Year End Festivities: DongZhi, Hair, Secret Santa, Banquet

Winter Solstice Festival

Winter Solstice (Dong Zhi / 冬至) marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. In China, people make and eat dumplings this evening, to keep their ears warm (there’s a Han Dynasty story for this, but I forgot it already)

Eight girls from Class 3 invited themselves over to make dumplings at my apartment. The nice thing about living on-campus is all these “Peace Corps-ish” interactions are occurring with greater frequently- lunch with students, random last minute side projects, and now homemade dinner!


The girls bring ground pork, ginger, scallions, and a vinegar-chili sauce and get to work. All of them make dumplings in different styles- some round, some narrow, some with fancy twisted edges – and mine were basic wontons. After we boiled them, it was amusing to figure out who made which dumpling (not that it mattered- they all taste the same).

mine are the two round ones, closest to the end of the paper

Bobby dropped by after his evening class- it was a treat for the girls, as he taught them last semester and they think very highly of him!



I needed a new hairstyle (Peace Corps is all about trying new things!), so I dyed my hair, but the result was way too K-POP

i just wanted highlights, but i didnt know how to explain “highlights” in Chinese, so this is what i got

the feedback was immediate and scathing

“灾难! (Disaster!)”

“you look like a llama!”

“you match your camels!”

“you match your fur collar!”

“is that a wig?”

Normally on Mondays I’ll have dinner with my students after class ends at 6:30PM but they were particularly hesitant to eat with me this time…

Tina: I mean I guess you can eat with us-
Maria: but you have to sit at the other end of the table, you know?

I needed to fix this ASAP. Bobby suggested I bring a photo with me so our stylist (we go to the same guy) could get a better sense of what I wanted. I got a screenshot of the One Direction member, Zayn Malik.

After another trip to the barber, and things are slightly better… he said he will perm my hair in a few weeks but I might just cut it all off and go back to black. Too much drama. And not worth waking up ten minutes earlier just to wax my hair.

more hipster, less kpop!

Secret Santa

I instructed my students in all three classes to bring in a small wrapped gift, so we could all play Secret Santa (while listening to All I Want for Christmas Is You, on repeat!)


In Class 3, Maria was getting frustrated that I was purposely picking other girls to go before her

Me: I’m doing this so you get the most gifts to choose from. If you are last, you can steal from anyone!

Maria: that’s so awkward, I can’t just steal a gift from a friend!

Me: of course you can, its in the rules. I explained it five times! How come no one has stolen a gift yet? In New York we had so much fun taking each other’s gifts

Maria: That’s America. It’s rude to do that in China! I can’t… I just can’t…

Maria, in the lime green coat watching everyone go up for a gift before her =[
I called Maria up last, and as expected, she went to the front of the room and opened the final box to find an apple inside. She looked pissed off (“I knew it was going to be an apple!”), but when Jack came in late with a huge teddy bear she ripped it out of his hands.

my favorite students going up for a gift. Jack (center) brought hairspray to help with the hair situation

I also left with an apple. Apples are hugely popular gifts to send during Christmas. Christmas Eve is called Peaceful Night 安夜 (ping an ye) and the first character is similar to Apple 果 (ping guo), so there’s a billion dollar industry around putting apples into Christmas themed boxes in China.

my first Christmas Apple!

Class 1 had the most fun with Secret Santa. They did what my other two classes didn’t dare do: THEY STOLE GIFTS FROM EACH OTHER! Coulson went up first, and he opened a bag with an adorable stuffed Hen. (I suspect he was going to give it to Angelia, his girlfriend in Class 3).


Several students later, Anna hunted him down and went in for the kill.There was lots of screaming and pleading from Coulson, but Anna emerged victorious.

“HAND IT OVER!!” the girls are laughing behind them, they’ve never seen two people fighting over a toy. so unruly!!

Several other gifts were hotly contested and changed owners: a set of Christmas marshmallows, a giant lollipop, and a crystal globe with Mai Ji Shan inside. (Anna has the hen)


Soon it was my turn to open a gift. I went up and reached for a small lime green box. A gasp went around the classroom.

no no no no no no!!!!

Too late. I opened it. Oh shit! Bright Pink Nail Polish! The girls were giggling, some horrified, some amused, but mostly embarrassed that their teacher got a gift he likely wouldn’t use.

“… can we paint your nails?”

I would have said no, but earlier in the week I almost FLIPPED OUT on their friends in Class 2 for not dancing along to a fun, easy, and benign Zumba video of “Santa Can You Hear Me.” I made an effort, but they all stood there, frozen in fear for four minutes (because none of them “know” how to dance) so I shut off the video and lectured them on trying new things, even if it makes them feel embarrassed or out of their comfort zone.

Teacher Cheng didn’t want to be called out for being a hypocrite, so…


This was a crazy week for me: Hair done, Nails did.


Chinese banquets are either really awesome or incredibly awkward, depending on the occasion and the invitation list. A couple English teachers, Mr. Zhou, the English Vice Dean, and the Vice President of our school went to a really nice restaurant for a feast (the few teachers we find insufferable were auspiciously sick, uninvited, or out of town this weekend!). We lucked out and had an amazing end of year dinner.

SO GOOD. and these were just the cold appetizers!!

Also the wine was incredible- its from JiuQuan, in Gansu. I usually get annoyed when we make pointless toasts throughout meals, but the wine was so good I didn’t mind, and made a few toasts myself, mostly as an excuse to drink more. I snapped of photo of the bottle and will try to order a bottle on Tao Bao…



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