These last couple of weeks have been surprisingly busy. No, hah hah hah, not all that busy with work or anything official like that…
Halloween weekend was a big one—I think I was at six parties in all, most of which with friends in Chongqing, but one of which was actually teaching-related. I had decided a couple of weeks ago to try to throw a big party for all of my classes. This adds up to something like 220 kids altogether, and so I asked various students to help plan it, including Bob, my “fixer.” Bob is perhaps the most outgoing and articulate of all of my students, and everyone knows him and talks about him, even the kids who aren’t in his actual class. (Remember that Chinese college students are each part of a “class” of students who are all of their major and with whom they share their complete course schedules and with whom they live in the dorms. It’s rather claustrophobic, from an American perspective.)
As the party approached, I was getting a little nervous that details weren’t coming together and that I had sunk too much of my own money into the affair (imported Halloween decorations from Metro, surprisingly not-that-cheap mediocre Chinese candy, and the surprisingly-expensive location rental). I didn’t see the location for the party until about two hours before it started when Bob took me there to drop off the decorations, and found it it was a gym. Not, like, a big open gymnasium—a gym, with exercise equipment and machines circled around an open floor where aerobics classes take place. Excellent. About 15 students showed up an hour before the party to help decorate, and create elaborate balloon garlands of their own volitions. Thirty minutes before party’o’clock (7pm) about 40 students were already there. “Fashionably late” may be a concept I teach some time.
I had prepared a few games, since I didn’t know what the tenor of the party would be and how much structure the kids would want (I expected a fair amount would be needed, since Chinese parties usually feature sit-down dinners, planned speeches and performances to watch, and generally structured activities that involve neither (a) open-ended socialization or (b) dancing). But, I had put the musically-inclined student Jay-Z in charge of DJ’ing (obvi), so I hoped that maybe some of the kids would be inspired by the atmosphere and by my prompting to pretend like they were at an American-style party.
7-7:30: I greet the students. The vast majority of kids have arrived, maybe 120ish in all. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted to take pictures with me in my Star Trek jumpsuit, or of each other. So, so many pictures of me in jumpsuit, even though not one of them knew what Star Trek was (not even from the movie guys? No?) Jay-Z struggles with getting the sound system and music going properly. This struggle lasts through the evening.
7:30-7:50: I introduce our first game: wrapping someone up in toilet paper like a mummy. I have representatives from each class compete against each other.
7:50-8: A competitive game of Halloween charades is attempted but does not go over well. I cut it off short when I realize it has now been upstaged by…
8-8:20: Nine or so of my foreign teacher friends arrive, having gotten lost, but dressed resplendently in costume. Another period of picture taking commences. As of this point, no one has danced at any point whatsoever.
8:20-8:40: I introduce some more games. The foreign teachers demonstrate the game of passing an apple from one person’s neck to another, and then the classes play against each other. Several of the girls are very good at it, which isn’t surprising since they have no qualms about being physically close with their friends. The boys are worse. Then there’s bobbing for apples, which goes fine.
8:40-9: A few kids start to leave. A couple girls request a slow song for slow dancing, but Jay-Z is having too many problems with the sound system. Kids ask me what is going to happen next and I tell them to just hang out, that there are no more official activities. This is confusing. Kids are running around, taking pictures, screaming. A few impromptu rounds of a game like crack-the-whip break out. Still no one has danced.
9:00: The foreign teachers leave for another party, a real college-type party thrown by some of the study abroad students, and I follow soon after upon realizing that Bob has already appointed a cleaning committee to take care of the wrap-up, and has already paid the hefty sum for the location based on a separate collection from students that he undertook. Good work, Bob.
So, all in all, the party was a success, in that the kids seemed to have fun. They did a much better job with costumes than I imagined they would: many had bought little devil-horn or cat-ear headbands, or the like. Several boys wore Scream masks. A couple kids went pretty all out, with mummy outfits and ball gowns (what, you just have this ball gown lying around, but you wear the same outfit to school all week?). The thing is that fun things and parties are pretty much a rarity for Chinese college students. They study all the time, their lights are turned off at 11:30, etc. Every Monday when I ask my class how their weekends were, or if anyone did anything fun, the answer is no. So regardless of whether the party seemed more like a middle-school dance than a college event, or regardless of the number of pictures there now are of me in that delightful skintight jumpsuit, they liked it and it was worthwhile. We’ll see if I do it again next year. Maybe only if I have another Bob.
There has been one other big even since then: I went to Chengdu this past weekend because Peace Corps was invited to an event celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Chengdu Consulate. Yeah, it’s a little far to go for just an afternoon party, but with PC paying for travel, and with several of my core group of training friends coming in from all over, it was definitely worth it. The Consulate event was cool, with the Ambassador and other bigwigs giving speeches, and, more notably, real beer and wine. For the rest of the weekend, much western food eaten, much merriment enjoyed. I think several of us felt like we hadn’t realized what a pleasant city Chengdu is, in comparison to so many other places in China/our current sites, until after leaving it and then returning again. Oh well.