Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas in Suzhou

(Post lifted from China Hand, an Australian expatriate teaching in China)

The politically correct brigade in Australia and elsewhere, and the (minority) Muslim/Jewish bandwagon riders might like to note that here in China where Christians are a tiny minority, Christmas is publicly celebrated with more enthusiasm than in Oz. My college, Suzhou HKU SPACE Global College, which is a Malaysian-HK-local university joint venture is decked out with Christmas decoration and the lift lobby plastered with notices of Christmas parties.

Department stores everywhere in Suzhou are decorated and Christmas carols blare from every speaker. Restaurants and bars are covered in fake holly and Santa faces. I haven't seen a Santa Claus in the flesh yet but he can't be far away.

Our school, which has Christians amongst its leaders, has organized a Christmas Eve dinner. One of my colleagues did demure when it was suggested, saying "I can't go, I'm a Buddhist!". I heard he was one of the first to confirm his attendance.

Since the 1980's local Chinese friends - some known for their hard line against the Open Door policy - have been sending me Christmas cards. Sure it might be just Western Chic, but it is rather touching to an old Scrooge like me!

It seems China leads Australia in multiculturalism and tolerance!

Multicultural Christmas waning in Australia?

Sydney Mayor Clover Moore learned her lesson. Last year, Ms Moore decided to put a limit on Christmas decorations around the city, allegedly out of sensitivity to multiculturalism. She was on the receiving end of a highly non-festive barrage of criticism, including from John Howard, who branded her decision "political correctness from central casting". This year, you can hardly move in Sydney for trees, fairy-lights and Santas. But Ms Moore is not the only pollie who finds it convenient to cosy up to the fat guy in the red suit. Victorian Premier Steve Bracks has called for the Christian symbolism to be put back into Christmas, including in schools, and Mr Howard was back on his favourite silly-season turf yesterday, calling for department stores to bring back nativity scenes.

It's all fairly shameless posturing, but it has a point: Christmas is Christmas, which is not quite the same thing as the "holiday season". And what Christmas means to Christians -- who still number over half the Australian population -- is the celebration of the birth of their Saviour. The real point about the effort to drain Christmas of religious content, supposedly in the name of multiculturalism, is that it does not originate from any religious or ethnic minority. Like "critical literacy", the sanitised Christmas seems largely the creation of social engineers and education bureaucrats. When this same debate surfaced last year, Waleed Aly from the Islamic Council of Victoria said it all in The Australian: banishing the Christianity in Christmas, he wrote, is not multiculturalism at all -- "it is anti-culturalism". All faiths are welcome here, but the Christian story, and the values it reflects, have a special and immutable place in our tradition.



England's most zealous policeman has been told to stop feeling quite so many collars because he is scaring the suspects off. PC Diederik Coetzee, who holds the national record for the number of arrests in a year, has been ordered not to make any more in a particular street in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, despite its reputation as a haunt of drug dealers. Managers of the Sherwood Street day centre and YMCA hostel complained that PC Coetzee was nicking too many of their "vulnerable" young clients and frightening away the needy who sought refuge from a life on the streets.

While the average officer manages only 9.5 arrests a year, PC Coetzee has already smashed the existing record of 305 held by a Northumbria police dog handler and has received an official commendation. He had set himself a target of 380 by the end of this month, an aim which will now be more difficult to achieve. "Everyone has a lot of respect for PC Coetzee, but there is no point in having a centre like this if the very people it is meant to help stay away," a source at the day centre said.

Chief Inspector John Eyre said: "PC Coetzee is an enthusiastic, tenacious and pro-active police officer. Recently his work, including arresting people who have failed to appear in court, has led to concerns from managers at Sherwood Street day centre that his actions may deter vulnerable members of the community from using the service." Chief Inspector Eyre added: "In a spirit of co-operation with the day centre, police have come to an agreement that extra care and consideration will be taken as to where any such arrests take place."

Known locally as Robocop, PC Coetzee, 48, a married father of two, came to Britain from South Africa eight years ago after 24 years as a police explosives expert and dog handler in Johannesburg. Two years ago, the area was among the 30 most deprived areas in England and Wales. The latest crime figures show 26 violent attacks per 1,000 head of population compared with a national average of 16.5; 10 house burglaries against an average of 6.4; 7 vehicle thefts against an average of 4.5 and 17 thefts from vehicles compared with 10.

When he joined Nottinghamshire Constabulary five years ago he set about cleaning up the Ladybrook estate on his mountasin bike, unlike his bulletproof vest and firearms days in Johannesburg. Speaking recently after his commendation PC Coetzee said: "I've got to know the criminals and they all know me. They don't even try to run from me any more, because they know I'll catch up with them." At the time Inspector Samantha Wilson, his area commander, said he was an outstanding officer who had made a significant contribution. Now she has had to tell him to ease off.

Down at Mansfield nick yesterday the talk was of little else. "It's ridiculous," a source said. "He's officially the best copper in Britain but he's been told to stop arresting people in an area where drug dealers and burglars are known to hang about. His trouble is he's too good at what he does." The same cannot be said for Nottinghamshire Constabulary, which two years ago was named the second-worst performer among the 43 forces in England and Wales.


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