Christmas in Beijing

Alex McNab

I am an orphan, but only for two weeks. Besides me, there are about 10 other orphans, and we have all banded together and made a Skype group, which we have cleverly titled The Orphans. Our namesake is the fact that we have been left alone in Beijing, where we have been living since August as participants in the high school foreign exchange program School Year Abroad, for the holidays. Our fifty counterparts, meanwhile, have all either returned to America or moved in to local Beijing Holiday Inns to celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the new year with their loved ones.

Little Orphan Annie was right when she said, “It’s a hard knock life for us.” That’s not to say that my winter break hasn’t been good, but being an orphan can be very depressing. I’ve been spending a lot of my nights listening to the We Fall Down playlist on my iPod. That’s my gospel playlist, and it’s composed of the ten deepest, most uplifting songs I know. Songs with names like Hear My Call and Total Praise and Never Would’ve Made It. Songs that I play only in my lowest moments so that they can raise my spirits higher.

The most telling thing, however, isn’t the songs but that a few days ago, as I was listening to the playlist, I began to cry, and I mean like I really began crying. My eyes were shut, and my lips were trembling, and my face became covered with wet and snot. Perhaps that isn’t weird for some folks, but for me to cry like that, especially to some music, is extremely out of the ordinary.

All those tears made me worried, and I began to think hard about why it was that I was so sad, and, then, my friend sent me a message on Skype.

“Merry Christmas!” she wrote. “What’d you get?”

“Nothing,” I wrote back to her. Then, I turned away from my computer screen and looked dejectedly towards my fake, just above waist high, starless Christmas tree, and I realized that, after over four months of living in a foreign country away from everyone that I know and love, I had finally become homesick.

On Christmas Day in America, Dec. 26, in Beijing, my brother moved all of his presents out from under the tree and placed them in front of the computer so that I could celebrate Christmas with him through Skype. As he unwrapped his gifts, I sat alone in my badly lighted bedroom eating the Hawaiian Sun dark chocolate macadamia nuts that my girlfriend’s family, who came to Beijing to see her over the break, had given me.

When there were no more boxes left to be opened and no more gift wrap left to tear, my brother quickly went into another room to play with his new toys, and I had a long conversation with my mom and grandmother. I told them about how depressed I’d been. Hearing about my struggles as a motherless child caused them pain. My family couldn’t afford the trip to Beijing

“When your child is sad and there isn’t anything you can do to help them, it really hurts,” they told me, but, after asking me where I’d gotten the chocolates from, it calmed their hearts to hear about how well I’d been getting along with my girlfriend’s family. “Since we couldn’t be there,” said my grandmother, “God sent them to be with you.”

That was a powerful statement, and it made me rethink what I had told my friend who’d asked me what I’d gotten for Christmas. I did get a gift this year, five of them to be exact, packaged in a plane and wrapped up in thick winter coats.

Dr. Williams, Ms. Williams, Noah, Micah, and Matthew, thank you all for giving me a very merry Christmas and for bringing me much happiness as I make my way into the new year. As your daughter/ sister, my girlfriend, says when it snows, “I love everyone,”–––– especially my family.