“You celebrate Hallowe’en in Changsha?” I asked Claudia last weekend, my attention attracted by an advertisement at the bottom of an escalator in a downtown mall.
“Yes!” she said, scanning the ad’s QR code with her phone, and peering at the results. “And there are going to be some activities. Do you want to go?”
Does a ghost say boo?
So, on Friday night, Claudia, Aaron, Mia and I (without hard-working Eric, who is completing his master’s thesis) caught a taxi downtown, ready to join in the fun. As with all of our nights out together, our first order of business was to find a good place for dinner (accompanying Walter and me around town gets the grad students away from the canteen monotony at the university, so they always choose an interesting restaurant where they can order a lot of food for us to share ).
Tonight, they’re attracted by a come-on troupe of Hallowe’en costumed singers and dancers outside a fish and seafood place in Changsha’s largest mall . No sooner had we ordered than the troupe began to visit individual tables, serenading people with their choice of song. The couple next to us requested “something Spanish” and was rewarded with “Bessame Mucho.” When the performers came to our table, I asked for anything by a Canadian singer. The troupe members consulted each other and gave me Shania Twain’s “Still The One.” As I sang along with them (“You’re still the one that I love/The only one I dream of”), I got tears in my eyes as I thought of home and love and Canada.
After dinner, the grad students considered what we should do next. “Do you like karaoke, Pam?” Well, sure, why not. I’m envisioning going to a bar to sing off-key in front of a crowd of strangers. But when we arrived at a place called the Happy Puppy, Aaron collected two microphones at a pay booth and led us down a hallway flashing with neon lights. This didn’t look like any bar I’d ever been to.
The students ushered me inside an empty room equipped with a computer input terminal on the wall, two large screens, a roomy, booth-style table, and a raised platform in the corner with a stool and a microphone. “We’re having our own private karaoke party,” Claudia announced. The four of us got busy flipping through the names of Chinese and English pop singers, old and new, choosing the songs we’d present to each other during the next hour.
Mia warbled Avril Lavigne and went “Crazier, Crazier” for Taylor Swift. Aaron and Claudia chose Chinese singers, some of whom they knew from “The Voice of China,” the equivalent of American Idol.
I introduced them to Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” and even Ann Murray’s “Can I Have This Dance?” We all sang along with the lyrics we knew, and I found the rhythm if not the words in the Chinese tunes.
By the time we finished, it was only 9:00, too early for the evening to end. We wandered around the mall for a while, which was alive with people of all ages, clearly enjoying themselves and the evening.
Finally, and unexpectedly for me, we ended up at the entrance to a wax museum. The grad students consulted each other briefly in Chinese “Come on!” said Mia, using one of her favorite English expressions. “Let’s GO!!!”
Cameras and cell phones at the ready, we started our journey through celebrity land, posing and posing again and giggling at the photos we snapped of each other .
After our visit to the wax museum, we thought we would still have enough time to wander around on the outside sidewalks to see people in costume. But it was pouring rain, so we abandoned that plan and flagged down a taxi to take us home, Squashed into the back seat between Mia and Claudia, I realized I hadn’t experienced that much silly fun on Hallowe’en for a very long time. What would be my fondest memory? Our dinner together? The karaoke warbling? The goofy shots with wax celebs?
I recalled a comment that Eric made on my first Saturday in Changsha when he and Aaron came to my hotel room to get my computer up and running. Even then, well before we really knew each other, we chatted amiably. When they were ready to leave, Eric said, “I liked talking to you. It was a good chance to….” He paused and searched for the words.
“Practise your English?” Aaron offered.
“No,” Eric said. “Make a connection. That’s important, I think.”