30 October, 2013

Aitch, Aay, Double El, Oh...

Another month, another six blogs I didn’t write.

Semester five is about halfway through, and at this point I’ve not written in an embarrassingly long time. Not that it is any consolation, but I have thought about writing. In fact, I have two half-written blogs from this month taking up space on my hard drive.

Not that any of that matters. What matters is what I publish. My lack of output is directly related to the amount of work I have this semester. I am teaching the PC-standard 16 hours per week. However, the overwhelming part is that of those 16 hours, I have seven different preps in a week. It is, in a word, yucky.

Despite having 553 things to do at all times, I have been feeling incredibly guilty due to my lack of updating. Combine that with a weird instance from last weekend and not yet writing a post about Halloween, here I am writing instead of grading the 120 midterms on my tea table.

I don’t think I need to give a history lesson about Halloween—that’s what things like Wikipedia and The Halloween Tree are for—so allow me to suffice to say it’s a western thing. Therefore, it is common for Peace Corps volunteers, working on Goal Two, to do Halloween-related shenanigans inside the classroom or out.

One of the Lanzhou schools plans a big Halloween party every year, and so the local PCVs throw together costumes and attend. During my first year, I won the costume contest with a large visual pun that no one understood (I was a ruler). Last year, I repeated victory with a Halloween stalwart—the toilet paper mummy.

The problem is that with these crowd-pleasing costumes is it leads to a huge number of Chinese people wanting to “take photo with you” It is a huge increase over the normal amount, and because of the occasion, all of them have no qualms asking. This is all fine and good, but makes for a pretty dull party, as the thing people want to take a photo standing next to.

Because of all this, I decided to do something different this year. I wanted to have a costume that was smaller and less outstanding, which I mean in the literal way: I wanted to stand out less. Also, this year there was a zombie run planned before the party, so I needed something I could easily don post-run.

I decided to be a Chinese street sweeper.

I had or could pick up most of the attire and accouterments already, and I had one thing that I thought was especially great. This summer, I nabbed one of the “volunteer” armbands that the workers often wear from the Olympic park in Beijing (that blog is coming, too; I promise). I use sarcasti-quotes around volunteer because it has the characters for volunteer, 志愿者 (zhiyuan zhe), but as most Chinese people have explained to me, the word is often only used to denote assigned jobs and work as opposed to freely offering.

As you can see, it was a perfect costume for hiding and not drawing attention to myself. I am proud to say it worked. I walked around pretending to sweep the floor (and actually sweeping the floor when I got bored) most of the night.

Some Chinese people came up to me speaking Chinese, asking me what I was doing there. Other Chinese people observed me from afar. As in the photo, I spent most of the night at a ninety-degree angle. It was amusing to listen to Chinese people argue about how to ask me “can you stand up” in English because they’d forgotten.

Anyway, the reason I’m sharing all of this is preamble to the reaction that has left me befuddled. I feel like it is one of those instances that say something profound about… something. At this point however, I don’t have the time or mental energy to unpack it, analyze it and try to make sense of it. So I’m just going to leave it here…

I had multiple students come up to me and tell me point-blank: Your costume is not good. It is bad. You should get a new costume—a better costume. Your costume is plain.

Like I said, I don’t know what to make of it. It could be any number of things…

If you’re interested, my friend made a very short video of the zombie run and party (yours truly makes a few appearances outrunning zombies). Happy Halloween, everyone.

And if you noticed, yes! I did change my banner to properly reflect a left-handed chopstick user.


  1. You have to remember, a street sweeper isn't the most noble of jobs to some people. Many of the poorer students might even have family that has to do that, and it might be sad or embarrassing to them. To Americans, I could see how it could be cute, but maybe it's kind of insulting to them? Like, why would you dress as someone others strive not to be? How often do you see someone in America dress like a janitor?

  2. I'm with Amanda on this. And, my dad is a janitor. Slightly offensive.