Thursday, December 13, 2012


It's bigger than Bing's!

As my insomniac friend said today - only four more sleeps til Christmas!

So I'm about to embark on a well-earned holiday. Well, that may be a matter of debate, but I'm embarking anyway. See you some deliberately vague time in January! Merry Christmas and HNY everyone. Thanks for reading through the year and I hope you'll come back next year. Unless of course the world blows up next week, which is a bit of a rumour around town.

Meantime, here are two bits about Christmas to get you excited. First some images of Beijing's Christmas ...

Shoppers outside one Beijing mall have been enthralled
by this installation featuring a large stack of presents and
a traditional giant Christmas kangaroo.

This Chinese reindeer adorns the outside of a
restaurant nearby.

And here's some eclecticism for you: a
worker puts up decorations on a
Christmas tree in what the background
signs show is Beijing's Russian district.
Russian Christmas doesn't fall until
January 7. Do they stick to chronology
and wish each other "a happy New Year
and a Merry Christmas"?

In Chinese he's known as Sheng dan lao ren,
or Christmas Old Man. It's a bit hard to find
the right amount of rotundness in these part,
however. To be fair he's a little lame.

Not as bad as this one though.

Or this one, from across the pond in Japan.
He looks like he's just feasted on an elf for
lunch. But it's OK. He's just a zombie.

But Christmas is more about kids than
flesh-eating undead Santas. So here's a
shot of our Evie, clearly over the moon
with Christmas spirit while making a
gingerbread man. Come on girl - it's
Christmas! Look like you're enjoying it.

Actually it reminded me of this shot which her
school chose as its best one of her a couple of
years ago and which now haunts our fridge.
Photogenic little thing, isn't she? I'm starting
to think I might be murdered in my sleep.

She used to look more like this!

Aah that's better. Nothing's as fun for a kid as being crushed
under the weight of your own huge Christmas present. And
nothing's as fun for a parent as watching your child try to
resist opening them for a couple of weeks if you display
them early enough. By the way, it's a scooter!
There. That'll teach her for not reading her Dad's blog.

And finally, a lovely Christmas meme from our friends at The Internet.


Now go down to the next bit.


(The Tiger Father's piece published in That's Beijing magazine this month ... with bonus photos!)

For this Australian family, Christmas finally makes sense. It seems perverse, but we had to come to Communist, atheist, non-pudding-believing China for this to happen.

Beijing doesn’t always turn on a white Christmas. Sometimes it’s just gray. And sometimes, if there’s snow around December 23, and that snow gathers at the roadsides, it’s more of a taupe Christmas.

But at least it’s a cold Christmas. As a kid in Australia, this festival never matched the images we were fed of it. We’d see pictures of kids opening presents by a frosted window, or eating steaming pudding by a roaring fire. Then we’d switch off the telly and go outside in shorts and singlet – to play cricket. How we scurried across the road so our bare feet wouldn’t burn.

Where I grew up, a small town 400 miles west of Sydney, the summers were boiling. December 25 was often the hottest day of the year. But like much of Australia, we’d sit there laboring through our uncomfortably hot, incredibly vast lunch.

Our English grandmother would insist on a Christmas like back home. Watching my dad’s crepe-paper hat disintegrate on his sweaty forehead, we’d struggle through our roast chicken, roast potatoes, roasted peas. Gran would have roasted the ice cream if she could have. As it was we had hot pudding, with hot sauce, to come. Thank God we couldn’t drink the mulled wine til we were eight!

No, none of that makes much sense if you're part of the minority who hail from the southern hemisphere (like gay people and left-handers, only one in 10 come from below the equator). What’s more, there was hardly a chimney anywhere, and no sound reason to find a ‘yule’ log and set it alight, particularly in bushfire season. (That word always confused me. I thought it was connected to ‘Yule bloody well eat your Brussels Sprouts young man!”)

Some things have changed. Cold seafood spreads are now, thankfully, an acceptable Christmas lunch. But walk through an Australian mall in December even now and the atmosphere-makers will try to convince you you’re walking in a winter wonderland, complete with Frosty the Snowman and one-horse open sleighs. (Australian carols have been tried and failed. Rolf Harris sang one about six white kangaroos pulling Santa under the Australian sun. Just didn’t work).

But here in Beijing, it all started to make sense from when I stepped out on my first Christmas here in 1995. The roads were clogged with traffic. Children were heading to school. OK those bits weren’t Christmassy. But at least it was cold. Snowmen didn’t look out of place, as they did in the Australian outback. Plus, it felt good to eat a roasted potato, albeit a sweet one from a 44 gallon drum whose owner had never heard of Jesus, Santa or elves.

And I had never seen a sleigh until 2009 in Harbin. This is why, especially for children, we love Christmas in a cold climate.

Here are some southern Christmas Day pics from the web I
thought I'd show the 90 per cent of you who aren't from
what we parochially call 'God's Hemisphere'.
This one's from Australia.

Here's how they do Christmas in Brazil.

Namibia. Hmmm ... Could've tried
harder, Namibia. 


Papua New Guinea. Good to see kids there
are creeped out by a Santa, or two, just like

And this is as south as it gets - Antarctica!
Actually, that seems a bit more normal.

And they've even got sleighs in Antarctica, full of gifts for
the children like fuel drums and tripods. 

I was stunned by my first London Christmas. In Australia, kids spend most of the day out on their new bikes, roller blades, etc. The streets are filled with laughter and joy to the world.

In London, I wasn’t just surprised by the atmosphere, I was disturbed. Walking through empty streets, it felt less like Christmas and a lot more like some unspeakable tragedy had occurred. It was so indoorsy, much pre-Christmas excitement was tied to what the TV networks would show on the day. And then it got dark about 3.00pm!

In fact, if you’re a southern hemispherian wanting a cold Christmas, there are reasons Beijing’s is actually better than London’s.

1. It’s not supposed to be Christmas, so there are no disappointments.

2. If certain Christmas Carols make your skin crawl, listening to them in Chinese is blessed relief. Chinglish is even better. Also, during Santa Claus is Coming to Town, watch for knowing nods from locals at talk of an omniscient presence knowing when you’re sleeping, awake, bad, good etc.

3. All the shops are open, in case you’ve forgotten the cranberry sauce. Or your wife’s present. (A recent survey showed 94 per cent of men are still out buying gifts on December 24. That low!)

4. You could argue China, not the North Pole, is now the home of Christmas. Check the labels on your trees, decorations, costumes and 99 per cent of presents.

There have still been obstacles to overcome in Beijing Christmasses. My wife isn’t actually a Santa fan (at least I can console myself I’m in good company if ever I’m in the dog house). Still we’ve decided to do a little Santa. The trouble, again, is chimneys – in high rise apartments.

I’ve tried several solutions. Once, explaining Santa could pick door locks, I made fake snow footprints from the door to our tree. Our kids were enthralled. Then I spent most of Christmas morning cleaning. Turns out flour is enormously hard to vacuum.

The next year I got smarter, setting out puddles of water as ‘snowmelt’ from Santa’s boots. By morning, thanks to underfloor heating, these had evaporated without trace. Maybe this year I’ll use mud.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


... look like they were made by your kids.


We’ve all been there. Christmas is bearing down on us like a huge snarling beast. And, especially if you live in China, the pressure’s on to send your presents if you’ve any hope of them arriving by about February.

You’re on your way to the post office and suddenly you scream: “THE CARDS!!! THE CUTE LITTLE HANDMADE CARDS THAT SHOW OUR DISTANT RELATIVES THE KIDS ARE THINKING OF THEM!!!”

There’s not a child in sight. The unhelpful little buggers are out, probably at school or something. Never fear. Here’s what you do.

1. Go to your kids' art & crafts box. See if they've made any Christmas cards.

2. None? Then see if they've made anything at all. It's possible to convert most things into Christmas cards, just by adding a few appropriate words and names.

Remember, cards made by kids don't have to come with a
relevant theme ...

... or be too coherent.

3. Voila! You're done. Jam it in the appropriate present, post it and flick on the TV. Another year done.

Of course, kids being kids, they might have really left you in the lurch this time. You're going to have to have a craft session of your own.

1. Paper folding.

Take a piece of paper or cardboard. Fold it. Badly.

In the fashion game I think it's called
"on the bias".

2. Drawing and writing.

Your choice of colours is important. Anything that's hard to read - like yellow on yellow - is good. Do a drawing. If you draw something that is, say, symmetrical, then rip it up and start again.

Words are vital. They shouldn't flow too well. Just splatter
some around that remind you of Christmas. Spelling
matters. For example, we sent a cousin a gift last year
with her name spelled differently on card, gift and
envelope. And it's only got four letters! Also, words
broken with a dash and spread of two lines because
you've unexpectedly run out of space are excell-

3. Writing ugly.

One common pitfall to avoid is that your writing will be too neat. You won't fool anyone. Cousin Tracey in England, or whoever, will open their Christmas gift and immediately get a sour taste in their mouth, a bit like when I opened a book I was given one year which bore the inscription: "To Janet, Hope you enjoy this book." (NB: Watch out for this sort of thing if you buy your presents from second-hand book stores).

There are a few techniques to make sure your writing isn't neat.

Use your less dexterous hand - right hand
if you're left-handed, or left hand if you're

Close your eyes.

Close your eyes and use your left hand.

For another method I was inspired by actor Daniel Day Lewis for his unforgettable role in that film ...

"In The Foot Of The Father"

4. Using household items to make your job more difficult.

Perhaps wear a blindfold for a more
disoriented feel.

And bulky ski gloves can make a felt
pen wonderfully hard to grip.

In fact, you might combine a couple of things from your ski bag ...

5. Writing positions.

As a golfer might change their stance, a card fraudster can experiment with their writing position.

"Under the table"


I call this "The Wild One" - going at it
backwards like how Jerry Lee Lewis,
coincidentally the father of Daniel
Day, used to play the piano at his
addled best.

Or, if you have one lying around, use the real thing.

6. Losing track.

Remember, most kids have an attention span only about as long as the average husband's. Don't be afraid to lose track midway through what you're doing.

"Christmas" is a long word. Some kids will get bored
halfway through it, or go on a tangent. Perhaps images
might get confsed.

Or creepy.

7. Decorations.

All kids love glitter. Except if his first name's Gary.

These days it comes ready-made in
tubes, mixed with a gluey-substance.
Back in my day etc etc ...

It comes out fairly easily. Start with just a little ...

... and then go berserk.

By the end it should look like a fairy has
vomited all over the thing. Stickers also
come in handy. They're everywhere
these days too.

Again, relevance is optional.

There are other forms of decoration. Like a gooey wet glitter mess, these should be as impractical as possible.

Soft things are OK, but will not break, so your relatives
won't have the chance to feel sorry for your poor little
poppet's ruined efforts, which always helps in a good

7. Trimmings.

These days you can buy all sorts of fancy scissors to put curvy or jagged edges onto things.

Go at your card with a pair of fancy scissors. Hard!
Remember, size is irrelevant, as I found last year
with daughter Evie's hand-made paper present
to me.

I thought she was kidding.
Dads and presents, eh?

For best results, use two pairs of scissors.

8. Putting shit all over it.

A child-made card will, in the process of being made, usually end up covered in various inappropriate substances. Perhaps you could even start with a piece of paper which is already sullied.

This should not include coffee rings.
They're a dead giveaway.

Jam is good.

If you're Australian, like me, you might
also use Vegemite, the tasty, distinctive
bread-spread which has kept most of
us healthy from birth. If you can't get
some, simply go to your local brewery,
find a freshly drained brewing vat
and scrape up the salty, yeasty black
tar that's left on the bottom. It's pretty
much the same stuff.

Or use boot polish, though this doesn't taste quite as good.

Or if this Christmas caps a year when you've been doing
some social climbing, you might use caviar.

A few more stick-on eyes for that
absurd feel, and you're almost done.

"I can't believe it's not children!"

So there you have it. Just follow these easy steps and this year "yule" look like the most Christmassy family in your clan!

NEXT WEEK: How to say "Happy New Year" like it really means something.