This last week, in addition to finishing up our final exams, we have been giving parties for our classes. Well, actually I am only doing parties for the students I particularly like, the sophomores I have been teaching for the past two years. We have become quite attached to each other and they love me immensely. :) Although one of them did cheer when I mentioned they wouldn't have any more Oral English class...
Chinese parties are a little different from American parties. Here, the core of the party is a series of performances which everyone sits around and watches. I told my students to plan performances, bring food, and decorate, and so far they have taken their parties very seriously.
The other night was my second party which was the most enthusiastic of them all. When I arrived, students were rushing around excitedly blowing up balloons, pushing desks out of the way, slicing watermelon, and turning up the already blaring music. Some students had come early to decorate. The board was covered with pictures and colorful writing. Balloons were hung from the walls and ceiling and even the fans were decked with streamers.
In the corner, the group of students in charge of snacks started to chop up three large watermelons. They moved around the desks scattering piles of sunflower seeds, salty dried peas, some kind of semi-popped corn, and candy.
More and more students appeared, some of them wearing fancy dresses and makeup. Most students (and Chinese people in general) hardly ever wear makeup, and when they do it's full-on stage makeup. As the students piled in, the room grew louder and louder. They excitedly greeted one another like they hadn't just spent all day in class with each other. Every few minutes a balloon would explode, accompanied by shrieks of surprise. The music, which I had the students turn down for fear of disrupting the entire campus, had somehow returned to it's normal blaring volume. After all, what is a party without lots and lots of noise?
The MC/host (another necessity for any real party) finally called the students to attention. Lara hosts the school radio program each week, so she has her “host” voice down pat. “Ladies and gentlemen, my dear classmates, let us be quiet. Be a little silent now.” She began our party by calling on students to express thanks to me. They all basically said the same thing, but it was sweet. After this the performances began.
They were mostly typical performances: one student sang “Yesterday Once More” and another “Take me to Your Heart.” Some others danced to “My Heart Will Go On.” Several groups did role plays (one followed by a Q&A session where they quizzed the students on the events of role play). Two small, sweet girls got up and demonstrated some kind of kickboxing.
During the songs, the students waved their arms around in the air, snapped pictures with their mobile phones, and took turn running up to bring balloons and candy to the performer (another important part of any performance). If someone made a mistake or forgot the words, they cheered even louder than when they actually sang well.
Throughout, the entire room cracked their way through piles of sunflower seeds. They are really adept at sunflower seeds. In about 3 seconds they've got it cracked, extracted the seed, discarded the shell, and are going for another one. It's a skill that seems to be as inbred as breathing or squatting or operating a mobile phone.
There were several games. The most important part of any Chinese game is the punishment at the end – typically, giving a performance. Prizes for the winners seem rare, but punishment for the losers is a must. At one point, when Lara decided the students weren't paying enough attention, she threatened that anyone not listening closely would have to give a performance. Usually, when called on to give a performance, students will pretend to resist for half a minute, then they will jump up and say, “Well, I have prepared a song for you...”
The night wore on and Lara had announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, now for our last performance...” about five times already. Finally it really was the last performance – me. I had decided I would sing a song for the students because I knew it would make them so happy, and they would probably find a way to rope me into it anyway. I don't think I would ever sing by myself in front of a group of people in America, but China is sometimes like another dimension of reality altogether. Besides, it doesn't seem to matter if you are actually talented. I sang “I Hope You Dance” (they really eat up cheesiness) and the students were appropriately thrilled and promptly pulled out their phones to record me. I'm sure I am now all over the internet. So long as I (or anyone I know outside of China) never have to see it...
And then the party was over, except the long line of students waiting to take a picture with me. We really are like celebrities. At the end of the year, students usually get all sentimental and tell you how much they love you and how much they'll miss you and how beautiful you are and what a lovely baby you will have and stuff. I, in turn, am filled with warm, pleasant thoughts and forget how annoyed I was with them in class just last week. Then everyone goes off to live their happy everyday. Not a bad way to end things.