Enter the Dragon’s Lair: Part 3 – Halloween in China

I am sure that over the years much has changed in China when Halloween comes swooping in. Unfortunately I believe it is most likely not for the good. Western celebrations, if we count Halloween as a celebration, do tend to be carried out to a level of craziness I have not seen at home. The following is the story of why I will never offer to do anything for the day unless I am either paid exceedingly well or have helpers chained to me to do my bidding – preferably both.

My daughter likes Halloween so I did a bit of decorating

The day was October 31, 2001, Xin Cun, Guangdong, China. Halloween 🎃. I have a vague memory of a white pumpkin, or possibly it was green. The following are from the crypt archives. Cue the spooky music – I think I played Monster Bash first. Sadly, no pictures were taken. I hope everyone has a marvellously crazy Halloween! Time to read the Monkey’s Paw again.

It was indeed a Monster Bash!  500 students is a lot. 
We set up three stations with apples hanging from
poles to have apple bobbing which meant everyone was sitting in
a large three deep circle.   I put candles at each station, we had some “scary” music, turned out the lights and told a scary story.  This meant reading by candlelight. To this day I am surprised there was not a fire!After each sentence, read slowly and with what I hope was a relatively spooky voice, another teacher translated. Like the mists of October much most likely went over their heads but the translations had enough of the creepiness that students listened.  
I walked around the room – a good size auditorium- and would approach a student to
emphasize things. My two younger daughters wandered behind the students and
would say BOOOO! every now and then.  Great spooky effects.After that things were a bit crazy!  My junior students were the ones most interested in doing apple bobbing. My youngest would try to pick students from
different classes but they were mostly unwilling.  We had about 200 students try bobbing for apples then I handed out the remaining apples. It is no small feat to tie up a couple hundred apples!
Unfortunately none of the teachers “helping” actually helped!  This meant I had to keep telling the students to sit down before I would give them anything.  The candy was another story!!!  One of my daughters was so incensed at how rude, in her view, everyone was and lost her voice from yelling at them! One would think these kids did not get fed. I swore that if I ever do anything like that again I will insist on having more time in the one day and doing each class separately. 
I already knew that was possible after putting on a great Halloween party I with other English teachers at a different school a year or so earlier. We even had a moving, talking mummy! (We wrapped my youngest up in toilet paper, she was laid out on a table and would rise when given the cue. As each class came in separately through one door then out the other end there was no chance of warning other students. That was a major success.
Originally I was going to do things in each classroom but that would have meant two or three days of Halloween!  I had 7 classes, each 40 mins. I really didn’t want to take that long for what is supposed to be a one day activity and setting it up would have been a logistical nightmare.

A Last Hurrah? Memories & Plans

Today would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday. I am working on my trip to Churchill, MB with the plan to leave Toronto on June 30th, my father’s birthday. If all goes well I will arrive in Winnipeg, where my father’s only surviving sibling lives (my aunt – the eldest) on July 1st. Then to Churchill where I will spend one full day, July 5th, my sister’s birthday. She was born in Churchill, I believe we left when she was still an infant – perhaps it was before the next snowfall.

Not that any of this is important; I just found it interesting, and then some moments to reflect on all that has happened in the last five plus years. More if I include when my father died in 2010. We are so often surrounded by memories of birthdays, the continued passing of time. Which brought me up short, why am I even planning this trip? The polar bears will most likely not be around. There will probably be black flies, accommodation seems ridiculously pricey even for two stars. Yet, despite the railway having closed for 18 months due to a washout I was ecstatic I could once again take the train to Churchill.

Then, I recently found I am feeling less excited. The cancellation in 2017 turned all my plans upside down. It feels like a task rather than an adventure. I am hopeful that as everything comes together I will be excited. Even if it means staying one night in Winnipeg. At least it might be fun with arriving on Canada Day. Of course, one major factor is finances. I could afford the trip two years ago. Times change, bills still need to be paid, and not enough is coming in.

I am seeking inspiration. Yes, Churchill is expensive, it is in the far north of Ontario and only accessible by train or plane. That is part of the adventure. It is not exactly safe to wander about outside the town. Polar bears cannot be trusted to not suddenly decide to visit. Interesting note, car doors are left unlocked in the event anyone is caught out when a polar bear is nearby. However, I hear the place has gone downhill over the years. What will I do? I do have a half or full day tour, not polar bear chasing, tentatively booked and I will be trying to find out where we lived. I want a photo.

There it is, that spark that drives me. Going home because it is interesting. There is a personal history as well as the history of the country. All the planning, all the bits of paper, pencil shavings (very old school), emails and telephone class are all part of the adventure. Granted, the coat is still an issue. Perhaps my last great travel hurrah?

Enter the Dragon’s Lair: Coffee in Taiyuan

This is a clip from a post (Dec 2011) from a blog I had in 2011. goeastoldwoman.blogspot.com about my attempts to return to teaching in China after several years. Reading past posts Coffee seems to have played an important role to maintaining my sanity. (I cannot believe I let so many errors escape me.)Most likely a result of being afraid I would lose my internet connection at any moment. No photos, no fancy phone then. I was even using pay phones and a landline at times!

The following was how I finally managed to have a real cup of coffee after a couple of weeks drinking garbage instant.

Written Dec 10/11 (edited Dec 27/18)

UBC (also the name of a university in Vancouver, Canada so I was feeling hopeful – I had also been to UBC in other cities years before) usually has two floors, where food, coffee, tea and fancy juices are served – it is never very busy. The menu was in Chinese and English.  Of course this is where things started to become confusing.  I just wanted a cup of coffee, with milk.  Forget trying to say cream. In Taiyuan when people say they only speak a little English they mean it – hello, coffee, bye-bye – are often all I can get out of anyone.  The fact I use passable Chinese for very simple requests makes everyone assume I must be fluent.  Perhaps all foreigners here (Taiyuan) are.
First they ascertained I did want to be on the second floor.  Then I chose where I would sit.  Next, order yi bei kafei; wo yao niu nai.  One coffee; I want milk.  Except this simple request resulted in about 5 minutes of mass confusion.  Did I want cold coffee with milk?  No, I want hot coffee, and milk.  Did I want hot coffee and hot milk?  No, just a little milk.  Ah, did I want one cup of coffee and one cup of milk?  By this time I had resorted to trying to over-explain, in Chinese, when it dawned on me to be more explicit with actions rather than words.  Remember, all this was in Chinese – except for the few words of English from me when I was at a loss to explain all I wanted was a little cream to put in my coffee to stir and drink.  Then it dawned on me – I asked for a little cup of milk, but this time showed the size I meant.  Presto, the girl ran over to the counter where she kept all her spoons, tissue (they do not use napkins here) and whatnot, pulled out a creamer and presented it to me with a flourish.  Feeling triumphant I was just about to say thank you when she asked if I wanted sugar in my coffee!  An emphatic no.  When the coffee finally arrived, from the first floor, it was delivered on a tray, the cup sitting beside the saucer. Except the server seemed to be waiting for something – perhaps he was unsure to whom this one little cup of coffee should go to?  After all, everyone else had their coffees – I assume they were having coffee.  I beckoned him over, do they not know it is dangerous to get between a foreigner and her coffee?  He did not budge, just looked a little scared and helpless, maybe he did know – ah, the upstairs girl had to put the cup on the saucer and present the spoon to said saucer before taking the whole in hand and making a presentation of my coffee to me.  With another creamer.  Despite the ice cold cream hitting the very hot coffee and coming close to curdling, I used both creamers. It was a decent cup of coffee – or I was just so desperate by then I did not know better.  I am discovering that coffee in the evening is good for the soul – at least in Taiyuan it is. 

Non-traditional Christmas

Let me first explain, this is not an anti-Christmas post, nor is it about calling this time of year a winter holiday or saying happy holidays to all and sundry. However, for over 40 plus years Christmas has not been all that important to me. What has been important has been the tradition of gathering with family. This year I will be at home. I kind of miss the excitement my now (her birthday was the 22nd) 44 year old daughter still has for Christmas. Yet, she says that even she has tuned the holiday down a notch. She will work that night. Which reminds me that, although Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, for my family it was always time to celebrate being together, and in later years, celebrate by giving time or gifts to others. So, whether working so as to allow a co-worker time off for their family, volunteering at a food bank/wrapping gifts/buying toys for those less fortunate – serving meals to the same/inviting family for a non-traditional meal, for me Christmas is that reminder we are all threads of the human race. Let’s celebrate our tapestry.

Ramdom day of thoughts and shots

My intention was to put in a couple of hours at my local food bank, go for a walk, do some reading. Basically a quiet Saturday. Seems someone forgot to let some of us know we could not add anything to the shelves because everything would be emptied to prepare for hampers. I am learning a lot about how food banks operate.

While we waited – there were at least five of us – my youngest daughter sent a text claiming starvation and poverty. She did not know I was volunteering that morning. However, it did occur to me that the plight of single, working part time, young people does seem to be on an upswing with an emphasis on part time = minimum wage. I cannot just put together a bag of food whenever I feel like it. Actually, I can never do that – volunteers may not do their shopping at the food bank even if willing to pay. We are allowed to take baked goods, sometimes dairy, and this day we were encouraged to take a bunch of bananas before they went bad.

Aha! My reply to my daughter was, “I have bananas!” She was not amused. Once I explained I was going home to make banana bread her texts had a happier note. So, I made vegan banana bread, ran to the store to buy a can of garbanzo beans to make hummus, then headed to town with a healthy lunch for my daughter plus some extras – and her laundry. I also managed to bag a bag of chips for her from the food bank because that is sometimes also allowed. My community good deed may have fallen flat but my mothering instinct had not. Although I may not have fixed her dire straits nor found a solution to world hunger I am trying. Sort of. Rather sad that food banks are necessary and so many people need two or more jobs to barely meet their rent.

I live in the third most expensive city in Canada. I do not own a home. As I headed to town I could not help but take note of a scattering of people on the side of the road holding signs asking for ‘anything’. It is getting chillier out there. I suppose poverty in Victoria is easier to deal with than the cold in Ontario or Winnipeg. When I popped into my daughter’s workplace to hand over her meal and pick up her keys – that laundry needed dropping off – there were a few tourists around and a couple of ‘unsavoury’ characters. This how too many Victorians think. I walked from her place back to town to return her keys, then back to pick up my car.

The contrasts downtown are quite noticeable. We have the gorgeous waterfront with the very expensive Empress Hotel, and the legislature buildings, as shining beacons to tourism and government. (I mean the building, not the politics within, for the latter- BC is fascinating for its politics) this day we also had two or three very quiet panhandlers sitting along the wall leading to the lower harbour front walkway. In general, I find that panhandlers are more polite here than elsewhere. One woman actually had a Corelle teacup! (Probably a coffee cup if I base it by shape) Consider this, she was sitting across from the Empress, where afternoon tea runs at a whopping 78CAD (58USD) before taxes. And tips are expected!

As I walked back to my car I was struck by how much the landscape of Victoria appears to be shifting yet remains, in many ways, entrenched in the past and very closed to anyone without a high income. Victorians are besotted with their old buildings. It is not uncommon to come across the shell, or sometimes just the facade, of a once elegant, now faded, turn of the 19th or early 20th century, building. What is the draw? Real Estate. The latest is the Customs House, not ever a grand piece of architecture. (Not to be confused with the incredibly pink Old Customs House) Ah, it sits on a prime piece of real estate, harbour views galore, the grand dame Empress to one side, the legislature on the far side of the harbour.

I get it, living downtown, in a refurbished piece of a historical architecture is pretty neat. But at what cost? Yet another slap in the face of the poor, dare I say that these days the backbone, of Victoria? Tourism is what keeps the city ticking. I doubt even the smallest suite, 320 sq. ft. will sell for under one million – where there is such a cry for affordable housing. Besides, while I also get keeping the look of Victoria is part of what draws people here, sometimes it makes no sense. If we are trying to maintain traditional views why wrap it up, or is it fill it up, with so much glass and fake brass. Besides they did not even save the whole shell. (I still cannot get over green and red lights on the legislature over Christmas)

Which brings me to two funny incidents while I was heading home. One was nearby the rose garden of the legislature, and damned if my phone battery was nearly out of power, when I saw a woman pushing a bike, start to turn onto the sidewalk I was on, then abruptly turn and head back from whence she came before veering off towards a hedge. I know there was a security guard a bit further down, so my suspicious mind made me slow down, what could she be doing? Then, to really make me wonder, she appeared to take a sign from a plastic bag and plop it over the hedge before fastening on her helmet and riding down said sidewalk – past the guard. Sans sign. Intrigued, and too far away from the guard and the item, with very little battery power to snap a photo of the receding cyclist, I decided to saunter into the rose garden for a visit. (Sometimes my brain forgets there are some extremely sketchy people in Victoria) Nothing. Was I mistaken? Nope. A white poster had been tucked behind a tree that leans into the hedge. Perhaps she did not appreciate the message? Perhaps the security guard had presented it to her? I will never know but I did manage to get a photo! I also left it there.

I headed back to my car, even managed to eke out enough phone power to buy a London Fog before heading home. One more, very sudden, stop when I saw this at the gas station! I hope there was not anyone following too closely behind me when I made the turn! I did not need gas but how could I resist? I love trains! In the words of another blogger, a perfect moment!

Enter the Dragon’s Lair: perspective from the ‘girls’

I had meant to post this for Remembrance Day – forgot about it until I was pondering writing a post recalling the perils of theft. So, I shall ponder that a bit more.

Moving lock, stock and barrel as the single parent of three girls is never easy. Choosing to move to an unknown culture is even more challenging. The most challenging task for me was educating my daughters. (For ease of writing they are D2, D3, D4 – D1 was already an adult) Pretty ridiculous considering I had made the decision to cross the ocean to be a teacher. In addition, they had to deal with major cultural shock, being gawked and pawed at, and eating ‘weird’ food. We dealt with this in a few ways, including letters home and journals for distance education.

I found this gem, written on Oct 12, 2001 to D3 from her grandmother, I believe D3 had asked for a history of my parents in their own words for a school assignment. Significant considering our arrival in China, was only 2 days before Sept 11, 2011. At the time D3 was the only one with an online component to her BC, Canada curriculum. She was 12 years old. With everything that is going on in the world these days this reminder seems important. My mother lived in England during WWll.

“War is always wrong. Bad people may do bad things, but that does not make it alright to destroy people of that country/religion or whatever.

The only way the world will be a better place is for people to love each other; to help those who are disadvantaged to have education, and better health opportunities; and a hope of some way to feed their family.

Maybe this is a bit heavy for you at your age; but I think you DO understand. The hope for the world is with young people.”

Seventeen years later can I say that D3 did understand? Absolutely. She has always had a strong sense of empathy. Her outgoing personality made it easy for her to make friends and diffuse cultural slights. Often to the chagrin of her younger sister, D4, who always struggled with being different. People loved to touch her hair, face and skin and would comment on how pretty she was. They also tended to note she was ‘fat’ – this was generally meant to mean she was healthy. This happened a lot because I believed it was important to use local transit. We would often be sharing space with chickens, fish in baskets, bushels of greens and the farmers carrying everything to the various markets. On our return home I expect we saw some of those same chickens – headed to the dinner pot after being sold.

As a result the views of China from two children in the same family were often like night and day.