Season's Greetings........well here in Jinzhou it's pretty much life as usual.  There are no big Christmas displays anywhere.  The department stores look pretty much the same.  It seems unusual to not be bombarded with the commercialism that accompanies Christmas at home.  We really don't watch the local television or see all the commercials for toys and gifts that you all are seeing right now.  Even if we did watch tv, the ads just aren't there.  Here most of the advertising is for shampoo, laundry detergent, various medicines and face cream.  I've never seen a toy ad.  Consequently the girls have not asked for anything.  I asked them what they wanted Santa to bring them and they both said candy canes......well guess what isn't available in China?  Personally I can't believe they still associate candy canes with Santa.  Last year a friend of ours (hi Tom) dressed up as the ole guy and came for a visit. He posed for a LOT of pictures and brought Julie and Charlie the sweet treats.  I told my mom about my dilemma and I understand a supply is on the way.

I was able to find a small artificial tree at the local market and some decorations.  Now we have our little tree in the window and it is covered in red Chinese lanterns and red toy drums.  I also bought some orgami paper and next week in my classes I'm going to get the girls to make little paper stars.  I thought I'd string them together like garland.  I also found a wreath for our door and I brought several Christmas cd's from home which I play every chance I get.  Now if I can just find some decent toys for the girls.  Shopping over here isn't the greatest.  Those of you who know me well, know I'm the supreme queen of shopping.....not anymore. 

For the first time in my life I have more money than things to buy.  Well one of my reasons for coming to China was to learn a simpler life style....I'm learning it.  Today after my class I went down to the Dandong market (the local's call it their Wal Mart) to exchange some socks I'd bought for the girls.  I took some extra money with me, "just in case" and again another first.  There wasn't anything I wanted to buy or couldn't live without.  I know this sounds rather depressing, but in all honesty it's rather refreshing.  There is no "keeping up with the Jones's" here.  I haven't seen a class system, although I'm sure it exists. I have seen a few expensive private cars that have to belong to individuals, but here on the LIT campus we are all pretty much the same.....poor.

I got a glowing report from the girls' teacher the other day.  She told me Julie and Charlie are understanding everything said to them in Chinese and they are participating in all the class activities.  They are also pointing their friends to me when I pick them up.  The night before last we were walking back from dinner and Julie started telling me about how she and "Boots" (sounds like boots, a little boy in her class) were getting married.  When I questioned her about it she told me "mama, it's pretend marriage, we pretend we are married".....oh dear, I guess I let her watch "A Wedding Story" one to many times at home.

Last weekend all the foreign teachers in town were invited to attend to DVD crushing ceremony.  Since China has joined the WTO they are cracking down on all the pirated dvd's, cd's, vcd's and computer software.  They gathered up a dump truck load of illegal cd's and placed them in the middle of the street and let a steamroller drive over them while speeches were being given.  Leanne our Foreign Affairs Officer had asked me to give an interview to the local television station covering the event. My immediate reaction was to say "why, I'll be crying"  Pirated DVD's sell (make that sold) for about $1.00 each and we all enjoyed the bargains that were to be had.  As it turned out we didn't attend the ceremony as Charlie got sick and I couldn't see dragging an upchucking baby out in the cold so Adam gave the interview.  He did very well and didn't cry or anything.

Well, just as I was feeling down, wondering what I was going to get the girls for Christmas, a care package from home arrived.  Actually three packages from my step-daughter and friend Laura.  We now have a ton of presents under the tree and all kinds of goodies in the cupboard.  She also sent stockings and even sent glitter and glue so we can put our names on them.  I think her husband's beard must have turned white (at the cost to mail these things) and I'm sure she's put on some weight and they both now live at the north pole, because let me tell you Santa just arrived in Jinzhou!  Laura, I can't begin to thank you enough.

It's gotten really cold, the temperature hovers around 15 degrees F during the day and at night drops down to the zero mark.  Our little room is still roast toasty warm and we are quite comfortable.  I amaze my students at my lack of clothing.  They are all bundled up and I show up in a sweatshirt, turtle neck and a pair of jeans, throw off my coat, open the window and sit in it for a few minutes to cool off.  They all think I'm nuts.  I gave into the clothing police when it came to the girls, too much pressure.  They typically wear 2 pair of socks, heavy long underwear, jeans and 3 to 4 shirts.  At least now their teachers don't bug me.

I'm really looking forward to our Harbin trip to see the Ice Festival (and I'm sure with the temperatures approaching 35 below zero, I'll wear my heavy knit long underwear). School will be over for us soon and I'm not sure what I'll do to entertain myself, but I'm sure I'll find something.

Yall take care and remember......I live for emails!


Karen aka Julie and Charlie's mom