This past week, I got to join in the 5th annual Hunan friendship awards ceremony. Altogether, there were 20 foreigners who received this award. It was a great honor to give our school some face and also to meet some other foreigners living in this part of China. Furthermore, it was a lovely time with our school's waiban (foreign affairs official) who happens to be a dear friend.
The ceremonies began on Wednesday. Most of us arrived sometime before noon and then were able to enjoy the wonderful western style buffet (complete with Western breads, meat, and desserts) in the 5 star hotel where we were staying that night. My waiban (foreign affairs official) and I, gawked at the food and overloaded our plates with seafood, steak, and rich pastries. It was heavenly.
After lunch, we all had an outing. The organizers of the award thought the best way for us to show our friendship would be to plant trees. We rode in a van for about 40 minutes to the outskirts of Changsha. It was drizzling on that day, so they had prepared rubber galoshes and rain coats to wear. Once we arrived there, we listened to a few short speeches and then began the planting. We also had help from some of the Chinese workers to plant the trees. I thought it was great fun and a good work-out, so I helped myself and planted several trees.
After this activity, we had a fancy meal with some important people. They made us foreigners all sit together during this meal and put our foreign affair workers in a separate room (up until this time, most of us foreigners mostly clung to our Chinese friends who had accompanied us.)
At 10:30 the next morning, we met to received instructions and had "rehearsal" about how to walk across the platform to receive the plaque. It was about one hour of prep for 5 seconds on the stage.
During the meal, the 20 foreigners were sitting sandwiched between Chinese government officials. I was sitting down, ready to enjoy the meal when I noticed that about half of the people sitting at the table, weren't actually sitting, but were circling around the table, toasting the officials with wine and one sentence wishes of prosperity. I tried to ignore this phenomena and focus on the steak chop that was so seductively sitting in front of me. But after a few minutes, one of the other foreigners came over to me and said, "What do you say we form our own toasting party and walk around." So, we recruited another foreigner and joined in walking around the table and toasting random people. I soon realized that it didn't really matter if we toasted people or who we toasted, as long as we weren't sitting at the table voraciously eating our food, which is what I wanted to be doing. In fact, we only needed to have the appearance of paying respect to people, but we didn't actually have to go and toast all the government officials for they were no doubt wanting to eat their food. Oh, the toasting dance.
One table that I did pay attention to toast though, was the table were my team-mates and co-workers were sitting. I was so happy they could be there, and they were great sports through the waiting and the pomp and ceremony. One bonus of the day was that on the trip home from Changsha, we did get to stop at Metro. (Metro is the name of a German supermarket chain that has a branch in Changsha. We can get a variety of western condiments, cheeses, and cereal there.)
I have fond memories from these 2 days, and I'm thankful to our waiban for accompanying me. Another bonus of the day was that my Chinese tutor was asked to accompany the foreign teachers and act as translator on the drive to Changsha and for the awards banquet. So basically, it was a lot of my favorite friends in China all in one place.