Yesterday was Valentine’s Day here in China (yes, Hallmark has reached the Middle Kingdom) and also a Chinese holiday we didn’t even know about – Lantern Festival. Duncan and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day (I’m a scrooge for most holidays actually) but we enjoyed talking to Samantha about the Chinese way of celebrating V-day. Much like in the US, people go out to eat (Pizza Hut, being the local fancy restaurant, was undoubtedly packed) and spend exorbitant amounts of money on roses (in the news, one guy spent 200,000 Yuan – about $33,000 – on roses in preparation for his Valentine’s Day proposal), chocolates, and (my favourite) gigantic teddy bears (I wonder what people do with their teddy bears after a few years of amassing a collection). Right after Samantha told us all this, a guy walked right by QLH carrying a teddy bear almost as big as he was tall and I leaned over and jokingly asked Duncan if he wanted me to get one for him. Before I had finished what I was saying, Samantha, genuinely astonished, exclaimed “NO! He’s supposed to ask you that!” I thought her reaction was hilarious especially since she didn’t pick up that I was joking and she thought I was actually going to go out and buy Duncan a giant teddy bear if he said he wanted one. (Oh, the commentary I could make on gender norm expectations…)
Later in the day, someone delivered a surprise package (a giant red box) to one of the other girls who works at QLH. Today we found out that her secret admirer had bought her a big, beautiful cake (inside the big box) covered in roses and delicate icing decorations as a proclamation of his love for her. And what did she do? She rejected him because he “was too tall”. With as much emphasis as there is here on finding someone to marry and make babies with before the age of thirty, I’m surprised by how picky these girls can be. Anytime I said Happy Valentine’s Day to one of the QLH girls, they smiled and looked down as they mumbled “thanks” and then declared, “It’s Bachelor’s Day for me! I can’t celebrate today!” Despite their moping of “Single’s Awareness Day”, the one girl almost instantaneously rejected a date potential based on his height. Her reaction surprised me about as much as I surprised Samantha with my commentary on buying Duncan a bear. But, not all was lost because, though the date was forgotten, all the QLH staff and the two of us got to participate in the consumption of the delicious (pineapple) cake. I can’t help but feel a bit bad for the mystery man though after his expensive (and probably confident) Valentine’s Day surprise.
I’ve mentioned before that Spring Festival is the biggest holiday in China since it is New Year’s and Christmas rolled into one two-week holiday when the entire country essentially shuts down to eat dumplings and set off fireworks with friends and family, but the importance and excitement about Spring Festival was proven to us even more yesterday. For the past week or so the fireworks have been at a minimal, that is, until yesterday when they started up again with the same vengeance we witnessed/heard on Spring Festival Eve at midnight. Assuming that people were setting off the fireworks for Valentine’s Day, I was enjoying the holiday a bit more than usual (fireworks are always good in my book). But when I asked Samantha why there were so many fireworks she said it was because of Lantern Festival (actually she said “Latin Festival” and it took me a few hours to figure out what she actually meant). Apparently, Lantern Festival is a holiday solely intended to celebrate two weeks after Spring Festival begins. (Spring Festival is such a big deal, that they have an additional holiday to celebrate the fact that they just finished celebrating the original holiday.) This year it was merely coincidental that Lantern Festival and Valentine’s Day fell on the same day. For young people in China, according to Samantha, this actually presented a bit of a problem. Valentine’s Day you are supposed to spend with your partner (or your friends if you are a “bachelor”) and Lantern Festival is supposed to be spent with family. So Samantha did the best she could with these differing holiday expectations and went out to see a movie with her friends in the afternoon and went to her parents’ house for the evening. Apparently, however, a lot of families might have felt slighted last night when the youngsters chose to have dinner with their partner rather than spending the evening with parents.
And, as a follow-up to my last commentary on the air quality, today’s AQI is 599! With the label of “hazardous” assigned to any score above 300, we’re well in the life-threatening zone. The AQI suggestion for “hazardous” is this: “Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities. There may be strong irritations and symptoms and may trigger other illnesses. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid out door activities” (According to Wikipedia). From personal experience, I should note, that healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities such as breathing and walking. But, I will say, that I am thankful that we are not in Shijiazhuang, which currently has an AQI of 765, or Hengshui or LangFang, which currently have AQIs of 641. I guess it could be worse. I think the recent spike in AQI ratings is directly related to all the fireworks (which are technically illegal because the government has acknowledged their relationship with smog intensity).
With a little more than a day left before the semester begins, I’ve spent the day coloring (aka making flashcards). I’ve pondered a lot over the past six months what the best approach to teaching is for me with my students and I’ve decided, after many different trials, discussions, and Google searches, that I’m going to focus on vocabulary with my students this semester. Ideally I would focus on developing conversation and dialogue skills for different situations, but I can’t find an effective way to teach that kind of information to classes of 50+ students that I see only 40 minutes a week (or every other week for eighth grade). Since I see my students so infrequently, I want to give them the most useful English I can to maximize what they get out of my classes and after much deliberation, I’ve decided vocabulary for contexts they’ll likely run into is probably the most useful. Considering how many revisions I went through in thought last semester for each of the grades I teach, I’ll probably revise and revise again during this next semester. But for now, I have a vocabulary and review centered plan for the first lesson back at school. I’m excited and nervous to get back in the classroom (it’s been two months) but I know the routine will bring comfort and an end to some of the boredom (and the kids really are great).
I hope you all had a happy Valentine’s Day with all your loved ones (friends and family)!
Thank you for reading and until next time,