December 24, 2008

Beginning to Look a Lot Like Something

China gave Taiwan a pair of pandas named Duan-Duan  and  Yuan-Yuan  yesterday. It's just a goodwill gift because of the holiday season, naturally, but the names joined together mean "reunion." Not since when have I seen such subtlety in a holiday message. Crazy things are happening. Maybe none as crazy as Reuters not  using Michael Turton's quote:

the pandas are the Olsen twins of reunification: cute, shallow, and high-maintenance.
The Pandas arrived in time for X'Mas, but won't be on display until Chinese New Year. Stay the HELL away from the Taipei Zoo at Chinese New Year. It's going to be a madhouse.

Speaking of madhouses, the school where I work had its Winter Carnival last weekend. I woke up the morning of, felt a little cold, and dressed with the calendar, not with the forecast. This bad habit of mine has resulted in more than one sweaty day with wool socks, four layers, gloves, and a scarf. Saturday was another manic day for the thermometer with the high getting up close to 70F. It was not a good day to be standing in the sun in heavy socks, long sleeves, heavy vest, and insanely stupid looking Dr Seuss hat. There are no pictures of me in the hat. I would not could not.

There were games to be played and night market food to be eaten. The students all came around and threw ping-pong balls at our X'mas tree hoping to win candy bars or lollipops. A splendid time was had by many. Being a bunch of foreign teachers in a booth set up between two booths staffed with gorgeous, young Taiwanese teachers did not hurt the mood one bit.

My wife came by with the kids at around 2:30 to have a go at some of the games and to see Santa's helper. Santa's helper was to be me as that had been the plan for about two months. And I was looking forward to wearing a disguise to talk to my kids and find out what they wanted for Christmas. Because I'm sure they would never guess that it was me, you know, being fat with a beard and a deep voice. Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the whole thing was to get underway, I was given the costume to try on. First time. The sleeves came a little beyond my elbows, and the legs of my pants were what one would need on a typhoon day. The belt buckle, placed where it belongs, left the other end of the belt lost and lonely at the three o'clock point on my hip. The fake boot calf cuffs were not big enough to go around my extremely muscular and --for a right jolly old elf--sexy legs. A substitute Santa was needed and found faster than you can say wardrobe malfunction. I suggested that the new guy, a Canadian, and geographically a much better choice as it seems, bring along a flask with some Early Times so that his breath could match the appearance of the costume which hadn't been washed since its last outing.

Poor guy. I'm glad he's still talking to me. From my post between the honeys, I watched him as he marched back and forth handing out Mentos from his sack. A dark swath of sweat began to appear on the back of the costume. I've never known Santa to be much of a mingler. I guess I always assumed he'd had phlebitis or something and just liked to sit down when talking to the youth of the world. About an hour or so into this, he'd had enough and struck for a folding chair and a tent. He wasn't doing as brisk a business as we were, but we were giving out Hershey's, 3 Musketeers, Milky Way, Snickers, M&M's and Dum-Dums.

He was provided with some toys to give out to the kids as well. This I found out when I got home that evening. Both of my kids went for their consultation, though Gretchen didn't want to climb on his lap as she's a two-year-old and didn't feel comfortable with weirdoes in red suits. That comes later. They got the thing and brought it home. LOVED it. I'm not going to say "only in Taiwan will you get this as a gift at a school carnival" but we got this as a gift at a school carnival in Taiwan. Given to my children, aged two and four, were two pacifiers stuffed with LED lights and with rainbow cord to wrap around their necks.

First, why does a four-year-old need a pacifier? Why does a pacifier need to have colorful flashing lights? Who in their right mind would design a pacifier with a cord meant to be worn around the neck? Imagine the lawsuits in America if these ever hit the market.

It was stunning. True enough, it's fun to turn off the lights and swing the thing around in the dark and watch the flashing lights, but  neither of my kids are ready for the Pink Floyd laser light show. I just can't figure it out.

Now, to contrast my story that winds up with me looking a gift horse in the oddly designed mouth, let me tell you about my office-mate's deal this year.

He decided a few weeks ago that on Christmas Day, his classes would participate in a gift exchange. It's a good idea to lay down some ground rules here. Last year, it didn't work out so well between the elementary school and the junior high. Imagine you prepare a battery operated computer game for the exchange and what you get back is a cellophane bag with a pencil and an eraser in it. I think that's called a trade imbalance. So, my coworker set price limits, thinking that this would keep things even.

Not so fast. A couple days after he set down the rules, the gifts started coming in. One of the first was an iPod Shuffle--a little more than the 15 dollar ceiling set by the teacher. We've been talking about this for a couple weeks now. How is this kid going to feel when he gets a pencil box or something in exchange for an iPod shuffle. I suggested that he be asked to take it back and get something cheaper. The student's response has been, it doesn't matter, my mom paid for it, I don't care. We're dumbfounded by this. Is it arrogance, is it apathy? What is wrong with this kid?

Well, today we find out. I never knew who it was before, but it's a kid that I'd had about five years ago at a previous job when he was just a beginner. Bright kid. His mom is really nice as well. This information just made the whole situation all the more confusing. But there is an explanation that throws on a whole new light. His mom won 10,000 NT in the lottery a few weeks ago and she gave the money to her son. He feels that he didn't do anything to earn the money and it's in his pocket only by the good grace of fortune. He wanted to share this with his classmates and the gift exchange gave him the perfect outlet to do so.

So this kid, named Charles, is offering up a lesson for his classmates on giving without expecting anything in return. I wonder if anyone in Beijing reads this blog. The difference between Charles' iPod and their Renunion Pandas seems to be as black and white.

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