Horror movies and awkward conversations

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First off, Happy Halloween!

am celebrating because tomorrow night the international department is throwing a Halloween Party—actually, an All Saint’s Day Party. They had to push the party back because the school is under evaluation tomorrow. All I know is teachers are stressed out, and I don’t have any classes tomorrow to be evaluated. I guess I’m off the hook.

Something I learned today: there’s nothing like having to explain your Pagan-Christian mutt of a holiday in depth to someone that forces a completely unwanted reassessment of the simplicities that usually go along with American holidays—in this case, guiltlessly eating chocolate all day long. No one would question you at home.

I planned a Halloween-themed lesson for my student, Kitty, today. She’s really bright and tears through the extremely dull SAT book, so I decided we could both use a day off. Last night, I actually ended up spending more time preparing my lesson for today than any other. And, even though most of my “preparation” involved watching clips of horror movies in the office, I did learn things about Halloween I never knew. For instance, a Roman goddess, Pomona, worshiped during their harvest festival, is most likely where bobbing for apples came from. If anything else, I’m gaining amazing points for a future trivia game.

Yesterday, Kitty insisted she isn’t scared of anything so I was determined to scare her…just a little bit. After we read the “The Monkey’s Paw,” I asked her if the story scared her…Nope. So I played a clip from the original The House on Haunted Hill (ancient movies always have free downloads), and when the beastly paw reached around to grab the character, Nora, Kitty jumped from her seat. Ha! 🙂 I don’t feel too bad after seeing the AP teacher, Gerry, chase students down the hall with a toy knife.

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Anyway, I’m not going to go into the history of Halloween, but basically, there’s a lot more to it than trick-or-treating and carving pumpkins. And before last night, I could never have explained to you why it’s totally acceptable for costumed kids to storm their neighbors front steps for bagfuls of candy every year. It’s like English for native English speakers, and Mandarin for most native Chinese speakers—you don’t even think about it. You just do it.

I went downtown by myself a couple times this week. I know—whoa. It was a big step, though. Of course I ended up having some completely unintelligible conversations—one with the school guards, which ended up in them posing for photos with me—another with a man who stopped me on the street to shake my hand and ask me if I was from Los Angeles, and more with store employees, touching my hair, and following me around the store, chattering in Mandarin. One girl even ran after me after I had left the school to get my QQ number (it’s like China’s version of AIM).

Most people are excited to talk with me, but It’s just plain frustrating. I can’t get past telling them “hello…yes, I’m American” and “I am an English teacher.” After that, the conversation is pretty much over. As far as buying things, I’m still in the grunting and pointing phase. I can say “I want this/that one” and “how much is it?” But, when they tell me the price, I usually just guess. I can’t even buy bananas without causing a scene. Seriously, people passing on the street stop what they are doing to laugh at me. Today, I handed over my translation book to the girls in the store…but we didn’t get very far, even with that. Awkward? 100%. 

But, even with the language barrier, I think once you get past the initial culture shock (and the public bathrooms), it’s such an interesting culture to live in. I like learning about the little differences, like
  • the number 4 is an unlucky number, so, instead of the 13th floor being skipped in buildings, they’ll skip the 14th.
  • A snake demon lives inside the campus clock tower. No big deal.
  • Canons fired off at all hours of the day mean somebody died.
  • Fireworks fired at all hours mean a baby was born, or a couple just got married.
  • Women not married by age 30 are, basically, spinsters. And, around 25, your whole family will be relentlessly pressuring you to tie the knot.
  • Arranged blind dates do happen—and not by your friends. By your parents.
  • Cars will not stop for you. Neither will mopeds, or busses.
  • Drinking hot water is normal.
  • Push, or be pushed. “Form a line,” means absolutely nothing.

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