Posts Tagged With: Parade

This is Halloween in China

Last week we were celebrating Halloween at Yunding school. International schools and language training centers in China tend to put a lot of effort into staging events for western holidays. It is a way of showing that they are giving the students a chance to experience western culture, although they tend to do it in ways that are not at all western.

A week before Halloween they decorated the classrooms. More effort was put into doing this for the primary children, with parents contributing time and money, coming in at the weekend to help decorate. This also meant that Chinese teachers were coming in at the weekend, unpaid, to decorate the classrooms.


During the week we were asked to have Halloween themed lessons. Teaching about Halloween, singing Halloween songs, doing Halloween crosswords and word searches and watching Halloween movies (but nothing too scary. In my case, I showed them the original Ghostbusters, which was very popular)

The school had planned a Halloween party for Friday 28th, because they thought it would be better at the end of the week, rather than the start. Each class was asked to prepare some activities which the kids could try. Surprisingly nobody did bobbing for apples, as they thought it might not be hygienic.

On Wednesday one of the school principles decided that the party would be organised like a Chinese school sports day, with the classes parading past a stage in costume and performing a small dance routine in front of the school directors.

The teachers were all required to be in costume too (except for one NewZealender who told them to f*** off and refused). Some of us took a minimalist approach, while others bought cool costumes. The best was Ed, who decided that Halloween should be properly scary and made himself zombie make-up from latex, fake nails, flour and face paint.


The classes paraded in age order, followed by parents and then teachers. Each class was expected do do some sort of dance routine together, but the teachers were only told that this was compulsary on Wednesday evening. This gave them just over a day to prepare. Unsurprisingly most of the routines were lame. The music was often completely inapropriate for Halloween. The best performance involved the grade 11 teacher gunning down his undead students. The students then had to line up in their classes and stand to attention for what followed.

A couple of teachers were asked to speak about the meaning of Halloween (some of the foreign teachers went in school uniform, as their costume). This was followed by a “costume contest”. Primary students, middle school students and foreign teachers went onto the stage in pairs, to show off their costumes. However there was no actual judging, no scores, no winners and no prizes.

The rest of the afternoon the kids were free to play games. The best was the inflatable maze, which Ed hid in and scared some of the young children.




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The march of the matadors

It seems that the school directors were very pleased by my little dance with Rainbow and this had given them some ideas about how else they could get more benefit from their foreign teachers.

In November there was a Bao’an district sports competition for the schools in the Bao’an district. Our school wanted to get all the foreign teachers to take part in the opening ceremony. This time they wanted us all to dance.

We were told to go to the dance studio on the top floor after our classes. I had never been there before. A pretty dance teacher and a bunch of female students were waiting for us.  The teacher spoke very little English, but she was to try to teach us all a dance routine. One of the teachers managed to get out of doing it, because he has had a serious leg injury and is a bit disabled. He didn’t want to look stupid trying to limp along with us. The rest of us had to take part.

Despite initial doubts most of the teachers enjoyed learning the dance. Some of the students were good at English and were able to help show what to do and I was also able to help the others, as it was a Latin dance and I was the only one with any experience.

The routine we were to learn was a paso-doble, with a lot of cape twirling. In many ways this is the hardest dance for men to do, so it was not going to be easy and some of the others showed no aptitude. We had too meet three evenings a week to learn the dance and most of the teachers put in extra practice to learn the steps.

I say most, but one did not. Bryan was the least enthusiastic and least talented. He is also someone who expects everyone else to do things his way. He would repeatedly insist on going over the most basic things, questioning every decision, trying to suggest that the teacher should change things and generally being a source of frustration.  In the third lesson, when the teacher wanted to show us a step that I could tell people would have trouble with, Bryan insisted that there was no point in leaning any new steps until everyone (i.e. him) had mastered all the starting steps perfectly. We had only learnt 2 bars of the dance.

Then Bryan went away for 4 days to sort out his visa, during which time the rest of us learnt the whole dance. We were then told that the organizers of the sports day wanted everyone to keep marching forward without stopping. Out dance was to be changed to a few very basic moves that we would do while moving forward. We were very disappointed.

We all had to be measured for costumes, but I was the first person to see the finished article. Unsurprisingly, they wanted us to dress as matadors, or toreadors. The costumes were very good and we were sad that they were only being rented, not purchased.


By the time Bryan returned, we were practicing the steps on the sports track with the girls and a bunch of boy students. We were to dance in the middle and the boys would march alongside us, shouting out a Chinese chart to announce the name of the school.


Our dress rehearsals came to a complete standstill as we waited for Bryan to learn the steps. His partner deserved an award for her patience.


When we were able to rehearse as a group we were lined up by height and so Devon and I were behind Bryan, watching him go wrong time and again. He would then try to demand changes, in order to make it easier for him and then proceed to mess thing up even worse. It was a very painfully slow process to get him to occasionally get it right, despite how much the dance had been simplified.


At last the day of the opening ceremony was upon us. We got into a bus and headed out to a beautiful private school that was even more remote than ours. There were a lot of schools attending and there were a lot of amazing costumes.

We were the only foreigners taking part, so there were a lot of people who wanted to pose for photos with us.


Our performance went off pretty well and we were then able to watch the rest of the show. The students had to line up with all the other schools until the ceremony was over.


Since we had a better idea of what to expect, this was a much better day than our own sports day, but it lasted the whole afternoon. The actual sports were to start the next day, but I heard from the students that our school was not actually competing. The school directors had just wanted a chance to show off all their foreign teachers.

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Disney comes to Bao’an

Sports days in China are very different from in Britain. The Chinese are very big on parades and spectacle, even when it is only for the benefit of the school chairman and a small number of minor local dignitaries. More effort goes into planning the opening ceremony of the sports day, than goes into preparing for the actual competition. From the perspective of the school directors, it makes no difference who wins or loses, but it does matter that the opening should make a good impression.

As well as the classes parading in costume, the teachers and local community groups were also involved.  The teachers for each year group were told that the theme for this year was countries.  Year 1 teachers would represent Honk Kong, year two was Macau and year 3 was Malaysia.  I had no idea what the students were meant to be doing. Nobody told me, although I did meet some who were meant to represent Britain.

We were initially told that the foreign teachers should dress in costume up as Hong Kong celebrities, but none of us look anything like any Hong Kong celebrities and the only person we could think of with a unique and recognizable costume was Bruce Lee. After some discussion we decided to go for Disney character.

Decisions in China are often rushed and advanced notice is a luxury that we are usually denied. While we were in class, a message was sent to us asking us to choose a character before the end of the last class. They also specified that we shouldn’t wear masks, so that we could be recognized as foreigners.  I immediately picked Prince Charming, thinking that it would be a better option than most. Most other teachers had no idea what to go for.

There were a lot of things we could have bought on TaoBao (China’s answer to e-bay) but the school wanted to save money.  The bought most of the teachers Disney character onesies, but wanted to rent costumes for those of us playing human characters. A rental shop said they had the costumes we wanted, but it was a lie. They had Chinese costumes and dance costumes, mostly for children, but nothing for us. In another shop we found something that looked ok for Prince Charming, and was only a little too small. Matt wanted to go in drag and we found a Snow White costume, but the only person it would fit was Rainbow, our translator and school liaison.


Matt and Alex were unable to find anything even remotely Disney related in their size. They had no time to order anything online and no time before the end of the week to go to the far side of Shenzhen, to find a decent costume shop. Instead they were to try to put together generic pirate and cowboy costumes.

Then somebody decided that if Rainbow and I were to be Snow White and Sleeping beauty, then instead of just walking in the parade, we should dance together. They would also get small Snow White and prince costumes for the young children of some of the teachers, so that they could join us. We were told this two days before the opening ceremony.

The following day I tried to teach Rainbow to dance. She had never danced with a partner before and had no idea what to do. Since they wanted the other characters to circle us, I decided we should do a simple Cha-cha. We had one evening to plan the whole routine on the sports ground and then it was the day of the show.


It was a very hot day, around 30 degrees, so all the costumes felt very hot. The costumes were mostly a bit lame, but I was happy. Our students found it all very amusing.


Each group had its own dance performance and costumes. Some of the children were too young and too frightened of the big foreigners to join the parade, but we walked forward with the other foreign teachers holding a Hong Kong flag. The heads of year were dressed as Mickey and Minnie, with proper costumes.

We stopped in front of the bandstand and I danced with Rainbow, while the other teachers and children circled us. They then raised a sign and we were finished.

I was then able to watch the rest of the parade, most of which was over, as the teachers came on last. Nearly all the people with amazing costumes that I had seen going past while we waited to perform had already left to get changed. I had quite a few requests for photos and then went to change, so that my rental costume could be returned.

The actual sports day lasted that afternoon and the following morning and one of my classes dominated nearly everything, winning over half of the contests.

It was a nice experience, but decidedly strange.

Categories: Living in China, Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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