Monday, October 29, 2012


AS I’ve said before, part of the fun of living in expat land is tapping into rich, vibrant cultures from all corners of the earth.

I said it only last week in fact when, for United Nations day, kids at Beijing’s international schools wore national costumes and sampled each other’s food, art and heritage.

And then there’s Halloween, where we get to dress like weirdos and eat lollies for a weekend. Thank you, America.

I have softened in my opposition to this festival. Still, in my enthusiasm on the weekend I must admit to making some rookie errors, involving sick children and my own, it seems, somewhat questionable costume. I thought the point was to look scary. Apparently there are limits, as you’ll see later.

Our family resisted Beijing Halloween in the past, despite pressure from our disbelieving US expat friends. Primarily, they couldn’t believe:

1. That Australians didn’t do Halloween;

2. That when Halloween was placed on our doorstep in Beijing, my wife Stef and I would still deny our kids the chance to dress like ghouls and stuff themselves with sugar.

But after relenting last year, it’s easily become my favourite international hurrah.

I still feel a little guilty about observing this festival and not others. You can keep Ramadan, for that sounds like not much fun at all. But I’ve never done anything, for example, to mark the Day of Vesak, the day on which Buddha achieved the rare trifecta of being born, dying, and achieving enlightenment. And not only did I atone for nothing last Yom Kippur, I probably made things a lot worse.

But still, it’s remarkable how the right amount of chocolate can assuage guilt. I’d still hate to see it take root in Australia. We have our own celebrations linked to our own identity. Every first Tuesday of November there’s the Melbourne Cup, where little kids don’t dress up as monsters, but gamble money on horses. And then April 25 is ANZAC Day, where we remember our fallen soldiers and play two-up, a time-honoured game whose essence is, err, gambling.

But here in Beijing, Halloween is not as scary to me as it once was.

Our friend Stephanie, a serious
news producer and fully grown
woman, stepping out as a bunch
of grapes. She's also our valued
Halloween organiser-in-chief.

And later on, when things
started getting crazy ...
The grape grope.

Amy the Pregnant Witch, and
Chris the Ferocious, Beer-Guzzling
Crocodile. Amy looked good,
but I thought she could have done
better as a heavily pregnant
Halloween devotee.

Like this basketball fan I found on
the web.

Or this one!

I took the kids trick or treating on Saturday night around our old apartment compound. Our seven-year-old Lani kind of got into the American-ness of it all, by going as a Cherokee squaw. Five-year-old Evie was, like so many other girls here, a princess.

What a great night! With Stef at work I got to chaperone the girls while they built reserves of sweets as if stockpiling for the imminent winter. It was a nice chance for them to spend time with similarly costumed friends. I was, however, a little disappointed by the lack of horror. Mostly this night involved kids knocking on doors and being given candy by little old ladies.

This all changed when we happened upon the apartment of my Russian friend. I know him from the compound sauna, and I know that, like me, he broke a limb once and it didn’t heal properly. Whereas I have an odd-looking ankle, his is a more obvious bent forearm. On Halloween he didn’t let it go to waste, God bless him. Let’s just say that when the kids knocked on his door, he scared the living bejeezus out of them.

The Russian is coming!
God he made some noise.
Only the brave kids got
his candy.

Apart from this, Evie was over the moon. She’d been on a three-month lolly ban for what, without needing to go into detail, has become known as The Salt-Water Taffy Incident. But with her ban ending on Halloween, all night long she went gleefully collecting booty. I was happy for her to eat one or two, remembering she’d still have to eat dinner.

Evie had served her ban admirably, without complaint. And when we got home she duly looked up at her mother and said: “Mummy – I think I’m going to throw up.”

Immediately it was panic stations. For me. In these situations, it’s not the sick child who gets in trouble, it’s the dad. I assured my wife I had kept a tight rein on consumption, that I’d only noticed Evie eating one or two treats all night. I looked in her candy bag to confirm this, and found about 15 empty wrappers. It was enough to not only sicken a child but a horse.

You know how parents worry about what their kids get up to on a Saturday night without telling them? Well my kid is FIVE. And I was right there with her. I still don’t know how she did it. I guess some credit is due.

I was reminded of my friend Andrew. I thought he’d like Halloween as much as the next American, but his mother had an unusual tradition. A health food freak, she'd allow her kids to eat candy after trick-or-treating, but then anything leftover next morning would be thrown out. The natural effect of this is that all Andrew remembers now of childhood Halloweens is eating himself sick every October 31.

With Evie writhing on the couch I instinctively sprang into a plan of action I like to call “cover-up mode”. Without unnecessarily burdening her mother, I threw Evie's wrappers in the bin, begged her not to throw up, and asked experienced American friends what to do. “Forget dinner – she’s had her calorie intake,” texted one. Thankfully Evie held strong. It’s marvelous how well the five-year-old stomach can respond to the threat of another candy ban.

This is just part of the kids' booty the next day. In fact,
so special was it that these unaccustomed Australian
children decided it was too good to merely eat.

So first, they decided to sort it.

Evie's categories. Not much space
for the dreaded 'musely bars'.

Lani even decided to tape hers to the relevant
section. This made it harder to get at, kind of
running counter to the whole purpose of
Halloween. Weird kids. In fact, one American
mum reported later that Lani had handed some
lollies back at her front door, saying she already
had enough. It was not a condition shared
by her little sister.

Sunday was the adults’ chance to dress up too, with a Halloween party at a city hotel.

This time Lani was Super Girl, Evie was again a candy-gorging princess, while Stef was a witch. I’d ummed and aahed about my costume when we’d been shopping. I thought about going as a priest, or a hunchback, or a zombie. Instead I simply threw together a few things – a hat, a fake moustache and some funny glasses – and voila.

For such little outlay, the results, I thought, were spectacular. But as we got to the party it seemed they were a little too spectacular, too effective a transformation for some.

“Your outfit looks silly,” said Lola, aged 9.

“I really, really don’t like it,” said Bill, 45.

To put it delicately, my look in that hotel didn’t so much disturb children as it did the parents of children. Were we out in the real world it would be hard to say exactly where I belonged. But the consensus was the police would insist it wasn’t within 500 metres of a school.

All afternoon I felt friends shying away with shivers up their spines. And make no mistake – this was a new feeling for me. I left with Amy the Pregnant Witch rubbing her tightly-shut eyes saying she was trying to get the image of me out of her mind.

I guess this Halloween I learned ‘scary’ was one thing but ‘creepy’ quite another. Maybe I won’t “throw something together” next year, but will instead go for something pre-made, safe, or “boring”.

The author normally looks like someone you would
gladly have around your kids. 

However ... 

What can I say? I chose the moustache and glasses.
It was the hat that added that not-to-be-trusted edge.
And that was chosen by my wife.

Surely here are two types you wouldn't leave your kids with.

But someone did.

Trouble was, I still had to do normal things
like eat lunch. The wider shot shows I
happened to be at the table alone. Still, I
insist I wasn't as creepy as some Halloween
revellers ...

Like this guy I found on the web ...

* Sorry we were late today, owing to continuing internet trouble behind the Great Firewall of China ahead of next month's glorious five-yearly Consultative People's Congress of the Consultative Party of the People's Communist Community of China (CPCCPPCCC).

There'll be more on Thursday, readers! And tune in again on Monday for yet another teaser about the great unknown Chinese invention and our first Royal Round-up, which keeps getting put-off because of unforeseen bouts of dress-ups.


  1. You are so funny, good article, I really enjoyed it, haha....Katherine

  2. Very entertaining, sounds like the girls had a ball! Love the photo of the pregnant woman and little arms coming out. Sick! :)

  3. Fabulous again, Trev. A nice alternative for next year - my highly capitalist daughter has sold me all her candy from the Sunday party to give to trick or treaters on Wed night. She's buying lego...

  4. Glad you enjoyed guys. And lovely Jo that your dort is looking to divest her candy stockpile already. Job in banking coming up!