This column is dedicated to my Grandfather, Thomas F O’Neill, he was born 100 years ago this month. His love and affection has impacted my life in so many ways and he has provided me with so many found memories. My Grandfather passed away in March of 1982 but there isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not reminded by something he said or did that made me laugh with his humor.
Hallows-Eve in Suzhou, China
At this very moment as I am writing this column I am continuously being interrupted by little, ghouls, witches, vampires, goblins, and lady ga ga’s - talk about a ghoulish night.
Before moving to Suzhou, China I didn’t know they celebrated Halloween here. I found that out two years ago and I felt bad when I didn’t have anything to hand out. Last year I missed the pint-sized spooks because I was at a Halloween party elsewhere.
Last week though I bought a variety of different bags of candies for this special spooky occasion. I also picked up a glow in the dark skeleton which I hung up on my front door. It wasn’t a real skeleton like the one in the Bio-lab at my school. It was just one of those store bought ones but scary none the less. I think that’s what attracted all the pint-sized visitors on this howling night.
The kids don’t say ‘trick or treat’ here like American kids they say - ‘Gěi táng jiù dǎodàn’ which means 给糖就捣蛋 if you didn’t know that already.
One little witch yelled out “Hello Mr. Tom!!!” when I opened my door. She was holding a large chop stick for her magic wand. I opened the little witch’s bag to see what goodies she possessed. I then proceeded to take a few of her candy bars and a bag of M and M’s.
“Hey” she said in a little perturbed voice, “Mr. Tom you’re supposed to give me Candy.”
“Oh” I replied “Is that how it works so do you know any tricks?”
She then started singing, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands …..”
“Oh stop” I said, “you’re scaring me.”
I handed her a couple of candy bars and she yelled “thank you.”
“Good, now go away” I replied.
“What are you doing?” she asked me while starring at my lap top computer on my desk, “Oh homework I hate homework,” she said as she turned and headed out my door.
Others came as well on this hallows-eve and they reminded me of the fun I had as a child going door to door. It was followed by mischief night. The only real mischief here though was the fireworks kids set off in front of my apartment building and sticking a half-eaten apple in my glow in the dark skeleton’s mouth.
Boy what I could teach those little burgers about the mischief I did as a child.
I like the little half-pint Chinese kids here in my neighborhood though they are extremely affectionate. They like to run up to me and give me a big hug. I tease them quite a bit too with fake punches and pokes. One little girl likes to really wallop a few punches on me but she’s much too little for me to hit back not that I would want too.
Every now and then I borrow an old projector from my school and set it up in my apartment building lobby. I run children’s movies off my computer when the kids are out of School during a holiday weekend. The projector projects movies on the apartment lobby’s wall and about ten kids that live in the area show up to watch them. My one neighbor has a nine year old girl and she always brings watermelon and various other fruits for the kids to eat but the kids usually hand most of the fruit to me. I found that a lot of the children here have trouble with English. The children who do speak English have to interpret what I say to the ones who don’t.
I also found that most of the children in my neighborhood go to an elementary school that is located right across from my apartment building. On holiday occasions some of the kids invite me to their school to meet their Chinese teachers. Unfortunately, some of the students have to interpret for me when talking to their teachers as well. A lot of the elementary teachers can’t speak English and they get embarrassed about that.
Most of the children will speak fluent English by the time they reach middle school. English is very important here due to China’s growing economy and it is vital for finding good employment. I wish my Chinese was better though because there is so much I could teach the kids here.
The children here like in America are really into the advancing technology that’s changing the world. When I was a kid there weren’t any personal computers, cell phones, computer games, and the internet. Instant messaging on cell phones and computers was something out of science fiction movies. The first time I saw a personal computer I was in college and I was too lazy to use it on a regular bases. Now I can’t get through the day without using one.
I was in my thirties when I got my first cell phone it cost $1.99 to place a call and then 70 cents a minute to talk. I was scared to use it after I got my first cell phone bill. After that whopping phone bill my cell phone became more of a status symbol than a calling device. Today, little elementary kids run around calling each other on cell phones for the answers to their test questions.
I can now phone the U.S. from my BlackBerry phone here in China for 2 cents a minute and send a text message to the U.S. for 2.3 cents a minute. I can also see the person I’m talking to on video calls halfway around the world for free over the internet. Yesterday’s Science Fiction is now today’s reality.
My students also have a technological advantage when it comes to learning and they are so much smarter than I was in college. Many of my students enjoy reading the ancient Buddhist Sanskrit’s online. When I was in college they were hard to come by especially in English in American libraries.
Once a month I meet with some of my students at a restaurant or a coffee shop to talk about the ancient Sanskrit’s. Those meetings are called ‘an English corner’ and it is encouraged by our School. The students get extra credits for participating in them. My students have found that in spite of the advancing technology. The ancient Buddhist texts are as relevant today as they were 2,500 years ago when they were first written.
Many of my students’ grandparents could not afford to purchase the ancient texts when they were my students’ age but they can now be read online for free both in Chinese and English.
Technology is indeed changing our world but perhaps not all for the better. I do find however it will never change the youth filled imaginations of the children I encounter on a daily bases. That is something I truly enjoy being part of and no matter how far I travel in life. Children will always bring out the child in me and there is certainly nothing wrong with that especially when you were raised in a different culture.
I am going to have to let you readers go for now because I need to get back to my little broken English spooks and perhaps steal some more of their candy.
Always with love from Suzhou, China,
Thomas F O’Neill
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