Christmas in China is in some ways a big deal and in other ways a total damp squib. Most malls will put up Christmas decorations (as early as October) and certainly my social media was full of people saying merry christmas (annoyingly, mainly on the 24th). However there’s very little Christmas music (a good thing I think) and not a mince pie to be found (also no great loss).
On christmas eve I was walking home when I was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of festive spirit and I decided that I wanted a glass of mulled wine. I’d had some mulled wine the week before and it was delicious, but I was nowhere near that part of town. About 100m further down the road I came across a pop up shop selling mulled wine! I couldn’t believe it! Unfortunately, neither could they, as they’d sold out. Thankfully I was able to get mulled wine in the pretentious and overpriced wine bar on my road, and I promptly nearly waterboarded myself on the slice of orange.
The big morning came and I jumped out of bed and and had a shower to try and take the nighttime chill off, before opening up the Fortnum & Mason christmas pudding I’d been given. I put it in my steamer and went to open the huge box of presents my mum had sent me, hitting play on the Sia christmas album while I was at it. This year the parcel made it to me without getting held up at customs for 3 weeks (what a nightmare that was – I had to get two colleagues involved and in the end paid an agent to help, though I still had to go out to the EMS depot near the airport when sick as a dog), and it had been sitting in my living room, eyeing me up for several days. My mum got me such awesome presents and I got quite emotional. I noticed billows of steam from the kitchen and went to rescue the pudding, before having to eat it really quickly so I wasn’t late for work.
At work, I opened a box of celebrations and got on with a completely normal work day. Later my manager asked if we could have a quick chat and I was convinced I was in trouble for something, but it turned out he had bought some cakes, and our team went to sit in the kitchen and eat our cakes. Our boss came in with his son and they ate some pizza, but I don’t think this was christmas related.
On the way home from work I skyped my family, which is always quite strange – being on the metro and chatting to them when they’re so far away. Back home I opened the last of my presents, chatting to the family. Later I took a taxi over to my friends house, where I presented him with two bottles of gin and a pomelo wearing a santa hat. At first it was just us and we hung out drinking G&T, then later lots more people showed up and made G&T using soda water and I eventually got home at about 3am.
The next day was horrid, with the only highlight the takeaway curry (with cheese naan!) I had in bed that night.
New year seemed to sneak up on me and I decided to go to Seoul. It’s less than 2 hours away and I thought it would be cold (and dry!) outside but warm inside. And I was right!
I made a stupid decision not to buy a sim card on landing in Seoul, meaning I was reliant on wifi – which, when you can’t find your hotel and it’s -8 degrees, starts to feel a bit stupid. I also managed to get into the metro without a valid ticket, and the good girl inside me was super worried about it for the whole journey (the gates were open at the station I exited at, phew). When I got to my hotel there was no one there, but it was warm and there was wifi so I waited a while and eventually the owner returned with his dog.
I dropped off my stuff and headed off to a bathhouse. I absolutely love bathhouses and go to a Korean one in Shanghai from time-to-time. This one was super crowded in places but I still had a very relaxing experience, other than when I got face tingles in the very very hot pool. After soaking for ages and lying about on a heated tatami thing, I went back into town and had some pumpkin soup and soju. I regretted ordering soju almost immediately as it’s really not very nice.
The next day I had breakfast in the hotel dining room, which was playing Sister Act. Then I headed off to the Jongmyo Shrine, which was not too far away. I was told I’d have to take a guided tour, starting in 50 minutes, and initially I wasn’t all that excited about it. However it gave me a chance to go to a nearby market, which was a fun experience.
The guided tour was actually well worth it, as I wouldn’t have understood anything about the shrine without it. It’s where all the spirits of the dead emperors are kept, and there are strict rules on who gets the best spots!
Afterwards I walked to one of the shopping areas. I didn’t see anything I particularly wanted to buy but it was still fun to wander about. At one point I got accosted by christians – I’d forgotten about korean christians! They insisted that god had a wife and pointed to some words from Genesis to ‘prove’ it, and I went on at length about the futility of analysing language when it’s been translated so many times, into languages that don’t have the same nuance and by people with political agendas. They asked if I’d like to visit their church “only 50 minutes away by bus”. I said no.
In the evening, I made the fatal error of not having any dinner (on top of not having any lunch), and bought a bottle of apple soju. I ended up in a bar on Homo Hill in Itaewon, drinking wine with two awesome guys. After the new year countdown, and after some shots, we went to a club across the road where I busted out my best kpop moves, and then we went to another bar, where I sang Bohemian Rhapsody to a table full of strangers.
Inevitably, I missed the last metro back to my hotel so had to wait in a cafe for the metro to open. This was a pretty bleak point and I was very very happy when the metro finally opened and I could head towards my bed. I was less happy when I realised I’d got on the wrong train and was going in the wrong direction. Finally I got into bed at 6.30am.
I woke up at 10:46 for an 11am checkout, and had a shower and threw all my stuff into my bag and staggered downstairs. I definitely still felt drunk and couldn’t face going outside into the cold just yet so I sat in the hotel lobby for a while reading and scrolling through social media. I’d got an email the day before saying that my flight had been rescheduled so I spent some time trying to sort this out. Eventually I was so hungry that I had to get up and go and find some food.
I went to the metro station as I needed to go to the ATM and suddenly remembered that none of my cards had worked the night before. Uh oh. I tried my ICBC card and it didn’t work. Uh oh. I tried my BOC card and thankfully it did work. I went to a bakery and got bread and coffee. Feeling more alive, or slightly less hungry anyway, I went to Bukchon Hanok village, a traditional area of Seoul with lots of adorable houses nestled on a hill. It was well set up for tourists but wasn’t that busy, and was a nice place to wander about.
Once I’d done wandering, I decided that another bathhouse was in order. This was an excellent choice, and I spent some time lying in a small tomb-like hole, before scrubbing and soaking myself to within an inch of my life. Bathhouses are so good in the winter as you feel like your insides are finally warm again. I should definitely go more often. Even when I was done and walking to the station I felt like I’d been pleasantly cooked and I could just about deal with how giant Seoul station was and how far away the airport train was.
By the time I got to the airport I was really, really hungry, and eventually I managed to find something vegetarian. I went to the gate to wait… and wait… and wait… The airline started handing out snacks (never a good sign), and even when we were on the plane there was another delay due to people having so many bags of shopping from duty free. When the cabin crew opened up the compartment above me I saw that someone had bought a duvet. Who goes on holiday and buys a duvet?!
I finally got home at around 12:30 and went straight to bed. And now it’s January and I’m still not sure what my new years resolutions really are…