The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Good #1 and #2

1. Christmas concerts

There really is some beautiful music at Christmas. Handel’s “Messiah,” “Silent Night” and its accompanying candlelight tradition, the jazz from the Charlie Brown Christmas movie. This is the kind of music that really does signal a special time of year, and every year here in Tianjin the International School band and choir put on a wonderful performance of these kinds of pieces. This year my friend Ventia, because of a staff shortage, was in charge of the whole shebang, and she did a fantastic job. I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend, either. It was a wonderful concert. Something I’ve noticed about Christmas music, too, is that much of it sounds better when performed by students. At its core, the Christmas season is about newness and innocence, and nothing conveys that better than a solid student performance. I was in a much more Christmas-y mood after the concert. (Note: Stay tuned for more Christmas music comments in the Bad section.)

2. Bread

The Chinese do a lot of things very well. I went to a Dongbei restaurant a week or so ago, for example, that had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. But in general they REALLY can’t bake. It’s sort of a rite of passage for westerners in China to walk past a bakery window, see something that looks fabulous (and which would be fabulous if it had been baked in a western boulangerie), buy it, then discover that the actual flavor corresponds to the item on display about the way a bad action movie corresponds to its thrilling trailer. This is especially true of donuts, which in mainland China taste like frosted hula-hoops. So when you find a place where you can buy good bread, you tend to go there quite a bit. I’ve been visiting the Gang-Gang Delicatessen regularly to get baguettes and rye bread, and it’s been quite the nice treat. You have no idea how much you can miss something as simple as bread and butter until you live in China for a while and both are luxury items. On the upside, this also makes us China long-termers the perfect house guests in the States because most of the cast-off food that bores other people excites us. “Sorry, but all we really have right now is some bread and butter.” “Wow! Bread and butter? What a great day this is turning out to be!” That would be my actual response in such a scenario. (Note: I’m not kidding. If you ever have me over to your house, just have good bread and butter on hand, and maybe some fruit to keep away scurvy, and I’ll be one happy camper.)


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