It’s quite apparent when going anywhere in Beijing that the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, is coming up soon. The basic decoration strategy seems to be to leave up the Christmas decorations and add Chinese symbols into the mix. So Santa and the reindeer and the sparkly trees are still hanging around, and the good luck characters and mice have been added. The upcoming year is generally called the Year of the Rat, but as it happens, Mandarin doesn’t really distinguish between rats and mice (laoshu or haozi for both), and mice are cuter, so from the looks of things, it will be the Year of the Mouse.
Last night we had our company New Year’s party. I’ve looked back through last year’s blog posts, and it seems I didn’t really say much about that party. Well, we were a much smaller company then, and it was a pretty minimal affair. We took an afternoon off and walked to a nearby party facility, where we had a meal and some karaoke.
This year’s party was bigger in all respects. I think the planning committee had some difficulties, because the event was rescheduled twice from other days due to the unavailability of any decent facilities. So we ended up on a Sunday late afternoon at The Sixth Club. It’s one of thousands of party venues around town. And remember that in a city this big, saying “thousands” is not an exaggeration. It’s a whole industry that hardly exists in American cities.
TG, SJ, and I ended up being the last ones to arrive, and everyone else was already eating and drinking when we walked in. We found some seats and hit the buffet. It was decent if not outstanding, with the roast duck being the standout. No surprise, this being Beijing and all.
Each table was labeled with a famous mouse character.
I’ve been trying to get over a nasty cold for a couple weeks now, so I only had a few sips of beer, but some of my coworkers were having a great time with their beverages. No embarrassing breaches of etiquette I’m happy to report.
People were encouraged to participate in the festivities, and somehow TG and I got talked into take part. RR was supposed to join us, but he was stuck back at the office all evening and didn’t make it. There were several karaoke performances, one of which was preceded by some sort of skit that I didn’t understand at all, but got lots of laughs.
And we had a dance routine, complete with costumes.
There were a number of games, including this one that I never caught the rules to. The men sat in the chairs with baby bibs, and the women bonked them on the heads from time to time. I think it was part “Simon Says” with some strange domestic overtones. There was a second part where the women gave the men baby bottles full of beer and the winner was the one to suck it down fastest.
There was also a round of Musical Chairs and a Three-People-Four-Legs race that nearly resulted in serious injuries.
I am seriously out of order here, but what the heck. TG and I took the stage for a painful take on “Hotel California” with lyrics I rewrote to fit our company, full of in-jokes and Olympic references. I called it “Hotel 2008” (“Hotel Er-Ling-Ling-Ba”). It got off to kind of a slow start, but once someone stuck a mic in JW’s face and got him to sing, it improved a lot.
There were some very nice prize drawings, including a Wii and a digital camera and a bunch of portable game systems and iPods. I didn’t win anything.
At least not in the drawings. TG and I got an award for The Best Courage for our performance. Which translates as being really bad but sticking it out to the end, I suppose. There were also two other trophies, one for the dancers and one for the IT department for the skit and song. And everyone got a big stuffed mouse to take home.
Now, I suppose all of this might sound kind of silly. It’s definitely different from any office parties I’ve been to over the last ten years in the US. I hope I’m not inadvertently echoing some kind of stereotype, but what it comes down to is the fact that my colleagues here are not as cynical and jaded as most Americans. Most of us hate to participate in silly games, hate to risk looking foolish, and would rather stay home than play Musical Chairs. But as far as I could tell, everyone had a great time. Perhaps the lure of prizes and the free-flowing beer helped, but for each game, there were people eager to play. Our modern “sophistication” seems to come with a price: we can’t relax and act like kids for a few hours with our coworkers.