get to meet up.  But our next three, four reunions are already penciled in because… well, we are all world travellers and having plans, however distant, gives us something to look forward to together.  We travel well together, at least, because otherwise it would be a nightmare.  Our current plan for next year takes us to at least five different countries in the space of two weeks (thank you budget airlines)… breakfast in Amsterdam, lunch in Barcelona, and dinner in Marrakech… pfftt!!

And then, of course, come the friends.  A lot of my social life is dependent on planning and getting too excited and waiting for hours outside tube stations for people that have travelled literally from the end of the earth to come say hey.  Otherwise it’s planning weekends off and a lot of train/bus travel around the UK as we try to meet up without breaking the bank.  One of my favourite memories of M is when we sat on some bench in Notts after buying too much wine at Saino’s before we went back into the hotel, literally near tears because we couldn’t believe we were finally seeing each other and finally able to say the things we’d been bottling inside for months.  That was the benefit of living in London, actually. Everyone eventually passes through there, for work, a gig, or anything, and that makes it easy to meet up with people.  With most of my friends, it’s a matter of just going back to our old ways.  We just somehow find our groove, within the first five/ten minutes, and just start talking and don’t really stop.  We are back in sync, and it takes no effort whatsoever to get to that point.  And I love that I am able to do that with people, it’s how I know I have friendships that will stand the test of time and distance.  We have to have the obligatory half hour chat of all the things that have happened, all the gossip of our respective lives of people we’ve never met, and will probably never meet, and then we are back again, to picking food off each others’ plates.

We recently had a reunion with Uni, and that was really great seeing everyone again!  Not as many people showed up as I would’ve liked, but hey, when you’re dealing with so many people, and with so many people living all across the world, it’s difficult enough as it is- and then you’ve got work and family commitments.  And it’s not like two years is a major mark, haha.  It’s just a bunch of us feeling nostalgic and wanting a good excuse for cheap drinks in Leeds (seriously… puts all of the UK to shame!!).  But that reminded me of something, which I didn’t really process until after I was playing musical chairs at the pub to say hi to everyone.  Everyone moves on.  Everyone grows, in some way or another.  One professor has a beard that could reach outer space now, and the other was telling me about his retirement plan.  You go back and expect everyone to be who they were.  But people all have jobs now, or are starting new studies, or are planning to go back to school…And we couldn’t go ‘back in sync’ like I do with my friends, because the group of people that came together were never in sync anyway.  Not that we didn’t get along!  But it was an interesting way of just seeing people again, now in a slightly different light, and most importantly, more respect.  We’ve all gone different ways since uni, and we all try our best to play with the cards we have been dealt.  The best part is that it wasn’t hard to say goodbye.  I know that they’ll all be okay.  They are all fighters, and are fierce in their own way, and I have no doubt that they will succeed in their own way, just like I’m trying to succeed in mine.  I’ll be excited to see them again, too, next time we have a reunion.  In a way, though, it was a poignant reminder that not everything can always go back to the way it was, which in all honesty, I can’t decide if that’s comforting or not.

I should probably pop M a text again, because I think a dance party is due, with some wine.