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Why was Christmas pretty good for me this year, as Christmases go? One expat’s take on the unexpected virtues of living in a very foreign culture


 

I was shown enormous kindness in so many ways by so many people. My landlady here, for example, gave me a box of upmarket patisserie chocolates. All the staff at the beach-shack I normally frequent are friendly, straight and helpful.

My neighbour in the apartment block proposed to his girlfriend. He knocked on my door, said he was going to decorate the hall as part of the proposal, and asked did I mind. Manners, see: they go a long way. On my way out later, I found the stairwells bedecked with roses…..in his hallway he’d laid out over a hundred floater candles spelling ‘Please Marry Me’, and covered the floor with rose petals. I came back later to find she’d said yes. (And she was both charming and pretty)

I found somewhere quiet from where I could get on line and Skype my family.

Everyone, everywhere said “Merry Christmas” on the day itself.

I sat and read The Unbearable Lightness of Being over a Christmas dinner made and served by other people and washed down with an historic 2013 Messere Chianti: I don’t know why I haven’t drunk more of the Sangiovese grape over the years. And I don’t know why it took me thirty-five years to finally get round to reading that book; it is a quite remarkable achievement by Milan Kundera, and in 2017 feels spookily prescient.

I was lucky enough to spend the entire season in a country where, every day, I was reminded how lucky I was to be born in the West.

Getting away from Western news and returning to Asian life in the raw has been restorative, and clarified many perspectives. I hope you enjoyed yourselves too.