Anyone, living in Suzhou, and not having been to the EAS (Expatriate Association of Suzhou) Christmas Bazaar, does have this writer’s sympathy. Besides missing all the fun and the opportunity to buy lovely products, they also missed securing that little niche in paradise as part of the proceeds from the sale, if not all of it will be donated to charity.

It was as though heaven had looked kindly down on earth and bestowed lovely weather upon us. The blue sky was void of any hanging clouds that might threaten to rain. Hence no one had to wade through the muddy road and get drenched through the skin in the process. The road, leading to Regent on the Park, where the bazaar was held, is being closed temporarily at the moment for major repairs and overhaul. The closure has caused hardship among some of the tenants and their visitors who have to depend on taxis. Thanks to good weather and everybody’s good will, the bazaar that was taking place inside the dining area of the Dynasty Club went off without a hitch. It somehow managed to attract visitors from far and wide. Some even came from Shanghai to grace our first ever bazaar.

By 10.30 all participants arrived and began to set up their stalls so as to be in time for the start of the bazaar at 1.00 p.m. and would last until 6.00 p.m. Once the articles had been put on display, the Dynasty Club transformed itself into a shopper’s paradise. This writer overheard an exchange of conversation between two Western expats in business attire, who happened to walk into the room by mistake, saying in amazement, “Could you believe this?”

Group photographs were taken and to be looked at in our ripe old age. While waiting for the guests to arrive, we went around, admiring the merchandise at the other stalls and reserving those that attracted our eyes.

Cheerful Christmas carols helped put every one in the right frame of mind and brought nostalgia of home where you dream of falling snow, of the warm glow, radiating from the fire burning in a grate, of looking into a well-lit shop window while riding in a horse-drawn carriage.

Lovely wafts of mulled wine and the cinnamon sticks it contained filled the air as one entered the room. Variety of baked goods, cookies, muffins and Indian “samosas”, lovingly prepared by some of the good women of EAS, were laid out on a wooden stand along the staircase. In charge were Ruth and Di. It was rather difficult to tell whether they preferred making, selling or sampling the stuff. Mulled wine must have a reputation of its own – for as soon as the bazaar was opened, a queue started to form in front of the counter and every existing item was selling like, excuse the pun, hot cakes.

Various gift items and photo albums of beautiful and bright colors were stacked on the shelves while the owner, none other than Josie who, in spite of a bad cold, succeeded in cajoling all and sundry into buying. Next to her was Lorina, selling her Yi Xing colorful ceramic plates, dishes and other similar items. They seemed to attract a lot of customers like flies to a pot of honey. A couple of Chinese shop assistants from Frank’s Place also set up their booth, selling small but useful items for Christmas decorations.

Next came vivacious Anthy who enticed interested customers into buying her unusual and exotic Southeast Asian products. A few ladies were seen seeking and receiving advice from Jennifer on her color analysis. They seemed to be coyly murmuring, “Jennifer dear, which color should I wear, warm or cool?” It’s amazing to see a number of talents among the expatriate community in Suzhou. Sue Turrentine was selling her very own handmade stuffed rabbits plus homemade spiced tea. Ineke on the other hand decked out her table with handmade cards and colored stone necklaces. Pat was selling “Santa reindeer food”, the tradition of which, she explained, comes from Scotland. On Christmas Eve people scatter this reindeer food on their lawn in order to attract Santa’s reindeer. In so doing Santa will rush into your home, bringing gifts and toys to the kids.

Elegant plate mats and coasters were brought from Thailand and sold by Rose whose dashing young son came all the way from the United States accompanied by two of his German friends. Strung along was a group of giggling Japanese female students.

Almost in the center of the room was a table piled high with cotton and silk embroidered tablecloths, bed spread, batik to name a few. Unfortunately, this writer failed to get the name of its owner, being busy herself with selling “tombola” tickets while her partner, Sue Finlay, was minding the stall.

What’s a tombola? I was confronted with this question just a few days before the bazaar. “Tombola is a form of a raffle”, said I. “What’s a raffle?” asked the other. “Well, a raffle is a form of a tombola where you have a sour face or a number printed on each ticket. If it’s the face, then you know, it’s a “no win” situation. However, if there’s a number written on it, it means you have won a prize.” I did my best to explain. “I see,” said the third, “it’s called a lucky draw in my country.” Well…

English is a universal and diversified language that is spoken throughout the world. Just because of the difference in regional pronunciation and accent does not make the speaker a lesser person. After all, what’s in the name by which a rose is called?

Every RMB from the proceeds of the sale of the tombola tickets as well as the baked goods and Jennifer’s services will go to charity. That is why it was a great success. Everybody in particular the Chinese enjoyed the challenge of buying the tickets and of discovering if they have won anything. It appeals to their gambling instinct and the natural desire for winning. The more they win a prize, the more tickets they want to buy. The more they lose, the more they also want to buy – to make up for the loss. How else would the national game of “Majong” find so much popularity, were it otherwise? It came as no surprise therefore that by 4.00 p.m. every single ticket was sold and every prize was cleared away from the table. Barbara was the only one who bought a ticket and won her very own donated item.

All of us had been working very hard to make the bazaar a success. My partner, Sue worked harder than I as regards the tombola. At any rate, both of us are indebted to every one for donating the prizes, be it big or small. We would like to say thank you to each and every one of our customers, who helped to make our stall a great success – for without your generosity we would not have been able to sell a single ticket. I also hope to see as many of my fellow Shanghai expats as possible next year.