Hallo! Ween!


The best part about teaching is you get to learn as well. That's "get to" and not "have to" - you could do absolutely nothing but read from the books and repeatedly enunciate word pronunciations, but you wouldn't be a teacher, you'd be a parrot. I've been living for 10 months straight on my personal condensation of Paul Graham's enlightened advice: "add value." It's a great little philosophy that can be applied anywhere, anytime. It's also a great way to ensure that your job isn't replaced by a machine (or more embarassingly, software alone).

Any job that affords you the time to do personal research is a keeper. My adult classes necessitate plenty of web searching and reading, and often from a variety of sources (which is ideal when learning about any topic) since I'm trying to find content for the right level of reader. I've noticed that having software (or failing that, university English students) to take source articles and reduce the vocabulary and grammar to an ability-appropriate level could be quite lucrative. How many times I've had to manually strain out the obvious artifacts of thesaurus abuse from news articles...

I got to learn a bit about Halloween this month, and the history of the holiday is far too interesting to talk about with the little time I've set aside for this post. Dressing up as evil creatures to blend in with the real ones: brilliant!

As for the Chinese here in Harbin, Halloween isn't exactly "visible" like it would be in a Western country. They've imported Valentine's Day and Christmas (the presents - not the Christ), so why not the candy-consumerism of Halloween? Off the top of my head and with no prior research, I'd say it could be that firstly most of the Chinese don't really have houses and neighborhoods to plunder. Of course, I live in a city, but the suburbs aren't the statistically wealthier and more educated product of White Flight that they are in the States. In fact, they're the exact opposite.

The school once sponsored a trip to a place nicknamed "Crazy Lake" that was indeed true to its name - there was only a vast field... no lake. It doesn't get much crazier than that. On the bumpy bus ride there, I had plenty of time to observe the literally dirt-poor living conditions of the country mice. It's been noted in a few of the news articles I've read about China's modernization that the magnitude of the flight from rural areas to the cities is staggering. Here is a page with additional reasonable-generalizations-with-a-grain-of-salt factoids about urban life. Can't disagree about the architecture... how the hell Asia managed to have such stunning ancient structures and absolute shit-ugly modern ones is baffling.

Baffled is what I am. And perhaps you, too - if you remembered that I was supposed to be talking about Halloween. Well, the point is... I wouldn't want to be trekking around anywhere in China at night, even if candy was the prize. It's just that dangerous. Not as in crime - no way. All of the reasonable civil safeties you take for granted vanish instantly here. I always walk with my head down not because of low self-esteem but for fear of disappearing into a fresh ditch or pile of glass shards. You'd think a sudden chasm would be indicated with an orange cone or at least a line of tape, but the idea seems to be: there's a hole there, can't you see? And that's fine. I like to live dangerously. But remember since China is one perpetual construction project, new booby-traps appear daily.

When I asked my older classes about trick-or-treating, they confirmed that they wouldn't feel safe just going up to strangers for anything, let alone edibles. It's understandable. There isn't much of that stranger-to-stranger communication. "If you don't know someone, why would you talk to them?" "Well... how else do you get to know them?" is a reasonable response, but it's still considered rude by many to do so. That doesn't stop me from trying to ask for directions, though.

Kids being kids, we all (yes, I'm included) enjoy an excuse to dress up with a costume and play pranks on one another, so I'm sure Halloween will find its way to the hearts of the more Western-influenced China as this generation grows up. Regardless of the spirit of it, in the end it's all about business opportunities here, and anyone can see that there's a lucrative market waiting to be tapped. When it does happen, I hope they remember my Oscar-worthy re-enactment of monsters and make other foreigners proud of their zombie phonics...

Happy Halloween!


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