I arrived in China a couple of weeks ago not really knowing what to expect. The thought of the unknown is, more often than not, more daunting than the actual experience. However, knowing this does not always help and so moving from a small country with a population of approximately 4.5 million people, leaving my family and friends and my familiar surroundings to go and live half way around the world in a massive country like China with a population of 1.34 billion is a very scary idea.
The Chinese people I have met in London and Ireland have always been very friendly, polite and good hearted but like myself here, they are also shy and new to their current country, so they are not as outgoing as the native people I have met here in Linyi. My expectations were far exceeded from the moment I started to meet people; everyone was so helpful. The Chinese students and teachers have done everything to help me to settle in and to become acquainted with places, nice restaurants, shops and people.
I have only been here 2.5 weeks and I have already had dinner with a lovely Chinese family. This experience helped to open my eyes more to the differences between our cultures and beliefs. It was a lovely surprise to be the guest of honour at the dinner table and to be seated on the right hand side of everybody to show this. The meal was beautiful; in fact I have eaten more here since I have arrived than I would at home. I really enjoy the variety of dishes that are offered here. I especially like the way everybody shares dishes, it means that everybody gets to taste each dish. This is very different at home where each person orders their own meal and it comes separately. Sharing the food also gives a more intimate feeling to the occasion.
My first week working in Linyi University was a very busy week as I helped the English foreign teachers and students prepare for the Halloween party. It was a nice way to get to know the other students and teachers and I made many friends. The students were eager to learn about my home, family and culture. They were also very enthusiastic to learn about the Halloween festival and really enjoyed making the decorations for the walls and games. As Halloween is essentially a Western holiday and is not really recognised by the Chinese it was a great opportunity for me to help the students understand the meaning of this festival and to show them what a typical Halloween party consisted of.
Preparing for the party consisted of us all getting together, foreign teachers and students included, and throwing about ideas for games which we have typically played during this celebration. It was a nice surprise to learn the subtle differences between American and Irish traditions. There were games that I had never heard of which include “fishing for candy”, “wrap the mummy” and “touch boxes”. In America people often fill their car trunks with candy and in some cases the children “trick or treat” at both cars and houses which was another tradition that is not practiced in Ireland. It was also a great opportunity for the students to see that although we are all English speaking there are also many differences between our cultures. The students were very attentive and enthusiastic about learning, which was very encouraging to see.
When we decided on what games to play we had to begin organising the materials for them and preparing the decorations for the hall. The students helped get some of the stuff needed from their local markets and even succeeded in having some Halloween pumpkins donated from a local shop. On Wednesday morning we started preparing the decorations; we made paintings of scary ghosts, goblins, cut out creepy eyes, menacing witches, terrifying bats, chilling cats and menacing skeletons. The hall was dotted with these and streamers were hung from the walls. We covered the lights with colour giving amazing lighting effects which further added to the atmosphere. The students carved pumpkins to make jack o-lanterns which were placed on the stairs to greet the guests as they arrived. The pumpkins looked amazing and I was pleasantly surprised at how well all the faces looked. They had carved scary, funny and goofy faces; the variety was wonderful to see. It was exceptionally pleasant to see the students getting so involved. I feel that it really gave them a sense of what Halloween is all about.
Students were welcomed by Jack-O-lanterns on the stairs as they entered. These were traditionally used to warn off scary ghosts and spirits from the houses they protected, but some very scary ghosts got past them that night! We had some unique and very chilling costumes. The costumes varied from basic masks and face paints to a very scary full out costume. There was a mummy, what appeared to be a dead hockey player and even a fairy. The range of costumes was a treat to see and it was even more rewarding to see how all the students were getting involved. Students were given masks as they arrived and some students, who were helping with the party, painted faces on the arriving guests who didn’t have costumes. The students made a great effort.
The night kicked off with a group of students performing the “Gangnam style” dance. Their performance was brilliant and so entertaining; they had clearly put a lot of work and practice into the performance. Irish people are not so willing to do performances like this and so it was a pleasant treat for me to see. We foreign teachers then introduced ourselves. Ame from Mississippi, America, was dressed as Disney’s Minnie mouse; Jillayne from Florida, America, was a giant pumpkin; Danae from Canada as a dead fairy and there was myself, Stacey from Ireland, I went as a spider woman. Danae got the entire student body to sing the famous trick or treat song with a little twist. It went as follows; “trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat, not to big, not to small, just the size of Linyi”.
It was estimated that over 400 students attended the party but as I am from a small populated country, it felt like much more to me. I was truly amazed at the turnout and took videos and pictures for my friends and family at home. The sense of community was amazing and as we hold relations and community close to our hearts in Ireland this was so wonderful to experience in a foreign country.
The turnout was so good in fact that it was difficult to host some of the games that were set up. However, most of the games were a great success. Carving and painting the pumpkins provided great entertainment. Bowling, held out in the hall, consisted of potatoes as pins and an apple as the bowling ball. Personally I wasn’t very good and only knocked down two potatoes each time. The students displayed great skill by knocking over lots of potatoes and put my efforts to shame! Toilet paper was used to wrap mummies and so there was some walking dead in the hallway. The touch boxes were reported to be the most entertaining. This consisted of different foods that represented repulsive body parts. Tomatoes were used as hearts, while the tomato peels were tongues. Sponges felt like brains and dry tofu like fingers. Bottle hawthorn berries, noodles and rice represented eyeballs, worms and maggots respectively. Last but not least, peanut shells made the students tremor as they felt like lots of bugs.
We had flour as part of a bobbing game but the students decided to make their own entertainment with it by throwing it at each other. Personally I have to admit I thought it was very amusing to see everyone walking around like ghosts and the students got great excitement from it. Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and song played on the TV at the English corner providing yet more entertainment. The students watching it were terrified and their reactions were hilarious to me because I’ve never seen anyone scream at this video.
The students who performed the Gangnam style dance helped provide further entertainment by teaching other students to do the dance. Another task I failed to master but really enjoyed trying. My coordination is awful and despite the students efforts to teach me I was moving the wrong way and flopping all over the place. It was like something from a comedy and I couldn’t help but laugh at myself.
The students made a great effort to speak English to each of the teachers there and really communicated. They were not only open minded about learning but also clearly very excited to learn of our traditions. In return they taught us of their culture and so it was a learning experience for all involved. We got to take pictures together and it was great to see the students laughing and having fun, it was nice to see teaching and learning in this way. Everyone that attended that night commented on its success and the students told us that they really enjoyed themselves. I hope that the experience will help them to throw their own party in the future and celebrate this enjoyable holiday.
It was a very memorable and entertaining night. The party helped us all to realise the importance of communication and also helped us to build a bridge of understanding. It is always easier to accept cultures and cultural differences when we understand them better. This party aided in this and I hope that future events like this will also help us to know more and be more accepting of each other. Learning the cultural differences definitely helped me to see and understand the ideals and traditions that Chinese people hold dear to their hearts and I now feel like I understand and respect the Chinese people even more than I had prior to the party.
I have lived in a few different countries including my home country Ireland, London, England, and Germany; I have visited many other countries including Poland, Portugal and Spain and so far I feel very strongly that the Chinese have been, by far, the most accepting and helpful community I have joined. I have had a wonderful experience in China so far and know in my heart that I will continue to enjoy my stay here. I hope everyone had an enjoyable night, I know that I most certainly did!