Happy New Year, dear readers!
In my third career avatar, I was a teacher at an international school in Zhongshan, China. This post is about my New Year’s Eve celebration in Zhongshan a few years back.
I brought in that New Year at a watering hole that is popular with the expat crowd because of the live (Filipino) band and dance floor. I love dancing, so I roped in twenty other acquaintances and friends, and had reserved seats for us at the pub.
My (capitalist style) Mao suit was designed exclusively for me by Mr.Haute Stuff, Marc Jacobs. If you believe that, then you will also believe that he surprised me by creeping down the chimney on Christmas Eve. Hmm, probably not because I think I had told anyone who cared to listen that Jon Bon Jovi was spending the holidays with me. Ai ai ai ai ai! It’s so hard keeping track of all these men in my life. Wait, I need to get one first – a life, that is. 😉
That night, I did something for the first time. Something I had thought of doing for a few years, but was too afraid until then. I bought gifts for the twenty people who had promised to attend … and I wrapped them in newspaper. (I know!) I had read about this environmentally friendly tip for a few years, but only then did I finally pluck up the courage to do it. (Go, me!) I was not afraid of being thought a cheapskate because opinions I know aren’t true don’t matter to me.
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – Dale Carnegie
I was afraid the recipients would think I did not care enough about them to get the customary wrapping paper. I do not like receiving gifts from people I don’t much care for, and I am the same when giving gifts, too. Expectations and traditions? Stuff that. I give a gift only if I like the person enough. Then, I try hard to get what I think is suitable. Now some of the twenty people I gave the gifts to that night did not fall into the category of ‘People I Really, Really Like’. So why the charade, you ask? Because of the place I bought the gifts at.
When deciding on gifts, initially, I looked for organic products. No luck. Then I searched for biodegradable or recycled items. Still no go. Next, products made by families or individuals. No, no, no. Finally, I went to an Australian acquaintance, Jeremy, the longtime Zhongshan resident. I would go to him with questions about all things Zhongshan. With that query, Jeremy came through yet again. He told me about ‘The Charity Shop’, so I bought my gifts there.
‘The Charity Shop’ in Zhongshan is a small supermarket and all profits go towards local charitable causes. Among their many deeds, I remember the surgeries to correct congenital heart defects of twin boys and food supplies to the farmers in the countryside.
That year, I wanted to do something different. Instead of merely donating money, I wanted to share a little awareness as well. I decided to give gifts from ‘The Charity Shop’ to make my local friends and acquaintances aware that they could get an extra feel-good bang for their buck with something as routine and regular as grocery shopping, and I wanted to use the wrapping (news)paper to pass on a green message, too.
Buying edibles at ‘The Charity Shop’ was a great option, I thought, because I could give people I did not know very well things they’d actually use; consume, more precisely. So I got each a box of tea or coffee sachets (the ‘Just add water’ kind), a packet of digestive biscuits (they seemed to be popular) and a bar of dark chocolate (my fave). I made all the gift tags myself using the plain side of printed sheets from the school office. I attempted fancy frilly edges with little drawings, calligraphy-style name inscription and stapled a little strip of swirl ribbon on them. Big Sis is great at this artsy stuff. I’m not, but I tried.
The gift tags opened up like a book with the name of the recipient on the cover. When opened, on the left hand page, I had drawn a map of ‘The Charity Shop’ area and included the name of the shop, the address, telephone number and hours of operation. On the other page, I had the landmarks legend. I did all that with the hope that all who received those gifts would do their groceries at ‘The Charity Shop’ in future. I did. It was a trip into the heart of town for me, so I combined it with my lunch/dinner meetings with the downtown-ers.
I must add that everyone was quite puzzled when I pulled out the newspaper wrapped gifts from my travel bag. After I explained the whole thing to them, they kinda believed that it was not a prank. Their expressions were simply precious! When I picked up a gift and called out their names, the first three or four recipients bravely, but very suspiciously accepted my gift. All eyes were on them as each of them turned the odd item over and finally opened it. The look that flickered across their faces was a mix of surprise, relief and a feeling that could easily be read as, “This Kate is nuttier than I thought a pecan, pistachio, peanut butter sammy!” The perv that I am, I derive immense satisfaction from bedevilling the heck out of people. 🙂
In the end, everyone was happy with their goodies and thanked me for being (as opposed to merely thinking or talking about something) a Jill-Out-Of-The-Box* yet again.
*People who know me well are now familiar with my outside the box thoughts and practices. I twisted ‘jack-in-the-box’ because I sometimes, quite literally, spring surprises at the people I like.
I’ve always been very mindful about electricity and water use. (Thank you, Daddy and Mummy!) I felt good about kicking off that year on a green note. Ever since, I have rarely wrapped a gift in regular gift paper. The few instances I reverted to regular gift paper have been for more traditional folk; only because they would just not get the green bent and I did not want to hurt their sentiments.
In addition to the common practices around the house, here are some of the other environmentally conscious changes I made a few years ago:
– Avoid travelling by cab if I’m on my own. (I allot extra time for travel by public transport.)
– Carry my own set of plastic and fabric bags when I go shopping – groceries and otherwise.
– Use bus ticket stubs to make my grocery lists or brief ‘To Do’ lists.
– Use the blank side of unwanted printed material to jot down notes at the initial stages of my work. I get these sheets from the office. I used such sheets from my school office to make the name tags for the gifts that night.
– Carry my own Tupperware (and carry plastic bags) to restaurants for take-aways. (Styrofoam is toxic.)
I’m quite a tree hugger, and would love to get some more ideas from you about your practices to add to my list above.
I do not make New Year’s resolutions. But a few years ago, sometime in the middle of that year, after months of mulling and planning and nail-biting, I made a drastic about-turn in life and headed off into a brand new direction.
Shortly before I went to China, I began listening to my own thoughts and tried doing what I felt made me happy. Not that anyone forcefully dictated my actions before. But, I used to pursue what was deemed important by society – brand name clothes, expensive restaurants, regular holidays away from the home state or country, higher positions at work, an exclusive neighourhood to set up home. I enjoyed all of that, nay, I revelled in it all like a pig in mud, but after a while, it left me feeling empty. When I finally tuned in to my inner voice and began pursuing things that engaged me at a deeper level, I began to feel a certain calmness and peace. Ever since I switched careers and became a teacher in China and a social worker in the different country that I am currently in, my savings account tells me that I am (comparatively) poor now, but my happiness bank? Doth overfloweth.
“Ordinary riches can be lost, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” – Oscar Wilde
I am content with my life today because I heeded Tim McGraw a few years ago. And I finally began to