On Christmas Eve, I was kind of slobbing it up around the apartment, in a weird Christmas funk, but suddenly my day brightened when I got a call from the Foreign Affairs office: they had a package for me. Now, would this mark the arrival of The October Package, Beowulf I've heard him called, whose mythic two-month journey over the sea via slow boat is only whispered of in story in song within the great mead-halls of our fathers? Or would this be the express mid-December package that promised to deliver all sorts of "Do Not Open 'Till Xmas" goodies?
Well, it turned out to be the Christmas one. I laid the presents out in front of the tree until Christmas morning, honoring (with some comments on my tremendous willpower) the whole Christmas morning tradition; and my family is so great and lame that they actually had me open them in front of the Skype webcam chat we had going Christmas morning. Yeah, it felt like an astronaut opening presents "live via satellite," but it was still pretty cool. I got an Patrick's ld GameCube, with Resident Evil 4 and Metroid Prime, and as soon as I can, I'm getting The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess over here. I also got some nice shirts, and a few DS games (Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney). Not a bad haul for being half way around the world!
So when Christmas day rolled around, in what appears to be tradition for any kind of holiday here, the Western teachers, demanding Western food, made our way to the Crown Plaza hotel for their five-star Western buffet. They had turkey (with some really lousy chestnut stuffing) and some Christmas ham and desserts and a bunch of other seasonal things, but the cost was raised to a sticker-shocking 158 yuan. Damn. That's a ton of money for what is really hit-or-miss food and mediocre dessert. If it weren't for the free beer and coffee, I don't think I'd return.
Just before we went to dinner, I was notified that I had another package - yes, the Beowulf whale-road parcel - ready to be picked up at the local post office. It was too late to grab it after the meal, so I went today after my classes. There was a big to-do about me actually being who I claim to be, and it took four postal workers scrutinizing and name-checking to determine that I am indeed Matthew. The problem? When *they* received the package, *they* notified the school (via a slip that *they* wrote) that there was a package for "Mathew." So when this Matthew character shows up, flaunting that extra t, well, he's clearly trying to steal something, matching signature and passport be damned!
Acquiescence came at last, and I was given my big, heavy package. It was covered in a thin black plastic bag, and upon peeling it away I saw a white package stained all over with thick ugly rotten brown. And a sweet smell ... Uh-oh. Maple syrup. My pancake lust had finally gotten the best of me.
So it was a long, slow walk from the post office to the nearest bus stop, and once off the bus, it was a ponderous walk up to my apartment, until I finally opened the box and found that everything - and I mean everything - was soaked with maple syrup. Reese's, birthday cards, newspapers, mail, cans of tuna fish, you name it. A lot was salvageable; the cans of tuna only needed a quick rinse, bags of mac and cheese were rinsed and rebagged, my new Dogfish Head t-shirt I let soak in the wash for a few hours and I think it'll be fine. But let this be a warning to you all: maple syrup isn't as innocent as it appears.
All the trees around here are being painted with a thick matte white, from the ground to about three feet up, to protect them from insects or disease or something; Nicki says it looks like they're all wearing socks. So I'll leave you with a picture of that.