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Posts Tagged ‘Beijing’

Our Daughter’s Grandpa Santa 

dsc04571         The myth of Christmas has been kept between my daughter and her parents, me and her father for exactly 17 years since she was told about Santa and surprisingly received her first Christmas gifts at age 6 in Beijing.

       At her 6, she just started reading and writing at a primary school in the city. The the-little-onedifference and the freedom outside of kindergarten attracted her. Her eyes kept very busy to catch everything fresh. Her talent on music, arts and drawing grew rapidly. Her curiosity about the world around her was accumulated almost out of control: 15 days after she had enrolled into the primary school, she skipped school with one of her classmates during lunch time. They spent the whole afternoon in a public garden nearby and did not tell anyone  (I believe it was well-planned by the two girls). After she was satisfied with the answer to her question, from where she had been dropped to the world, she asked closely how she went into my body and stayed there for such long time without any complaining. There were tons of other questions about these and those in her little mind……We could tell this via her shiny and blinking eyes.

       How could we regulate her sudden growth and the endless requests in order to let our little girl absorb and sort out the freshness she met challenging and joyful with a balanced rate? At that time, I was working hard on English improvement by studying traditions, customs, people and history, including Christmas, mixed with or related to the language. Why didn’t we introduce Santa to her life, which would certainly extract her additional interest, and also create some connection between the lovely old-man and her learning year round? It was also the time that Christmas was not as well-heard or well-talked about as it is in China now (It is still not identified as an official celebrating holiday in the country). So it was good to let her know.

       One night, two weeks before the Christmas in 1991, our daughter learned about Christmas and Santa the first time. She was extremely lured by what we told her and believed the unbelievable myth. We did not have fireplace or chimney, so decided to hang a bag on our balcony to make Santa’s delivery conveniently. She loved the kind and beard old-man who always HoHoHo and brings surprise to children and she insisted on calling him “Grandpa Santa ” after the first time she mis-heard it as Grandpa (姥爷) instead of Old man (老人) that ususally Chinese people call Santa  “Oldman” Santa. She also had been behaving very well since Santa Claus was coming to town.

       However, one day she showed me her worry about the Christmas gifts. She asked: “Mom, does Grandpa Santa mind if there is something wrong with my homework?” “What’s up with your homework, my sweet?” I asked her. “Mom, is 5-3=2 right?” I said: “Yes.” “Why did Teacher Hu (a mid-age kind lady, the teacher in the class our daughter stayed) still mark an “X” (means incorrect) beside my answer “2” that I have written twice?” “Show Mom your numbers, please.” When I saw her 5-3=2, I could not help, but burst out laughing. She wrote “2” backwards, no wonder why Teacher Hu gave her “X” again and again, and no matter how many times she corrected, the “2” was consistently written in reverse. “Oh, my dear and poor daughter, you made such lovely and funny mistake that Grandpa Santa would enjoy it very much, I am sure!”

       On the Christmas Eve, after having seriously hung a bag on the balcony, she went to bed unwillingly. Once making sure that she was asleep, her father and I were as quiet as if two cats walking on the toes to finish Santa Claus’s job. Next morning, she got up much earlier than usual. In a half way of waking up, she smiled secretly and tiptoed cautiously towards the balcony with both hope and uncertainty. I saw her searched and then she fully woke up when touched something in the bag: “Mom, Dad come here, Grandpa Santa really visited us last night and left me gifts!” Her little voice raised up, “Look! A pencil box with pencils, a ruler and an eraser in it, a pencil sharpener. Oh wait, there are two bars of chocolate, too!” She felt extremely different on that school day because she was the only one in the class, or in the school who received amazing gifts from Grandpa Santa.

       Next year, we again prepared for her Christmas gifts one of which had bigger size than last year, so I asked her to hang a bigger bag on the balcony. In the morning, she absolutely found her Christmas gifts which fit the bag perfectly. She smiled and was excited as last time, but her eyes this time filled with questions: “How did you know, Mom that I needed a bigger bag for the gifts?” dsc04572

       With our girl’s growth, the gifts from her Grandpa Christmas  have become bigger and more expensive, from pencils, winter coat to pianos, to a brand new car (for both her and me) this year. dsc04574At the same time there have been fewer and fewer layers covering the myth of Christmas or Grandpa Christmas. Especially after my daughter and I came to Nova Scotia, Canada, we are exploring the tradition and culture of Atlantic Christmas Seasons. However, nobody among our three has pointed the secret out.

         Keeping it silently and harmoniously has become part of the life we all built up particularly for our daughter (though my husband and I divorced several years ago). No matter at her childhood, at teens, 20s, 30s…… and 80s, she can always ask: “Mom and Dad do you know if Grandpa Santa will send me gifts this year?” We will continuously answer her: “Grandpa Santa always knows if you have been good or naughty.”

        The secret, the mysterious feelings and our love will be with her for long.

Zhou Hui, in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Dec. 18, 2008

 

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The Halifax Explosion: History Brought to Life

        In fall 2007, my daughter and I moved into an apartment building in the north end of Halifax. Our deck faces the Shipyard and overlooks HalifaxHarbor. Watching the gentle waves, the sea gulls, the vessels and the sun hanging above the water is becoming one of my favorite pastimes. I am originally from Beijing and seldom had the opportunity to be such close to a harbor.

        One sunny morning, I stood on the deck, sipping a cup of coffee while enjoying the view of the the-view-of-halifax-explosion-site-from-the-building-i-live-3215-veith-streetHarbor. My eyes once again touched the area to the north of the Shipyard and my heart skipped a beat. Was it the devastated area around “Pier 6” where the Halifax Explosion happened on December 6, 1917? Had the Richmond Railyards been located there? I hurriedly began digging through my unpacked boxes and pulled out a book called “Explosion in HalifaxHarbor,” which I bought two years ago. A map in the book confirmed my feelings that I was looking at the exact site. 

As a Chinese, I had never even heard of the Halifax Explosion before moved to Nova Scotia. However, a very fortuitous series of events brought me to the history.

When my daughter and I immigrated to Canada, we first stayed in Wolfville, a landscape-like smallthe-newspaper-and-the-photo-on-the-wall5 town belonging to the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. We lived in a house with Ms. Janette Snooks, a nurse and community caregiver. The house had its bedrooms upstairs with living-room and kitchen on the ground floor. One day I noticed that a framed newspaper article with a gentleman’s picture in it hung on the wall in the turning corner of the stairs. In the living-room, two pictures particularly caught my eye, too. One was the same gentleman in the framed article. Another was of a woman. Out of curiosity, I stood at the stair corner and read the article.

It described the most significant explosion in widespread devastation, killed about 2000 people and 9000 injured in the blast in HalifaxHarbor on December 6, 1917. The gentleman in the photograph was Vincent Coleman who worked at the Richmond Railyards. It was only a few hundred feet from Pier 6, where a vessel called Mont Blancloaded over 2,900 tons of explosives and flammable material drifted ashore in flames after colliding with another vessel, the Imo. Warned of Mont Blanc’s explosive cargo, Vincent turned to his telegraph key to stop incoming trains. His message was sent out just in time and a train was successfully stopped outside of Halifax before the Explosion.

vincent-colemanThanks to Vincent’s message, the Canadian railway system responded quickly to the disaster and sent relief trains with medical help to the ravaged city. Vincent Coleman’s body and belongings were later recovered and he was named a hero for his quick thinking.

I could not help but to ask Janette who Vincent was. She told me he was her late maternal grandfather. The woman in the living-room picture was his wife, Frances. In 1917 Janette’s mother was just a baby. She and Frances were two of the survivors. Because of Janette the history of the Halifax Explosion suddenly seemed very real to me and was brought to my life accidentally! After listening to her story, I felt differently whenever passed the picture frame in the turning corner.

glasnerJanette also showed me a book, “The Halifax Explosion”. The author interviewed her for the book. Opening the book, I saw the same photos of Vincent and Frances in the living-room. I glanced at the book’s dedication, “For my husband, Doug” without paying much attention to this at the time.

I wished I had the book, so looked for it in Wolfville, but did not find it. By chance I bought another informative book, “Explosion in HalifaxHarbour” by David B. Flemming though it was expensive for me.

A short time later, I was told my Masters supervisor, Doug’s wife, Joyce had written a book about the Explosion. Having checked, I ensured the one Janette had loaned me was, in fact, by Joyce Glasner. The dedication, “For my husband, Doug” I had not paid much attention last time really made sense to me this time. Finally I met Joyce and she sent me a copy of her book. Opening the cover, I found I owned a signed copy.

Amazingly, the experience with Janette and Joyce brought me closer to the history and made me more familiar with the Halifax Explosion than what I, a person from China, had ever expected. I could not help, once again, but felt more about the history especially after I moved to the north end of Halifax and found most of the historical sites could visit by walking.

I once stopped over at MaritimeMuseum of the Atlantic an entire afternoon one day to visit the exhibition of Halifax Explosion, to watch the video with the horrible pictures of the ruins and to listen to the pitiful description.

the-clock-facing-to-the-explosion-site-stopped-to-9052From the corner of Barrington Street and Duke Street, I looked up to the north face of the City Hall Clock. It was permanently stopped to 9:05 a.m., the time that the original clock stopped as a result of the Explosion.

the-piece-of-metal-from-mont-blanc-remains-flown-through-the-glass-window-and-then-embedded-above-the-door-in-the-inside-wall-of-the-porch-of-st-paul_s-anglican-church1I quietly opened the front door of St. Paul’s Anglican Church and found the piece of metal from Mont Blanc remains flown through the glass window and then embedded above the door in the inside wall of the porch.

dec-29-2007-snow-storm-003I have walked several times around the neighborhood where I live to visit the historical sites-the churches, schools, buildings and streets……

I reviewed the name list of those who lost their lives in the Halifax Explosion, I found two of them were from China.

dec-6-2007-the-halifax-explosion-memory-001I attended the 90th annual memorial service at Fort NeedhamMemorial Park on December 6, 2007. On that day, I met two of the survivors who are at their late 90s, while I also saw a lot of teenagers and youngsters standing with the grey or white hair in the cold and chilly December wind in memory of the event. As only Chinese, my attendance caused people’s curiosity and attention. Some gaze made me feel I was an alien. Probably they were reasonable –it was really gold-board-dec-6-2007-the-halifax-explosion-memory-0121weird–a Chinese woman joining such local event with mostly local Canadians. However, I have stories related to the Explosion, which they did not know, which I like to share with them. My understanding of Halifax is more than they expected that a Chinese woman should have, and my feelings to Halifax are far beyond the whirl and the noises, the peace and the beauty which they feel and I feel everyday.

End

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