12 Books of Christmas #2

off to bethlehem The children’s book Off to Bethlehem! by Dandi Daley Mackall is a breezy, poetic telling of the story of the nativity has endearing illustrations by R.W. Alley, though I was surprised how much older Joseph looks than Mary. (I guess he looks like he’s 40 while she’s a teen. There’s nothing I know of in the Bible about their age difference. I’d be happier with a younger Joseph. How about 20?)

Off to Bethlehem! is a great introduction or reminder of the reason for the season.

 

White Christmas

There’s something about old musicals that’s so uplifting. I’ve seen White Christmas a few times, the best viewing was on Saturday at Chicago’s Music Box Theater with all the surrounding fanfare: Santa, jingle bells, carolers and organist.

The film probably wouldn’t be made today. The script would be rejected. It’s not a dark or edgy film. There’s no desperation. No here characters are perfect, but they all have spunk and hope, which is why by the end of the film, I left the theater filled with cheer.

It’s the story of two nightclub singers played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. They served in WWII together when Kaye saved Crosby’s life. Thus no matter how annoying, Crosby can’t shake the whimsical Kaye, who’s forever getting sensible him into complicated situations.

The pair meet a pair of sisters, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen who’re trying to scale the ladder into showbiz. They’re talented, but are just starting out. The younger sister schemes to get the famous Wallace and Davis (Crosby and Kaye’s characters). Both Crosby and Kaye are enamored with a sister, but you know romance will not be easy.

The crux of the story revolves around the plight of Wallace and Davis’ old general, who owns a failing Vermont Inn. The general feels like a failure and misses his army camaraderie and success. No one’s coming to the inn because there’s no snow for skiing. Soon Wallace and Davis get the sisters to help them change the general’s fate.

The characters all had a lot of elegance and style. The costumes were bright and well tailored. They spoke with rhythm and intelligence. There’s no offensive language or swearing. I think all of these things contribute to how good the film makes people feel.

The film has great music and dancing. The jokes, often corny, made me laugh.

Try to find time for White Christmas this holiday. Introduce a younger relative to this cheerful film. Pray Hollywood finds a way to make more films like White Christmas. Not all films need to be cheery, but how about a few new ones that are?

Poem of the Week

To the New Year

by W.S. Merwyn

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

Qing Ming Staycation

We’ve had a three day weekend for Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping) Festival. My friends and I have no tombs to sweep and the weather hasn’t been great so rather than go out of town, one friend and I opted for a stay-cation at Jinan’s Grand Mercure Hotel.

Getting the reservation was tricky due to my internet problems and their website problems (i.e. choosing the right number of rooms and people was impossible on the site taking several days and thus I was unable to qualify to book on their three nights for the price of two promotion. How regrettable.)

Eventually I did book for two nights (when I called customer service they couldn’t correct this. Again, regrettable.)

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We checked in and got an upgrade from our Executive floor rooms to junior suites. The Executive floor lounge is closed so we got to have our Happy Hour in at the nightly buffet which offered all sorts of vegetables, leg of lamb, beef, chicken, Chinese dishes, American barbecue ribs, and dozens of sweets.

After checking in we asked where the West Market was. We’d heard that it was a great market, but had no idea how to get there. The staff promptly showed us and got us a cab.

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The West Market was nearby and first we got let out near a mall. We wondered inside and I’d been here before and din’t think it was much of anything special We saw some shoppers going through what looked like a service door. We followed and discovered a movie theater with the latest releases. We saw another service door and boldly went through. After walking through a corridor we found ourselves in a jewelry and beauty supply wonderland. West Market has vendors selling every kind of accessory and sundries. You could get tons of knock off perfumes, hats, watches, stationery, household goods, accessories, you name it.

After a few hours exploring, we returned to the hotel in time for Happy Hour. Since this Grand Mercure’s Executive Lounge is closed we got to eat in the restaurant – leg of lamb, loads of side dishes, pastries. All so delectable.

The hotel promoted a tea ceremony and morning tai chi but when I left hotel for Easter mass, no one was doing tai chi out front and when I asked about the tea ceremony we were told they didn’t have one but we could go to one at a tea shop. The easiest fix for these is to remove the slides featuring them from the hotel TV station.

Easter brunch at the Mercure has become a tradition for the foreign teachers at my university. Each year it gets a little better. This year there were two little bunnies along with an “Easter tree” and lots of cakes and sweets decorated for the holiday. Not only did we have a wonderful brunch, but the manager gave us a bottle of wine.

I thought I’d never eat again, but after hitting the fitness center and catching up on the world news with the BBC, I managed to make it to Happy Hour.

Why I’m Not the Least Bit Hungry

For Thanksgiving a number of us went to the Hyatt Hotel in Jinan where we feasted on: turkey, cranberry, rabbit, beef, ham, beef stew, carrots, Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon, corn,  fish, prawns, clams, caviar, three kinds of cheese, paté, an assortment of breads, sushi, pizza, mini hamburgers, pumpkin soup, salad, and hot pot. I did not try everything, but most everything was scrumptious.

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For dessert there was ice cream, six flavors including pumpkin, which I’m told was delicious, pumpkin pudding, which I’ll say was outstanding, pecan pie, tiramisu, chocolate mousse, Napoleons, panna cota, pumpkin pie, which disappointed, peanut-chocolate brownies, mango cake, chocolate chip cookies, egg tarts, crepes, waffles, cupcakes that looked like turkeys, and fruit.

Time to exercise.

On National Day

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Entrance to Zoo, Doesn’t Look Too Bad

Though I knew it would be crowded anywhere I’d go, I agreed to visit the zoo, which was free today. We started off at about 9, but the buses were so crammed, we thought walking would be better. We walked up Di Kou Street to a main street where we’d get a less crowded bus to the zoo. The wait was long and the bus was rather crowded, but what can you do?  After we alighted from the bus we had to use a pedestrian bridge to cross the street. The bridge was packed with people and along the sides vendors added to the congestion. On a normal day they wouldn’t be a problem, but on a major holiday they just made things worse. Some were selling toys or water, but others were celling wigs, condos or rabbits. Who has time to stop and consider an important purchase while crossing a bridge?

We the walked past a group of food vendors before approaching the entrance. At the entrance it didn’t look to bad, but beyond the gate it was packed. People were standing shoulder to shoulder and the loudspeakers were blaring messages saying the zoo was over-capacity and it was dangerous to go inside. We talked it over and it seemed we wouldn’t get to see the animals anyway. After awhile we decided to go to a park further east and a little bit north. I’d been there with Eva and our pathfinder, Ed.

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No one else around

After a long wait for a bus, we finally got to the river park. We had the park and paths almost to ourselves!

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Each bridge had a different design

After walking awhile we happened upon a group of amateur musicians who sang patriotic songs. Afterwards the urged us to sing with them and we sang “Jingle Bells” and one other corny song together.

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The Band

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Around 1 we were getting hungry and knew that finding luck would be tricky. There was nothing near the park and by the time we’d get home all the restaurants would be closed. We decided to go to Wanda Plaza for Indian food. Again the wait for the bus was long and then the traffic just inched along. We were hungry and jammed inside the bus like sardines.

The trip and the effort were worth it though as we had a great lunch. I’m not one for spicy food, but there were enough options in this cute curry restaurant. My two favorites were the Indian “quesadillas” made with an approximation of naan bread, a curry sauce and sliced vegetables and bean curry. The only disappointing item anyone got was a tepid chai tea, which the waitress got heated up.

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Indian Restaurant