Friday, December 22, 2006

The Ubiquitous Christmas Letter

Dear Friends,

This is the first time I have ever written a real Christmas letter, but after living in China for the last 17 months I'm feeling a little out of the loop. Or perhaps it's my guilty conscience nagging at me for all your emails that I have yet to reply to. Anyway, I'll try to keep this short for your sake.

The tone of 2006 was pretty much summed up in the extreme highs and lows of January alone. It was during January that I made the decision to quit teaching full-time, and to concentrate more on the artistic side of my personality with the aim of eventually earning a living from my art. High hopes, I know, but a girl's gotta try. I am still teaching a few hours of English a week, and teaching more and more at classes to both kids and adults, but the majority of my time has been scheduled for painting. Thus I sent up my art website this year (, and have been painting a lot, experimenting with new styles and, to Phil's simultaneous excitement and dismay, with larger and larger canvases. It has been great to really stretch myself into styles that I have only dabbled in in the past, and I have been loving painting many more abstract pieces that ever before.

It was also during January that my good friend Miriam died tragically here in Shanghai. You may remember that she was electrocuted in her home, due to faulty wiring, and such a tragic death shook myself, and all who knew her, to the core. No death makes sense, especially in youth, but a death due to such a ridiculous thing as poor electrical workmanship seems completely senseless. It has taken many months to absorb this event, and was not helped by the fact that this year also saw the death of several other people I know. I say I have 'absorbed' Miriam's passing, in that I know it is true, and these days I rarely "forget" about it (I used to catch myself thinking "Oh, I should call Miriam for coffee.... right, no."). However I don't know how long it will take, if ever, for me not to feel desperately sad about it. My friend Rachel gave me some great advice at the time: "Grief is like a hole- it never gets any smaller, but in time you grow bigger around it".

In February Phil and I travelled to his home in Montreal- I was utterly amazed to see a city operating under a thick blanket of snow. In other travels, Mum and Dad came to visit us in Shanghai in October/November, and for 12 days we toured a little of the vastness that is China- seeing Beijing, Xi'an, Emei Shan and Leshan, before returning to Shanghai. It was a drop in the ocean compared with the amount of China that I have yet to experience, but it was good to see a little more of the country that I have made my home for at least a few years.

Speaking of home, I am finding the longer I stay here, the more normal it becomes- and the more normal China becomes, the more I am frustrated by things that never used to bother me. One example is the little fact that when we arrived home yesterday there was a notice stuck to our door by the local police bureau. It was simply a notice telling us that as foreigners we have to register with the local police- which we had done months ago- and that we cannot engage in illegal activities or hide other foreigners in our apartment. As if we would. But the thing that bothered me most is that it is quite common for neighbours to earn a little money by telling the police that there are foreigners living in their building- we were not home when they arrived yestarday, but normally the police go around and bang on the door, demanding to see our registration papers (like we are dogs), and finding any little excuse to fine us ("your TV was too loud on the 7th of August" or "you walked past the chief of police last Wednesday without saying hello", etc). These things never used to bother me at all, and I accepted them as part of choosing to live in what is still undeniably a police state, filled with informants. However lately it is beginning to get on my nerves. I feel like waving my hand in the air and screaming "I pay taxes here too you know! I pay your salary!" however the most important thing to do as a foreigner living in China is not to bring attention to yourself- people have been deported for lesser offences than this.

I believe the only solution to my frustration is a holiday away from China, and thankfully we are going to Thailand for a week in the beginning of January. Phil's mum is arriving in Shanghai from Montreal this Sunday, and for Christmas she is taking us to Thailand. So it appears that you can buy my love after all! It will be a welcome break, and at least the heat will make me feel like it is the Christmas season after all, as the cold here is just not Christmassy to my little Aussie soul.

In the new year I will be busier than ever with my art. After trying to promote myself for the last 12 months, I got what appears to be my lucky break last week when I was offered a solo exhibition of my work- twenty pieces in total to be exhibited for two months in gallery/bar on the 50th floor revolving restaurant of the Novotel Hotel in Shanghai. This is quite a big deal, as often artists have to share the space, however I have been offered the entire place for myself. It is amazing, exciting and terrifying all at the same time- not least because I still have 8 paintings to finish before then! While it would be nice to sell a few pieces during the exhibition, my main aim is just to use this experience as an opportunity to promote myself and get my name out there more.

Well that's the tip of the iceberg, but enough for now. As usual you can continue to read here for all my adventures, and my new years resolution is to reply to emails before six months passes. I apologise to all the people who have written to me, and are STILL waiting for replies. All I can say in my defence is that 2006 was quite a year.

Merry Christmas and hope you have a wonderful 2007,


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