Rebgong Holidaze

Jyalong valley

With the exception of an extremely relaxing Saturday spent with visiting friend Kelly, this past week has been one of the most insanely busy in memory. With the approach of exams, the week’s holidays and their attendant celebrations, so overwhelmingly omnipresent in the United States, were barely given a thought.

I exaggerate: the headmasters took us out to dinner last Wednesday, and one of our first-year classes was required to put on an Xmas Xtravaganza of a show for the class sponsors, a delegation of whom were visiting. The show had the works: the classroom was shellacked beyond recognition with Christmas, the administration brought in a professional sound system with microphones, and food and drink were provided for the visitors, headmasters, and 42 students. Students who, with 48 hours notice, were required to put together an hourlong singing and dancing spectacular which I can only describe as a Tibetan version of the eponymous show normally viewed at Radio City Music Hall (only, as it was performed by students in a classroom, with slightly less sexual suggestiveness). And, being our amazing students, they pulled it off amazingly well. Students who rarely speak a word in class came before an intimidating-looking panel of ten rich corporate sponsors and headmasters (not to mention all of their classmates and teachers) and belted out Tibetan pop songs at top volume. Other students, many of whom are normally intensely shy, read poems and danced. These kids have been trained for performance since knee-height, but the quality and integrity of the performances was still mind-blowing – especially from students we see every day in class. An entirely different facet of their personality was on display that night.  Finally, after several snidely condescending comments from a sponsor, it was over; the corporate people and headmasters packed up and left, and the rest of us stayed in the classroom and pressured each other to sing songs for the next hour until it was time for bed.

preparing for the event

with students (Jackson, Caleb, Corey) before the event. Note: I was going to shave the whole beard - and after the mustache, my razor broke and my sink was destroyed, so I stopped - hence the patchwork face

At the Xtravaganza. Yes - in this picture, high school students are serving us Qingkejiu in a classroom.

students dancing at the event

students singing "We Wish You a Merry Xmas". Adorable?

Anyway, this was the extent of the Chanukristmas cheer officially available in Rebgong (or at least our school): a delicious but sparsely attended Wednesday-night dinner and a pageant being put on to impress visiting corporate sponsors which, due to coincidental timing, just happened to be Christmas-themed. This was as far as holiday cheer went. Every day this week was packed. We were finishing our exam papers and doing final reviews with classes, which meant the library was constantly packed with students asking questions (which, for the record, I like) and borrowing books and DVD’s for the holidays. In addition to the full teaching schedule and outside programs (winter school, cameras, etc) we had taken on. Basically, total insanity. And every night this week, I would go home alone and light the tiny birthday candles in my travel-sized hannukiya by myself in the darkness of my kitchen (the light was out and I had no time to fix it) and reminisce about holidays past. At least for two minutes, after which I had to get back to work.

Chanukah in my kitchen

These were my holidays – at least, until the students started to take over.

On Friday afternoon, we had planned a small party for one of our first-year classes. If you remember, the Thursday night extravaganza was only for one class; the other was entirely left out. We felt bad, and decided to do something for them on Friday afternoon.

When we came into the classroom, they welcomed us like heroes returning from a Wagnerian field of battle (we were, after all, with Brooke’s father, who was visiting and whom the kids were meeting for the first time) and presented us with beautiful wall hangings and the sweetest Xmas cards you’ve ever seen (despite the strange front picture of a cart being pushed, rather than pulled, by a horse). We then proceeded downstairs to the library, where students enthusiastically sang songs and danced and ate and drank (pear juice) and took photos until the wee hour of 5:15pm. They then went off to their next classes, but not after wishing us “Merry Xmas!” with the most extreme and extremely touching sincerity you’ll ever witness.

Ken performing English poetry in the library

Samir and Isaac jammin' in the library

in the library, spectating

And then there was the following night. On Saturday afternoon, we finally learned that exams would begin the following [read: Xmas] morning (and that, to Brooke’s dismay, that the morning would be the time of our first-years’ English exam). So friend Kelly and I took advantage of the afternoon with a beautiful walk in the Jyalong valley before returning to town where – in the mood for hotpot – we found a surprisingly delicious hotpot restaurant right on Rebgong’s main street! [NOTE: living in Rebgong, this has long been one of my unsatisfied cravings; as soon as the pot came to our table, my opinion of this town – and its quality of life – jumped from “awesome” to “huge baller” – which, as all know, is the highest rating possible].

Kelly w/Xmas tree lhatse in Jyalong valley

Brooke, her father, Kelly, RT and I had a delicious meal and I was mostly finished eating (aside from that stray niangao) when I got a call from my ETP F (third-year) class monitor Kevin.

“Teacher. Where are you? Come home right now!”

“Sorry, Kevin! I’m eating hotpot with friends. I’ll be home in a little while.”

Then I got another call, this time from Judy, another student.

“Teacher, come home now! We’re waiting for you.”

I decide to leave, and jump in a taxi. As we pull up to my apartment complex, I see all thirty of my third-year students packed into the gateway. They all crowd around my taxi and pull me out and into the courtyard, yelling “Merry Xmas!” and “Happy Holidays!” as I almost begin to cry out of what the US government would label “shock and awe”, all from the amazing sincerity and generosity of the moment. The students had gotten clearance to leave school during Saturday night class to come to my apartment. They threw gifts in my face – a massive Santa and a pewter sculpture of a head of lettuce whose hollow core holds fondue forks – and we headed up to my apartment for an hour or two of singing, dancing, and general revelry. Before they left, I showered them with Chinese chanukah gelt and they danced out of the door, singing and yelling “Merry Xmas” as they disappeared into the frigid, pitch-colored night.

ETP F students crowded into my apt

Johnny belting it out

There were more events to come, largely a storm of insane requests and favors I had to perform the following day – such as to finish grading seventy exams in the space of a few hours. I had, lack of grevious injury or death or admittance to the Rebgong hospital notwithstanding, possibly the worst Xmas day ever. Yet it is the unbelievable kindness, sincerity, truthfulness, generosity and all-around genuine goodnessof the students which will stay in my memory – and, for me, truly be the mark of a Rebgong Holidaze.

students in my apt

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