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Foreigners in China celebrate special holiday with new recognition of life

作者:admin 2020-12-24

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Christmas decorations in Gubei Water Town in Beijing photo: VCG

Editor's note:

This Christmas is bound to be unforgettable. 

Despite the success of vaccine development becoming a silver lining to a world suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the continuous rising number of newly confirmed cases in some countries has tarnished hopes for international holiday reunions. For many countries, the holiday season remains a time of uncertainty.

In China, where virus prevention measures are still in place, daily life has regained a sense of normalcy. For many foreigners in China, it is a time of mixed feelings. They might be looking forward to the upcoming holiday as their families and friends experience different circumstances hundreds if not thousands of miles away

The Global Times interviewed several foreigners from different countries and churches living in China. Some of them have been living in the country for decades and consider themselves as "locals," and some are stuck here alone due to travel restrictions. They have different plans for this special Christmas. At the end of the year, they would like to share their experiences in China and what the holiday means to them.

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A foreigner dressed as Santa Claus poses with a child in a hutong in Beijing. Photo: Li Hao/GT

A new routine

Erik Legemah has opted to go to the church this Christmas, something he has not done for decades.

An artist by profession, Legemah lives in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province. He was born in a British family with devout Catholic faith. But he has gotten used to rarely attending church services. He considers himself a "disqualified" Catholic. 

But the epidemic helped him reframe his faith.

"When I moved from Xi'an to Wuhan on the eve of Thanksgiving in 2019, I could never have imagined what I would face. This year, I experienced panic, despair and also saw the light at the end of the darkness," Legemah told the Global Times. Legemah was in Wuhan to witness the outbreak and city lockdown.

"At first, I had nothing to do but stay at home, when I grumpily poured out my anxiety with my family in England, they told me they would go to church to pray for me, especially my grandmother," he told the Global Times. 

"But in fact, what really cured me was the solidarity and dedication of the people in Wuhan," said Legemah. "I watched the live broadcast on my phone and saw Huoshenshan and Leishenshan hospitals have been built and put into operation in just 10 days, I knew I didn't need to worry and be afraid, I was really safe in China." 

He recalled how his community staff encouraged him, despite the language barrier, when they were distributing basic necessities. But Legemah met personal tragedy this year. His grandmother died. Due to flight and visa restrictions, he was unable to grieve with his family. "Now, it's my turn to pray for them."

For Christmas service, he decided he will "seriously" and "reverently" go to the Hankou Church of Salvation for Christmas service, where the Christian English Methodist Church first preached in Wuhan.

As Britain suffers from a new COVID-19 outbreak, more than 30 countries and regions have suspended flights to and from the UK. Its neighbors also put in place policies to stop a fast-spreading coronavirus variant from crossing the English Channel. Many churches, such as the St. Paul's Cathedral, have opted to hold their mass and hymn services online, reports said.

Like most London residents, Legemah's family members strictly abide by the new tier four restrictions to stay at home. "Fortunately for me, compared to some countries, the bell tone I hear in Chinese churches is not the knell," he said. 

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A mass is held at a Catholic church on Hongfeng Road, Shanghai on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Biggest wish

Hazza, a TV and radio host in South China's Guangdong Province from Australia who gained fame in Chinese media in 2011 for recording Chinese songs, will organize a Christmas party with expat friends in Guangzhou, who are unable to go back home because of the pandemic. 

From decorating a big Christmas tree and exchanging presents through a Secret Santa system to sharing a meal together, Hazza and his friends will try to enjoy this unique Christmas in China and make it similar to celebrations back home.

Although there are some small outbreaks occurring in other parts of the country, Hazza said the well-controlled epidemic situation in Guangzhou makes him feel relaxed and safe. Guangdong has not reported local community cases for a month, except for people related to imported cases. 

Some of Hazza's friends plan to travel during Christmas holidays; however, he will stay in Guangdong for his own safety.

Hazza's parents used to come to China to celebrate Christmas with him. He also asked for annual leave and went back home in past years. However, the pandemic has prevented this year's family reunion.

"My biggest Christmas wish is the borders will be re-opened soon and travel bubbles will be even set up between Australia and China," Hazza told the Global Times.

Although COVID-19 has been relatively contained in Australia, Hazza said his family will have a small get-together at home just to be on the safe side.

The recent Sydney outbreak has recorded more than 83 cases, all linked to Sydney's Northern Beaches region, which casts a shadow over Christmas celebrations in Australia.

Hazza said in an area where COVID-19 case numbers are high, the best Christmas gift this year people can give to their families is to avoid meeting them physically."Sacrificing one Christmas for many healthy and happy Christmases in the future is important," Hazza said.

Christmas at 'freeze-frame'

"In the last class before the vacation, I talked with the children about their Christmas plans as usual, watched them excitedly discussing where they would travel, who they would visit, which surprise gifts they would get," Tamar Pacor, a 56-year-old primary school English teacher at an international school in Shanghai who has lived in China for 15 years, told the Global Times.

Pacor plans to take a set of family photos on Christmas Eve.

"I felt incredibly lucky, because I see so many of our friends and colleagues in the US, my home country, complaining with helplessness. For kids, this is without doubt the most upset vacation of their current life," she said.

After witnessing the COVID-19 pandemic and the turmoil around the world, especially in the US, "I'm fortunate enough to be able to spend a peaceful and warm winter with my family, and I hope to bring this small but sure happiness to 'freeze-frame' at Christmas," she said.

Pacor said to the surprise of her family, she will take a short break from the kitchen on Christmas Day to eat dumplings at a Chinese restaurant and then join her friends and family for a bar bash on Hongmei Road's Laowai Stree.

Pacor said this year had been "horrendous" and particularly tough; many of her friends in the US have given up family gatherings for Christmas to avoid COVID-19 transmission. 

According to a CNN report on December 19, more than 210,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported each day in the US last week, and there were roughly 18,000 deaths from the disease.

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects estimated that another more than 237,000 Americans will die in the next three months.

"In Shanghai, I want for nothing, and I can safely, even wantonly walk into the crowd to feel and enjoy the hustle and bustle, which I cherish very much," said Pacor.

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A customer buys Christmas trees at Yiwu International Trade City, East China's Zhejiang Province on December 11. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

No need to blame

Annika Rodemann, a 29-year-old teacher from Germany working at an international school at Beijing, has started to celebrate Christmas in early December. She came to China in summer of 2019 and experienced China's anti-epidemic efforts in Beijing.

Following her traditional customs, Annika prepared four advent candles and lit each one on one of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

She asked her Chinese roommates to put a clean shoe outside their doors and put masks, Haribo candy, hand cream as small gifts for Saint Nicholas Day's surprise on December 6.

Annika came from a Christian family which regards Christmas as the most important traditional festival of the year. Her mother even mailed some spices to her from Germany that she couldn't find in Beijing."I baked Christmas cookies together with my Chinese friends as they are also my loved ones," Annika told the Global Times. 

Annika is traveling to Sichuan Province and planning to visit Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province during her Christmas vacation. "I'm confident with China's epidemic control, so I dare travel around China during the Christmas without worry toward the COVID-19," she said.

Although there are some cases reported in some regions, anti-epidemic authorities quickly react and track the close contacts, Annika said, noting that China is capable of containing the outbreak fast which makes her feel safe.

Meanwhile, Germany has started a hard lockdown amid the Christmas season that will last from December 16 to January 10 as the number of deaths and infections from the coronavirus reaches record levels, reported the BBC. Caroling and parties are not allowed and even Germany's much loved Glühwein stalls will close, as drinking outdoors is banned. 

Annika said for safety concerns her family will quarantine at home to have a feast this Christmas, instead of going to church. 

"Germany did not lockdown as comprehensively as China did at the start of outbreak so people are still struggling with COVID-19 during Christmas," she said. "It is safer for them to stay at home."

Annika's Christmas wish is the pandemic could end as soon as possible and people all over the world can spend a happy Christmas next year. "There are some voices criticizing Wuhan. However, it is non-meaningful that countries blame each other confronting the pandemic but cooperate together to defeat the virus," she noted.
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