As the days till the 25th passed, it was clearer + clearer to me that my Christmas in Taipei would basically be just like any other day. A day to have an adventure, probably solo. I’ll wake up around 9 or 10am. I’ll go for a run, maybe do my abs-like-Gwen-Stefani ab routine. Blog a little. Read a little. Doubtlessly eat Chinese food like my American Jewish brethren. Maybe buy some bougie cheese at City’Super… Who am I kidding? Definitely buy the bougie cheese at City’Super. Buy some wine. Maybe some bubbly… Uhh… Yea. Also definitely the bubbly. Hopefully find a streamable Christmas Special to watch. “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year,” anyone?
All of this is just fine.
Since school has not started + most of the students in my program have been traveling, I still have yet to establish a group of friends to hang with in Taipei. My folks + beast of a dachshund, Otto, are in Florida visiting my Meem in St. Augustine. We have plans to Skype at some point on their Christmas day (my 26th). This will be my first Christmas, ever, not being with my parents.
A kid’s gotta grow up sometime, right? + this is what I signed up for.
I have to admit, I was a little worried that I’d have to search high + low for any Xmas spirit in Taiwan. I am happy to say that, though Taiwan is only 3% Christian, the island has adopted much of the festivity of the holiday. There are trees everywhere! Icicles, too, despite the 80 degree days we have when the sun shines. (Otherwise it’s cloudy/rainy + in the 60s. I know, cry me a river.)
Here are some of the decorations that I’ve seen in my neighborhood + travels through the city:
This tree, outside of my favorite spot in my neighborhood, Yaboo Cafe (which I will be devoting an ENTIRE post to soon!), is my personal favorite:
I was lucky enough to notice the counter with performance event info at the Eslite Bookstore when I was buying school supplies the other week. I picked up every flier I could + I got myself a ticket to see the Taipei Symphony Orchestra play their Christmas Feast Concert at the National Concert Hall on Christmas Eve.
It was fantastic!! At first I was struck by the fact that I was there alone. I thought, “If I were here with someone, or had Christmas Eve plans after (which I would def have at home in NYC), I would be a lot more excited about the show, about Christmas.” The chorus + musicians filed onstage, then the conductor. (The musicians in the orchestra were mostly women, which I thought was fabulous.) Then the music started +, as I probably am any time I see an orchestra play (which is not often), I was struck by how softly a room full of instruments can play. Moved by the oneness of the sound. By how absolutely thrilling it is when the music swells.
Then they played Tchaikovsy’s Nutcracker Suite: No. 1, Op. 71A. I cried. I had no idea how much I associate “The Nutcracker” with Christmas. It makes complete sense. I grew up watching my beautiful ballarina bestie, Nancy, dance “The Nutcracker” every year of our childhood. Mouse to Snow to Flower to Marzipan. I haven’t seen her Sugar Plum yet, but hopefully next year! (Get that foot taken care of, Nance!) Most who know me know I’m a total sap. Totally. I didn’t cry much. About 1.5 tears for every movement.
Just like that, it was Christmas.
Before the last programmed song, many musicians pulled out Xmas headbands + hats. Elf hats, Santa hats, tree hats, reindeer headbands, a purple devil horn headband (random, yes),+ my personal favorite: a blinking Angry Birds headband. By the end of the concert, a boy sitting two rows ahead of me was conducting along with the conductor. The whole audience was bobbing along with the music, all feeling the Christmas spirit, or at least the specialness of the moment we were sharing. The encore was “Silent Night,” which started + an audible gasp went through the audience. The soloists sang a verse in Chinese, which I thought was awesome. They ended with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” + out came Santa with gifts for the conductor + children in the audience! The music ended, the applause ended, the conductor then the musicians filed out + the chorus chorused
(Shèng dàn kuài lè!: Merry Christmas!)
I walked home + immediately found a Nutcracker on youtube to watch.
This Christmas in Taiwan, there will be no stocking. No tree surrounded by gifts. Yet, I happily think of all the things that I am thankful for. So grateful for. My family did not lose any property (or worse) in the storm. Myself + all of my loved ones are relatively healthy. I am able to take a year away from my life as I know it to just LEARN on the other side of the world.
I know how much work I have put into getting here + being here. I also understand how incredibly privileged I am to have been able to realize this opportunity for myself. Privileged to have friends + family that have helped me + will continue to help me every sure + every wobbly step of the way. Privileged to have even seen this journey as a viable option. Privileged to recognize all of this as privilege.
I’ve said it before + will say it again. Thank you, all of you, in my life who have let me be a lot a bit selfish + take this adventure. Somehow you all trust that there is a story for me to find here + to share. Thank you for following me.
To my parents, especially, I’m know it’s weird + sad + hard for you to know that I am so far away. It’s weird + hard + sad for me, too! Thank you for supporting me no matter what wacky thing I choose to do next. I love you!
Those of you who are lucky enough to be with your loved ones this year, give them a little extra squeeze for me + the others in this world who aren’t so lucky. I’ll be thinking of all of you with all of the love.
This cover of “Blue Christmas” still gives me chills every time I listen to it. (Thanks, Arielle, for turning me on to First Aid Kit!)
Don’t worry, I’m not that blue. It’s just different. + that’s just fine.
Merry Christmas + a Happy, Healthy New Year!! Peace on Earth, y’all. For real. Seriously, seriously. Spread love. xoxox