Celebrating New Year’s Eve and Friendship

The clock is ticking, and 2018 is on the way.  How are you going to celebrate the New Year’s Eve?

The New Year’s Eve reminds me of the beautiful movie “Waterloo Bridge” (1940) starring Vivian Lee and Robert Taylor, and the theme song “Farewell Waltz – Auld Lang Syne”.  In China, the song was renamed into “Long Live the Friendship”.  And the movie was translated to “Hun Duan Lan Qiao” in Chinese.

I love that movie.  Probably because of the music, I always relate that movie to the New Year’s Eve.  The song “Long Live the Friendship” is very popular around the New Year time in China.  So what is the New Year about?  One part is about cherishing the friendship.

Yes, friendship.  What a beautiful thing!

36 years ago, I started the college in Beijing.  My college buddies became lifetime friends.  Today I like to share a story:  how my college classmates celebrated the New Year’s Eve in the early 1980s.

The celebration was organized within the small class, which had 30 students.  The event was planned about two weeks ahead.  The staple activity was cooking, and making dumplings.

The class committee figured out the details:  what was needed and how much, and came up with the class budget.  The total amount was divided by 30.  Here was everyone’s contribution amount.  The money was collected one week ahead.  In this way the shopping could get started.

Some classmates were originally from Beijing.  They went back to their parents’ places, and brought utensils back to the school.  Big thanks to them and their parents!

On December 31, right after the lunch, the activity kicked off.  The fresh produce, fruits and meat were purchased from the farmers’ market.  Once the grocery was in, we starting preparing for the dishes.  The main course was dumplings.

The cooking was carried out on the 4th floor, the boys’ dorms.  All the girls lived on the top fifth floor.  Utensils were needed to do the dumping stuffing, and the dough.

Each girl had two big porcelain basins: one used to wash face and hands, and the other one to wash feet.  Now looking back, I feel it’s like taking off the pants to fart – wasted effort.  At that time, girls were really serious about this rule.  It seemed feet were much dirtier than face?  Who knows?

Obviously, the boys didn’t adopt this rule.  But the girls didn’t know about that.  They already started using the boys’ basins, and working on the flour and dough.  Then suddenly, it was realized that each boy only had one basin.  Oh, my God!  What can we do now?

Life moves on.  Some were washing and chopping veggies.  Da Da Da, Da Da Da, you could hear the constant chopping noise.  Sounds like grandma’s kitchen.

It took a long time to get everything ready.  Finally the dough and stuffing were good to go.  It’s everyone’s turn:  to make the dumplings.  Great teamwork.

Where to put those dumplings?  We were very creative.  Newspapers were laid onto each bed, and dumplings were sitting at the top of the inky newspaper.  Thinking back, now it seems so awful to me, as I hate the paper ink touching the food.  Plus the bed is not the place for food.  Right?  But at that time, it didn’t seem bothering anybody at all.

Some were making the dumpling wraps.  Others were putting the stuffing in and wrapping it up.  As a small class, we worked together, and laughed a lot.  It was so relaxing.  All the exam hassles and worries were put behind.

We liked dumplings, and had to make quite a lot to feed the 30 young folks.  The dumplings were in various shapes, as each had his or her way to wrap it up.  From the dumpling shapes, you could tell it was a very diverse team.  Stories and jokes were told, and more dumplings were produced.

Each dorm was one work unit.  Once a while, we walked over to another dorm to chat, and see how they were doing.  Probably we were tired, and the bed was supposed to be a place for people to sit at that time.  Here we go.  Someone accidentally sat on the bed, and one butt destroyed so many precious dumplings.  My goodness.  Followed were more teasing, and self-blaming.  Well, threw those dumplings away, and let’s make more.

Finally the dumplings were done, and it was time to boil and eat them.  We were so excited.  Everyone was tired and hungry.  The stove was put in the hallway, and it was really dark.  A dim and tiny light bulb was hung at the top of the ceiling.

Time to eat.  Each made their own sauce, waited to get the dumplings, and started gobbling.  Oh, it was so delicious.  Let me try the dumplings with a different type of stuffing.  Wow, it was good, too.  At that time, the dishes were ready, as well.  Get some beer, wine, and champagne.  We toasted, over and over again, dumplings + alcohol + dishes.  There was no legal drinking age in China at that time.  Anyone was allowed to drink.

It was the New Year’s Eve, the last day of that year.  We got a lot to celebrate about:  worked so hard on the school work the whole year, completed the never-ending homework, and passed or survived each exam.  Everyone was a hero.  Looking forward, we were going to be one year older and become more mature.

After the dinner, we started playing poker in small groups.  As a punishment, the loser would have two options:  either drink alcohol, or walk under the table.

One time, a boy lost. He chose to walk under the table.  It was tricky.  He was either drunk, or his clothes were too bulky.  There was a soy sauce bottle sitting at the top of the table.  The bottle was flipped while he was under the table.  The poor boy was showered by the dark soy sauce all over his head and the sweater.

That became one of the legendary jokes in my class.  Many years later, everyone still remembered that saga.  We were young, then.

As the hours went on, more alcohol was consumed.  The more we talked, the less it made any sense.  One time, I was competing with a boy, to see who could drink more wine without getting drunk.  To everyone’s surprise, I beat him.  As a winner, I was really not proud.  That became another story in my class.  I never ever had any drinking problem.

After coming to US, I stopped drinking completely.  The main reason was that, I might have to drive anytime, due to the nature of my job (I was on the call 24×7).  So I got to be ready anytime.  Plus I never really liked alcohol, and just didn’t like the taste and smell.

After hours of drinking, shouting, laughing, and poker games, it was pretty much the time for the New Year.

We the whole class gathered in a room, and waited for the New Year clock to tick.   5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Happy New Year!  Another round of toasting, and another round of alcohol.

I heard someone saying:  “You already wished me Happy New Year!  This is the 3rd time you said it to me”.  “Really?  I don’t remember it.  Ha ha ha.”  After the chaos, the poker game started all over again.

Some folks were hungry at that hour.  I heard one of my roommates was saying in the hallway:  “I’m going to make the Ba Si Hong Shu”.  This is a dish made from sweet potato, oil, and sugar.  The oil temperature and sugar quantity had to be perfectly right, in order to claim the success.  At that wee hour, with so much alcohol consumed, the rate of success was very low.  We went to bed in the early morning, and were exhausted.

That was how we celebrated the New Year’s Eve.  I had a lot of sweet memories.  It was part of my four-year college life, which I cherish the most.

Now my college buddies are all over the world.  Just two days ago, I went to Michigan visiting my two college friends.  Three of us shared stories, laughter and tears, and had a great time together.

As the New Year is coming, I’d like to let my college buddies know:  no matter where you are, my friends, Happy New Year.  May 2018 bring you peace, good health, and happiness.  Long live our friendship.  I miss you all.

Take a look at my eBook, a mini-memoir on Amazon: “DAD’S BICYCLE: Journey of A Chinese Family”.

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