Asian Christmas. or: There is always a first time

I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas since I often experienced it as a fest where people gather because they have to, because everybody does it and because that is what you do on Christmas day. However, this year it was an entirely new experience. It was mostly about doing something for the very first time.

Asian Style

Asian Style

It was my first time to celebrate Christmas abroad, thousands of kilometers away from Switzerland. That I celebrated not only without family but also without any other close friends who I grew up with. In a completely different country with a completely different culture and a completely different belief. A country which only seems to celebrate it because it’s from the west and it’s a reason for another party. Together with people from Switzerland, Germany, America and Cambodia – most of them I’ve known for only a few weeks, maybe months.
It was the first time when snow, cold and real Christmas trees were lacking and the temperature didn’t go underneath 18°C. Not that I would have minded that fact 😉
And last but not least, I was given a huge amount of responsibility for something I’ve never done – not even something similar to it.

It was a normal Tuesday morning – the 25th of November to be specific – and I was in the storage room, searching something. The sun was shining outside, it was hot and humid as always and I was in quite a hurry since a leader’s meeting would start in a bit. As always.
Out of the blue, ND called me, asked me how I felt while organizing the leaders retreat which would take place soon. I replied that everything was going well and should be working out. His next question made me almost lose my eyes. It was so unexpected and surprising! He went like, would you also be ready to organize the Christmas Dinner Party? Uuuhm. ND, are you aware there’s gonna be 800 people expecting a party they’ve never experienced before?! You know, that those events I had organized so far were much less complex and with 80 people the most? You know that I am pretty much the youngest, least experienced member in our team and that I’ve never led more than 4 people? I knew too well, that the expectations were insanely high and I doubted myself being able to fit them. Well, it’s not that ND would change his ideas because of such questions of mine so I ended up saying “Ok, I can try but I can’t promise it will be good…” His conclusion was: you can do it. He’s highly challenging as you can see and what I love so much about that is that he believes in skills you’re not aware of having. 😉

In the meeting a few minutes later we discussed ideas and whenever a question came up, they looked at me and were like: Vivien, what do you think? Honestly, I hadn’t spent one thought about that party yet, thus I tried to escape by saying “I will think about it” or “uhm, I guess this or that might sound more reasonable – what do the others think?” … It was fun, yes, but I knew that I just overtook an immense amount of work which I was not sure about how it would look and how I was supposed to manage it.

The following days I spent trying to figure out a system. I created lists, made notes, tried to think about everything. Luckily, I wasn’t involved in the programming, I “only” had to organise the surroundings. I ended up having many different lists which were supposed to beware me of losing the overview, having notes in my notebook, on apps on my phone, on the computer, on paper, ….. Once, I forgot my notebook thus I used a napkin for notes.
They were a wild mixture of Swiss German, German and English. Within one topic I would change the language several times. That’s one of the struggles you have when you speak and think in several languages… And also when you work in such international team. Hopefully, my notes are gonna be Khmer at some point in my life 🙂

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The amount of hours of sleep decreased. Free time rarely existed anymore. My coffee consumption increased. I remember one crazy night when Miri and I went to a cafe and I ordered the largest coffee in town. The internet was surprisingly fast. The atmosphere was great to concentrate and I caught myself working until midnight. I was eager to do an awesome job. I was determined to make it to the best party in whole Cambodia. I was motivated to give more than my very best. I wanted to go all in for Siem Reap. Apart from the high expectations of the leading team I was even more focusing on our guests. My wish was to make them feel special that night, to let them experience a bit heaven on earth. I wanted them to be happy from the moment on they get the ticket until they fall in their bed after the party. I knew for most of our 800 guests it’s gonna be the first time they hear the beautiful Christmas story and also the first time they will celebrate Christmas in such surroundings. With all these thoughts I didn’t mind working long hours at all. I took rarely time for other things which I would do if I was less busy. One habit I kept, though: cycling three times a week. It not only gave me an hour of getting away from everything but also made me wake up before six and gave me a good rhythm for the day.

Apart from organising the event i was also responsible for the countdown As always I went with some Khmer’s to take videos and then cut and edited them. Watch it here:

Needless to say, that tickets don’t sell themselves. We were all responsible to invite friends and VIP’s who we wanted to experience Christmas that way. Thus I took many hours to visit people I’ve made friends with and to invite them. I visited Vichhay in the hospital, Sros and Fa on markets, Veasna in a restaurant, Sreyphay in the massage center, ……. . Those I couldn’t find I contacted on Facebook, made arrangements to meet them and invited one after the other. I could write about everybody an article on its own. To cut the long story short, they were all extremely happy. It was priceless to see their facial expressions, beaming all over their faces and the huge smile they gave me. I don’t know if you can understand that, but actually, every time I invited somebody it felt like Christmas for me. Make somebody happy and you make yourself even happier. It was way more worth than the few bucks I spent for every ticket.

The sweetest reaction came from a boy in our church. He (student) doesn’t have any money and I gave him three tickets and tried to make him clear with my Khmer skills that he should come and take two friends with him (his English is worse than my Khmer). He was almost crying as he received the gift. As we met again, he gave me a little letter, saying that I made him extremely happy and thanking me for the tickets and that I would care for him all the time. He wished that I would get more beautiful and smart in 2015… Isn’t that sweet?! Actually, I still wonder how he managed to write the letter, maybe he even asked a friend to help him?!

A week before Christmas – which was for us on the 21st – many guests came from all over the world, willing to help wherever it was needed. That gave me the additional task to brief them and give them stuff to do. Furthermore, I had to make plans for every single person (we had about 20 guests) how they were involved on Sunday itself. Of course, this was also entirely new terrain. Everything had to be well and detailed organized so that setting up itself took as less time as possible and that the party was as perfect as possible. For that reason we had a huge briefing on Friday morning during which I explained all different tasks, teams, etc. Once more that was my first time I would speak in front of so many people and even in English. It was a very exciting experience and I think I kinda liked it…

Being event manager might sound great, in fact, there’s many challenges which make it not easy at all. For example, pretty much the worst thing – I guess – is that you need to know everything. Since finally everything is in your responsibility you need to make sure everybody does and prepares what he’s supposed to do. That means that I had to ask and check on everybody which could offend them as well as make them feel they’re not trusted enough or so. Moreover there were lingual and cultural differences which can make everything more difficult or complicated. It’s so easy to misunderstand the other person or to get confused… Honestly, I was a few times close to give up but always reminded myself that I should go through it and that there are people believing in my skills even in times I don’t. I am extremely grateful for my team members and especially bosses who would keep encouraging and supporting me.

All in all, I was extremely satisfied. Our guests left with a huge smile on their face. Many thanked us for the incredible party. Their feedback was nothing but positive. Needless to say that not everything worked out the way we had intended, for example, a few volunteers were missing due to sickness and that made me change many things spontaneously… However, I was so happy to see how everybody didn’t mind being flexible. And last but not least, I was stunned by everybody’s willingness to help and obey. For me personally, it was quite a miracle that I managed it to lead such big and international team. To be honest, I’ve never thought I was qualified enough for such task – and sure enough I’ve made lots of mistakes. Sometimes I still wonder how I did it. I’m sure that I was well led by God during the whole time.

After the event, I asked myself if being event manager really was the right thing for me. Privately, I’m badly organized, I don’t like making plans at all since I think they would only limit me. But then I realized that it was the right task for me. Why? Because it’s a way to let people know about God, to share the Good News with loads of people at the same time. And last but not least, it’s an amazing way to make people happy, to make them feel loved, appreciated and to let them experience a piece of heaven on earth.
And that makes me even happier.