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Halloween In China - Guest Blog by Deborah Enright

I arrived in China last December to begin my English teaching post in a private high school in Fujian Province. Having missed the opportunity to celebrate Halloween with my students last year, I was even more determined to share with my Grade 8, 10 and 11 students the fun and wacky things Americans do to celebrate this holiday.

After combing through YouTube videos for an entire weekend, I found several ranging from a dog/owner costume parade in Central Park, New York, to a 1930's Disney, black and white cartoon entitled, The Skeleton Dance. I couldn't remember ever seeing this one but I have to say, my students were absolutely enthralled with it, as they 'oohed' and 'ahhed' throughout. That's one of the great rewards of digging up these treasures. It doesn't matter what age these kids are because Disney cartoons haven't been shown in China, so for everyone viewing them it feels like a brand new experience, which made it brand new for me all over again. Now all I had to find was Michael Jackson's infamous Thriller video and I'd be good to go.

Next, it was time to think about pumpkin carving because as everyone in the U.S. knows pumpkin 'sculpting' is a high art this time of year. First of all, I couldn't believe the examples of pumpkin carving on the Internet. There's the good old, 'two eyes, a nose and the toothy grin pumpkin' we all grew up with... and then there's everything from pumpkin coaches to drilled hole pumpkins with twinkly lights, to the infinite number of relief carved pumpkins. I found a pumpkin with smoke coming out of its mouth (dry ice) to make the pumpkin's smile even more creepy and cool. After viewing a variety of demonstration videos with students and staff, two of the teachers in Grade 11 went off to purchase pumpkins, candles and carving tools.

Pumpkins in China are not like pumpkins in the U.S. They are more like thick, hard squashes. At first I was disappointed because I couldn't imagine how the students were going to manage it. But everyone was so excited about doing this activity that it just didn't matter. They dove in with childlike abandon and in the course of two hours, each had carved a pumpkin worthy of a spot in the Guggenheim. To say they loved and enjoyed doing this is an understatement. And that evening, as I watched them light the candles and march upstairs to the second floor to show the 10th graders their handiwork with all lights clicked off and spooky sounds echoing down the hall, I thought I was going to cry for joy.

No one got out of control in the ensuing darkness, and amid the screams of delight, no one had to be spoken to for misbehaving. Big shock there because, after all, these are teenagers. But the Chinese have shown me over and over again that they have an endless reserve of self-restraint in situations such as this and one never has to worry too much about anyone going off the deep end. They are so grateful to break out of their typical routines that they embrace every new experience with complete and utter 'being in the moment' joy.

After leaving the classrooms, much to the disappointment of the remaining students, the revelers held up their pumpkins against the white walls, playfully raising and lowering them to watch the shadows they cast in the darkness. In their wake was a bevy of off-duty teachers, clicking Nikons and camera phones. I heard that the very next day, pictures were posted on the school's website. I don't think the Sino American school will forget Halloween for a long, long time.

We eventually made it back to our classroom, pumpkins still alight, and proceeded to watch a classic American horror movie (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), a 1990's remake from an earlier black and white film. We indulged ourselves in candy and organic bananas that a teacher/interpreter had just picked in a local village plantation and huddled together enjoying each spooky moment.

Halloween had come to Fujian Province... and it was a very good thing indeed.

Deborah Enright (En Di)
English Teacher/Coordinator