Thu, October 28, 2010
Lifestyle > Culture > Happy Halloween 2010

Sometimes it's good to play on the dark side

2010-10-28 02:37:40 GMT2010-10-28 10:37:40 (Beijing Time)  Global Times

Illustration: Liu Rui

The first time that I celebrated Halloween in China, I was walking down a street of bars and nightclubs. I was carrying a walking stick while wearing a long black leather overcoat and a rubber mask that I had just bought. The mask looked like the face of a withered old man with stringy white hair, so that I must have looked like an undertaker.

As I passed the open doorway of a small club I stopped, turned, and stared into the eyes of a hostess. She screamed and ran inside. So, I followed her into the club, behind the bar, through the kitchen and out through the rear door into an alleyway, with her running and screaming the whole time.

Now, I am not proud of doing this to the poor woman, but the point is that somehow Halloween gives you an excuse to be something you're not, usually something dark, scary and powerful. It's a difficult temptation to resist taking it a little too far sometimes.

China has a long history with ghosts. For many people, these spirits are a very real part of the world and are treated with wary respect and fear.

In China, most such apparitions are the spirits of dead ancestors who must be constantly appeased with votive offerings of food, incense and paper money. This is no laughing matter, and tending to the needs of the departed is one of a family's biggest social responsibilities.

In the US, we are more playful with our ghosts and our superstitions. We treat Halloween as a time of macabre celebration.

Children in school make their own crazy costumes and have various contests for which one is most creative, or scariest, or best overall. There is candy and trick-or-treating, of course, and lots of pictures of black cats, witches riding broomsticks, skeletons and jack o'lanterns.

Like so many other things, most of the costumes and masks used for Halloween are made here in China, but the Chinese themselves don't celebrate it in the same way.

The idea of having a costume party is being imported to the larger towns and cities by Western influence, and so far it's almost exclusively an "adult" thing.

In my own town we have a big costume party every year at my favorite local pub, and every year more Chinese are getting involved. There's often a lot of fake blood, plastic fangs, witches hats, glow-in-the-dark face paint and other simple things that anyone can do quickly and easily.

You can of course buy a latex rubber mask, and in an instant transform yourself into a wolf or a demon or even a famous personality like Bill Clinton. The whole point is to become something or someone else for one night and to embrace the fantastic.

For myself, I tend to make elaborate costumes rather than simply buying one. I gather raw material from things I have lying around the house or from various shops and then combine them into grotesque new forms.

Halloween gives you permission to be silly, to be terrifying, to be weird, and in fact it rewards you for it.

I think in China this idea could be a popular one in the future.

Modern life is moving ever faster, with people consumed by pragmatic concerns of money, status and obligations. There's little time left to enjoy life and have fun.

Where is the sense of whimsy and playfulness? Chinese society can be conservative to the point of being stifling. One rarely sees public expressions of non-conformist behavior. Colorful, eccentric or unique individuals are not to be found on every corner, even if they are entirely harmless.

But repressing our innate human desire for creative play, for self-expression and fantasy is ultimately unhealthy.

The festival of Halloween can give anyone a safe venue for playing dress-up for a day.

People can take on new personalities, and reinvent themselves according to their wildest flight of fancy. They might actually discover something new about their inner spirit that will last the rest of the year.

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