This being the first Halloween I’ve felt worth a flip pretty much since I got here, I decided to ‘do it’ in a big way. Fortunately this coincided with the fact that China is just now catching on to the spirit of Halloween – no pun intended, and Metro had a selection of costumes, makeup and decorations in the festival’s traditional black and orange.
Not a large selection, mind you. Like with Christmas, the Chinese have caught on to the idea that Halloween is big fun in the States, but they shy away from the meaning and history of the tradition.
Fundamentally this culture is terrified of ghosts, goblins, ghouls and gremlins. Yet these manifestations hold a morbid fascination for them. My students love to watch horror movies, but when confronted with a real live materialization of someone (me!) dressed up and/or painted, they will cringe, scream, shy away… or, more likely, run away. Such was the case 2 years ago, when Dash and I prowled the campus on Halloween night, giving away candy. All I had done in the way of costuming was to put on a blond wig, draw age lines on my face with eyeliner and walk around stooped and limping. Really didn’t have to fake being an old woman because I certainly felt bad enough to be one.
Now, for the first time there are cool Halloween things at Metro, like: fake fingernails and witch’s hats, face paint and vampire teeth, capes and costumes and, and, and…. I bought a little bit of everything with the intent of freaking my kids out.
Here’s how it worked: for the first part of the class I was Ms. Normal Foreign Teacher, who had prepared a PowerPoint show with pictures of demons, vampires and zombies with a bulleted list describing each. The students learned how to say ‘ghoul’, ‘witch’ and ‘goblin’, among others. I taught them the evil laugh: MU-HAHAHAHA! While hunching forward and rubbing their hands together. I had to remind them they will not be scary if they intone that laugh while grinning ear to ear. How I wish you could have seen them: they were priceless!!!
For the presentation’s ‘tombstone’ slide I showed pictures of tombstones, and made it a point to inform them that there is a city in Arizona called Tombstone. With the picture of Tombstone, Arizona projecting, I demonstrated how two fighting factions duel, even falling to the floor when my volunteer student ‘shot’ me.
The kids loved it!!
Of course, they do tend to have short attention spans, so I didn’t drag the presentation out too much. I did get a big kick out of seeing them write down words like ‘zombie’, ‘ghoul’, ‘witch’… as though this were a serious lesson and they were learning valuable vocabulary that they could use every day.
Just prior to their break time I unwrapped the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I had brought for them. I firmly believe that studying culture is essential to language learning, and what could be more iconic than PB&J? Besides, these kids are eating machines, as I’ve disclosed more than once in this blog.
For them it was a delightful treat. For me it meant 8 loaves of bread, 2 big jars of peanut butter and 3 jars of jelly, to say nothing of the time spent producing this bounty and the logistics of transportation. Monday and Tuesday classes were not difficult, but my Friday groups are in 2 different buildings, across the campus from each other, and I only have 20 minutes between classes. Somehow I had to figure out how to get sixty four sandwiches from my house to the kids’ mouths without going stale, getting crushed or smearing all over the place. I ended up filling 2 plastic totes, along with stacking remaining prepared sandwiches on the cutting board and saran wrapping the whole lot.
While they munched away I cued the movie: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!. No subtitles, but quintessentially American. Palates appeased, they settled in to watch Lucy, Linus, Sally and Charlie cavort.
Meanwhile I repaired to the back of the room, where my backpack awaits. I whipped out my little mirror, the paint, the wig, the fake nails and teeth, ‘uglied’ myself up and bided my time. Come the end of the cartoon, when Charlie Brown and Linus talk about The Great Pumpkin’s supposed existence, I crept forward.
Sneaking up from behind, I slunk around, grazing this student’s hair or that student’s neck, growling: “I VA-hnt to DRRRink your BLOOD!!!” and then, of course, the evil laugh: “MUHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
Here is what I don’t get: these kids had to know it was me. I didn’t look that radically different. Besides, how many people are as tall/big as me in China, and more specifically: on our campus? Yet upon approaching one or the other, especially the girls, there was genuine fear in their eyes. They leaned away and even hid their faces. Only a few truly enjoyed the prank; one or two even wanted my fake fingernails and my witch’s hat.
Naturally I did not carry on with the charade. In deference to their feelings, I quickly returned to my old, jovial self, even with my painted face (I did remove the wig because it was just so darn hot!) We went on to play word games, like hangman and anagrams. All’s well that ended well and regular class resumes next week.
It seems many people here believe All Hallow’s Eve is a holiday, with the same import as Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years. For that matter, they believe the same thing about St. Valentine’s Day. While eager to partake of the celebration in grand western fashion, they are essentially ignorant of the significance and tradition the observance is founded on.
There are times to not be a teacher. I don’t want to deny these kids their fun. I enjoyed treating them to a taste of American food. They enjoyed sending me “Happy Halloween” messages and wishing me a nice holiday. They thought they were doing a great thing, remembering a foreigner holiday and paying tribute to their teacher. How precious!
In part because of Halloween, it’s been a busy week for me, socially speaking. On Sunday afternoon I rode home from Metro with Red, one of my freshman students. She didn’t know that in my shopping cart lurked the makings of a treat she and her classmates would partake of, as well as the materials to make her cower. Tony stopped by on Monday evening, presumably to catch up but also to ask what my holiday plans are. All week, walking across campus to my classes, current and former students of mine have been very generous with their greetings. Students that are not in any of my classes have cheerfully hailed from all four corners of the campus. On Wednesday, Tristan, my friend from Shen Zhen, and Cindy came to dinner. I prepared meatloaf, pasta and a nice vegetable soup, and then we finished the evening by singing our favorite songs, using bananas for microphones. While we were singing, Stephen texted an invitation to dinner on behalf of his friends/classmates. The 8 of us enjoyed dinner together on Friday.
On Thursday evening, Halloween night itself, I had to teach. This class is a constant bone of contention between Victor and me. We are both scheduled to teach on Tuesday and Thursday nights, but seldom are there ever enough students to fill one classroom, let alone two. He and I have it worked out now: he will teach on Tuesday night and I will cover Thursday.
I had about fifty kids in class on Halloween night. They were all treated to the PowerPoint presentation I gave my English Majors students but they did not get any sandwiches, nor did I do the makeup and movie portion of the lesson. We did play word games, though. They must really have enjoyed the class; they did not want to leave! The week rounded out with a visit from Sam on Friday, right after morning classes. He’s been busy moving into a new apartment, so we haven’t had time to catch up. Between lunch and chatting, 3 hours flew by!
So what if my friends and students, and for that matter all of China see Halloween as a reverent holiday? With the fun times we had this week, who am I to dissuade them?