I haven’t always been a full time resident in the place that I call home, I’ve missed a few Thanksgivings, and I have cut it close a few times making it home on Christmas Eve, but I have always been home for Christmas; this year was a first.
The week prior to Christmas I was really getting into the Christmas spirit. School was decorated from doorknob to doorway, the kids were practicing their Christmas carols, and we were preparing our kidnapping Santa bit for the Christmas party. The kindergarten Christmas party was this past Saturday, after a meet and greet, each class performed two song and dance combinations for the parents in an attempt to save Santa with their display of Christmas spirit from the evil so-so kids gang (Michael, Peter, and myself dressed up as evil villains). We dressed as an elf and a reindeer and somehow enlisted the help of batman, and a nun with nun-chucks to host the show, and ultimately help save Santa.
Watching the kids performing was adorable. The Chinese teachers did a great job choreographing and training the kids in their routines, complete with props and costumes. The kids seemed to enjoy themselves and that’s the most important part. And of course there were fireworks set off right on the playground.
We went to Wulai that Sunday to see the waterfall and do some exploring. Wulai is famous for the hotsprings, indigenous culture, and the cherry blossoms in January and February. Though the weather outside was pretty dismal, Wulai and the surrounding area was beautiful. We ate some traditional Hakka streetfood, walked to the waterfall down the lover’s trail that was not yet covered in its famous cherry blossoms, and after a moment of hesitation joined the public hot springs (pretty much right on the side of the street).
It was nice to explore a new area of Taiwan especially one that was so beautiful, and it almost made me forget the time of year and how much I missed my family and friends. However, Christmas Eve and Christmas day were, well, not the ideal Christmas I had in mind to put it lightly. The school had a nice Christmas Eve lunch for all the staff with a strange variety of western and Taiwanese food. The best part was the real apple pie ordered from the Costco bakery. We exchanged small gifts, (mostly chocolates), and the rest of the day went as a usual workday. In an attempt to get into the Christmas spirit we attended what was supposed to be a free salsa dancing lesson and Christmas party at the Brass Monkey in Taipei. However the instructor never showed, so it just ended up being a few really talented salsa dancers doing their thing on the entire dance floor and a million Taiwanese girls scantily clad in Santa outfits. (That’s two times now I’ve been to the Brass Monkey and it’s struck out, I don’t think I will try a third).
Christmas day I went hiking in Nankan with my cohorts before going to work. We worked the kindergarten like a normal day then got for the older classes watched The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was fine, and had the air of a movie day at school but felt nothing like Christmas.
Though I had my coworkers by my side who were in the same position, this Christmas felt eerily lonely. I thought of Nic and his family and the pain they must be feeling, and tried to take consolation in the fact that I still have my family and they still have me even though I am so far away.
However, through every new experience, positive, negative, (or just alright), you learn something about yourself and about the world that surrounds you. This Christmas I learned that no matter where you are in the world, there really is no place like home for the holidays.