It was October when I first landed in Taipei. The weeks that followed was a whirlwind of unpacking, class registrations and classes, sightseeing (c/o of our local classmates), homework, learning how to operate the dorm’s electronic equipment (i.e. washing machine and dryer with Chinese instructions) – general madness. I had arrived late for the semester (due to visa processing matters) and had to juggle so many things that it wasn’t until my sister emailed me a picture of our decorated tree back home when I realized it was going to be my first Christmas without family. When I saw that December 25, 2007 was a school day, a rush of melancholy engulfed me. Is it possible to get through the day without falling apart in tears?
Oddly, I have neither shed a tear nor fallen apart during the last four out of five Christmases I’ve spent away from home. When asked how I was going to spend the “most wonderful time of the year” this year, it occurred to me that I’ve unintentionally created some sort of method on how to not be miserable during the holidays. No, I haven’t turned into an unsentimental hack. I’ve simply found the following quasi-list of ways to get around feelings of loneliness and avoid being completely grumpy.
Coming to terms with the fact that Christmas is not a big deal in Taiwan allowed me to take a step forward in my cultural experience of the country. Except maybe for a small number of Christians, most people here simply see Christmas as a season of gift-giving*. I had to accept this as part of my current reality. Acceptance made it more bearable.
But then again, one can still go partying with people who celebrate the holiday – who, in this case, were my Filipino classmates and acquaintances. During my first Christmas here, we went to several gatherings organized by various Pinoy** communities based in the city; it was generally fun to just hear/speak a familiar language and to meet new people.
Having a potluck-style dinner with friends who don’t normally celebrate Christmas – a.k.a. my Taiwanese gym buddies – was the highlight of my second foreign Christmas. We toasted (with green tea) to the occasion and then watched some movies. The ultimate perk of this was there was absolutely no pressure to bring gifts or anything extravagant (Come to think of it, that was probably because we were all broke students).
Perhaps the most “extravagant” (not really) way I spent Christmas was taking a short surfing trip to Hengchun in the southern part of the island last year. To my great dismay, the weather became freakishly unfriendly on the day we were supposed to go out. The upside was that the town has some neat historic landmarks. I visited those and vowed to return to catch some waves (hopefully by then the ratio of Nel-on-top-of-the-surfboard/Nel-underneath-the-surfboard would increase).
For 2011, with the weather looking bleak even in the usually warmer parts of the country, I’ve decided to stay in the city and kickback for an easygoing weekend; checking-off one more book on that ever-growing list before the year ends (made great progress with A Brief History of Time), exploring some nearby historical sites (went to the Lin Family Mansion and Garden), and getting started on goals for next year (running/fitness goals are now set on paper).
Finally, I always call family, ask what they’re having for Christmas dinner and talk about nothing in particular. They told me the happy news that we’ve adopted a new puppy named Rob (the previous owner already named him but I’m thinking of adding something; similar to the “Boom” after Lars). I’ve come to realize that despite being away, I’m still pretty lucky to have a place I truly call home. That said, what reason do I have to refuse to spread the cheer and to enjoy some pudding milk tea (my Christmas treat)?
And so my dear friends, I sincerely hope your holidays were (or are, for those who are still celebrating it,) rich with meaningful moments. Oh, now that we’re talking about this, how was (is) your Christmas?
*This means that it’s a season of unnecessary shopping and sales. I share the sentiments of my friend, Rangewriter, who has written a fantastic post about this consumerist silliness.
**Pinoy is slang for Filipino or a person who is a citizen of the Philippines.