January 19, 2010

Christmas in Taiwan - Part III

As expected, everything moves in a blur, which is what usually happen in life when we have too much to do and are desperately clinging to the moments that are dying faster than we can hold on to them. In the morning I shuttle my Kindies downstairs for one last dress rehearsal before their big debut, their costumes falling apart before the rehearsal even begins. They do not look good, but they also do not look awful. They look like they were outfitted by a 25 year-old boy who haphazardly pieced together 13 costumes using scraps and a skeleton budget. However, I think my effort is sufficient enough that none of my peers or parents will think me a slacker. Watching my kids take the stage, I can say without hesitation that my costume ideas were a little too ambitious, but at least they are SORT OF recognizable. Sort of…

The children deliver their best performance during rehearsal, and I am both proud of how far they’ve come and terrified that they’ve peaked too soon. However, I am mentally prepped for disaster: “Don’t expect too much” some of the veteran teachers caution, “once they look out in the audience and see their parents, they will either turn to statues or begin the waterworks.” But everyone seems moderately impressed with my class during rehearsal, and I have to keep reminding myself that the kids are only three and four years old; if they do ANYTHING at all, including vomit while singing (“Away in a manger no crib for a BLAAAAHHHH!”), it will be marked as a victory.

After morning rehearsal and lunch, I hustle over to Elementary to prepare for THEIR mini-recital which is to take place during school hours. This performance is much more sedate, and doesn’t involve costumes or elaborate choreography, just each elementary class singing one Christmas tune. We run through our song, “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” a few times to warm-up, then head downstairs to Miro’s small basement auditorium for the performance. My class surprises me with more showmanship than I have seen during our practices, and they are well received by the other elementary school classes. As soon as we exit the stage, I make an excuse that I have to use the restroom and slip upstairs stealthily.

Upstairs, I slide red felt pants over my slacks and stuff a balled-up sheet under my shirt. I put on the red felt coat and fasten my black belt over my massive belly, then put on the foot-smelling scraggly white beard/mustache combo and red felt hat. The transformation is complete: I am now Santa Tommy.

I grab my red sack (pillowcase) full of candy and creep quietly back down the stairs, the sound of children singing wafting up the tile steps and gradually increasing in volume as I descend. At the landing I peer around the corner, keeping out of sight. At the far end of the room the elementary students (somewhere around 60 or 70 students) are all gathered together on the stage, mumbling the words to “Oh Christmas Tree” as the foreign teachers half-heartedly flail around and point to lyrics written on a giant sheet of paper. The small collection of parents that have gathered to witness the performances and subsequent cacophony begin to notice my presence, and they swing their camera lenses toward my shrunken, partially hidden figure. Suddenly, I dash from my hiding place and take cover behind a support pillar, once again out of sight. I smile as I hear a few of the children start to squeal, some of them exclaiming in loud whisper “Santa! Santa!” I linger just long enough to inspire doubt of my presence, then quickly tip-toe Grinch-like to the opposite wall, where I crouch and vanish behind a Nikon-wielding mom.

At this point, all of the children are now in an uproar. “Oh Christmas Tree” has been completely abandoned, and the students are all pushing their way to the edge of the stage to get a glimpse of the mysterious man dressed in red. I burst forth from my hiding place with a startlingly loud “HO! HO! HO! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!” and jollily waddle up to the stage. Chaos ensues as if I am the most recent winner of American Idol. Everyone is shrieking, tearing, pushing. “HO! HO! HO!” I repeat, and I suddenly realize that I have not rehearsed any lines other than this. Thinking on my feet, I shout “WHOOOO HAS BEEN A GOOD LITTLE BOY OR GIRL THIS YEAR?????!!” The stage erupts with deafening chorus of “ME!!!! ME!!!” I reach in my bag and pull out a handful of candy, then gently toss the handful into the rabid mass that is balanced precariously on the ledge that constitutes the end of the stage.

Terrible idea. The hoard of ravenous students becomes a monster of arms and clawing hands, emitting screams of glee and horror and it rips itself to pieces with its own greed. Another handful of candy goes into the air, prompting the children near the back of the mass to start maliciously shoving in order to obtain a single piece of individually wrapped chewy goodness. Friendships are carelessly cast aside and all humanity is lost in the quest for these priceless prizes. The stage begins to look like the deck of “The Titantic”, and the students on the edge can no longer hold back the force of the crowd clamoring for lifeboats. In agony the first wave of children plunge over the side of the stage, meeting their untimely demise at the hands of the auditorium floor two feet below. It is too late to stop the madness now. I continue throwing handful after handful into the crowd, fueling the frenzy to dangerous levels.

I see a small group of boys standing on the side of the stage, not partaking in the wonderful disaster. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” I shout at them and underhand several pieces of candy in their direction. Out of the corner of my eye I see Teacher Mia lunging to intercede, but she is too late. “They are being PUNISHED! They can’t have any CANDY!” she pleads. “Oh NO! NO! NO!” I yell at them, trying to correct my error. But it is too late. The only way to get the candy away from them now would be to tear it from their cold, lifeless hands. Oh well, it’s Christmas Time…Santa must have left his “list” at home.

Finally, my bag runs out of candy and Santa must make a quick getaway. I give one last “MERRRRY CHRISTMASSS!!!!” and dart up the stairs, out of sight. I change quickly into my “civies” and casually head back downstairs, where I am immediately greeted by a wave of pointing fingers and accusations of “Teacher Tommy is SANTA!!!” I am shocked! “WHAT!?!?!” I exclaim, my eyes wide in disbelief. “You mean Santa was HERE?!?! I missed him!?” Most of the older kids don’t buy it, but I can see some hope creeping into the corners of the younger ones’ eyes. Could it be? Did Santa really come to Miro?

My secret will stay safe unless somebody happens to get a whiff of my face. It still smells like feet…


  1. I like to picture the happenings in slow motion...

    ...the candies, swung underhand and gliding through the air, catching bits of light and shimmering like diamonds, your own eyes lighting up in the realization that Christmas CAN come anywhere, and then your expression suddenly turning to horror, as you see the children pushing, jockeying for position, parents snapping photos of the madness, and, ultimately, the weaker children lying in ruin along the auditorium floor while their bigger, more physically adept classmates make way to a corner with the spoils.

    Classic Johnson.

  2. omg, love this story. i bet you are a good teacher, jom jom.

    have you seen summer heights high? picturing you frolicking about in your santa outfit, i can't help but think back to this scene of the show:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_qh3urEOK8 check it.