Since this was our first Halloween in Taiwan, we weren’t sure what to expect. The Chinese don’t really celebrate the holiday. So our expectations of this day were pretty low.
We did try to prepare as best we could. We ordered candy and costumes from the U.S. We put up a few decorations around the house. The kids had the day off of school. I assumed that the school chose to make this a teacher prep day just to avoid the holiday completely. Kids in the lower school had Halloween parties on Friday, but they were pretty low-key compared to what we were use to in the U.S. The upper and middle schools had Thursday and Friday off last week for parent/teacher conferences so there was no Halloween celebrations for them at all.
Sadly, we didn’t buy a single pumpkin in preparation for the holiday. Pumpkins are very expensive here. But as luck would have it, Elizabeth’s class carved pumpkins at their class party on Friday and Elizabeth’s name was drawn to take home her group’s jack o’lantern. So we were happy to have at least one jack o’lantern on our front porch. Unfortunately, when we got it home and set it out on the front porch, it was immediately invaded by ants. Then by the next day it had turned to mush. By the third day it was growing so much mold that the ants had moved out, obviously too high-brow for that level of rot. By today, the pumpkin was pretty much just a puddle, and a smelly puddle at that.
Our neighborhood is sometimes called Little America. It is made up of twenty homes, all U.S. State Department families. We have the greatest concentration of Americans in Taipei, so it is known as the place to go trick-or-treating. We were told to get a lot of candy. So we were prepared with close to 1000 pieces of candy. The trick-or-treaters starting arriving at around 6:00, and the neighborhood had a steady stream of people for the next two hours straight.
Many of the expats from around the city brought their families, but there were a lot more Chinese than westerners. The Chinese parents were hysterical! They took pictures of everything: pictures of our freaky decorations, pictures of their kids at our door, pictures of us putting candy in their kids’ bags, pictures of our American kids in their costumes, pictures of the strange American lady (me) in her strange witch get-up. (What they didn’t know was that the crotch in my black and orange striped tights, which I’m thinking were made for someone closer to 5’0″ than my 5’8″, were closer to my knees than my you-know-what, forcing me to take rather short steps all night. It was my little secret. But I’m guessing that if they had known about it they would have wanted to take a picture of that too. On second thought, maybe not.)
The local Chinese people were obviously loving this odd American holiday. They seemed to be doing their best to embrace the traditions, but also in awe of the strangeness of it. The looks on their faces were like they were taking part in a complete American freakshow.
At one point, some students came by and asked to film an interview of me for an assignment for their English class. I answered all their questions about Halloween in America and how much I love living in Taiwan. I didn’t mention my little tights problem, but if I had, it probably would have made for a much more interesting interview.
But here was my favorite moment of the night. Toward the end of the evening, some Chinese kids and moms rang the doorbell. Elizabeth answered the door and gave them all some candy. As she turned around, I noticed that the bowl was empty. Afraid that she hadn’t given candy to all of the nearly 15 moms and kids on the porch, I grabbed a jumbo bag of assorted Twizzler candy and dumped it into the bowl. Then I went back to the door, where all of the moms and kids were still standing. When the moms saw the bowl now full of American candy, they went insane. They were screaming and grabbing handfuls of the Twizzlers. It was a complete feeding frenzy! And it wasn’t the kids, it was the moms! I stood there laughing hysterically as they nearly emptied the giant bowl of candy. With each handful they took, they would put it up to the faces and smell it like it was the most exotic and delicious thing they had ever encountered. Jason came to the door when he heard the squealing and he too stood there laughing. They left our porch smiling and waving and thanking us for our American candy. It was priceless!
By the end of the evening, our house was filled with our kids’ friends, our neighbors and other expat friends who live all across the city. Our house became a fun crashing pad for pooped-out trick-or-treaters and their even more pooped-out parents. We ate pizza and candy and laughed about the fun mixture of American Halloween traditions and the Chinese twist that inevitably occurs in this great place. We live such a fun life!