Never have I needed a break more, and never has a winter vacation been this good.
The last 48 hours before touchdown in my hometown Beijing were predictably hectic. I handed in an analysis of one of Wordsworth’s long poems for a higher level English class, sat the final for a course on Icelandic Sagas, spent five hours on the bus to NYC watching Friends reruns, and wrote a final paper on early Icelandic literature till dawn. After a strange breakfast of pizza and cereal, I flew back to Beijing sleeping 0/13 hours: I have never been able to sleep on flights! However, after two days of no sleep the next few were blissfully full of it. I was hardly ever fully awake before Christmas: my parents had to check in at one point to see that I didn’t pass out in my sleep!
If done right (and this is definitely no easy task), winters in Beijing are balm for the soul. The first few days home are a sort of honeymoon period, where my parents are glad to see me, I felt the same way, and everyone was thinking innocently about dishes of homemade food and watching sitcoms after 8pm. It’s a sort of grace period for spending all day in pajamas – jet lag takes time! – and rewatching an entire season of House of Cards in one sitting while gobbling pork buns from the corner shop.
After the rose glasses are off however, vacations back home become a delicate game. It seems like sometimes there are no right options: when I stay home, my folks tell me to go out and stop watching every TV show known to man; and when I go out with friends they fret and get angry over the smallest things.
For anyone reading this wondering about a solution, it is actually quite simple and old-fashioned: just do what they honestly want you to do for an hour or two a day, be it go to the gym or just doing the dishes. That trick works wonders for keeping peace.
The other wonderful thing about winter vacations are the long movie lists. Averaging one movie a day, mostly British, American or French. After a painful two week finals period of wracking brains, some very funny light movies – 22 Jump Street and anything Seth Rogen – are best watched first. After letting my head rest for a bit, I break out Rohmer and pretend to understand it. Especially the Baker of Monceau! The best film for me this season though is probably the Grand Budapest Hotel. American Beauty is a close second. All of this is best done with some classic Chinese desserts and breakfast food on the side.
And then there is Beijing itself.
New York winters are all about the Christmas carols, shopping and the snow; London winters are – to the best of my memory – about mince pies and awful Christmas jumpers. I have never really appreciated Beijing winters before, but it does have a peaceful charm of its own. The whole city is more zen at winter compared to its Western joyful counterparts. It hardly ever snows in Beijing, and when it does it’s not normally heavy. Whenever I picture a Beijing winter, I see an old grandpa with a Soviet army hat sitting in front of a HuTong, stoically watching the chimney smoke rise. People are grumpier than they are in the summer, but somehow the tempo of the city slows down in spite of it. The calmer rhythm soothes the tired onlooker, as it invites her to stop and smell the candied haw berries as well as the smog.
I have never liked the winter: this is the first time in all my years! I guess one can always change, even habits that have been there for 21 years.
You can contact Sally Gao at email@example.com.