Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Shanghai Diaries: Halloween Party

I have never been much of a party person. I don’t like bars, I don’t go to clubs and come Saturday night you are more likely to find me at home watching a movie, or at a quiet bookstore sipping hot chocolate than you are at some hot night spot. Bars are too smoky, too loud, and too full of drunks. Clubs always play terrible music at volumes that don’t exactly encourage casual conversation. Both contain far too many people and way too much chaos to make me comfortable.

I much prefer a small setting with a few friends that I can converse with - if not on a meaningful level then at least with some humor and interest. I married a woman who is much the same. My dear mate despises clubs and bars as much as I do, and while she does profess a desire to go somewhere from time to time, she rarely produces where that somewhere might be.

Thus we tend to stay at home, playing games, reading books, and watching movies. Now and again you might find us at a restaurant getting some fancy food (and me complaining that it’s too stinking loud to have a decent conversation) or at the movies, or more often than not sitting in a bookstore. Don’t look for us at the hip places; we don’t even know where they are anymore.

I say we’re homebodies. My wife says we’re boring.

There is an exception to this no-party rule. Once a year my wife and I dust off the dinner plates and throw a big pumpkin carving party. We both love Halloween and since we don’t have kids, this party is a fun way to do something childish and still feel like an adult.

I was a little worried about this year’s bash, as we’re living in China and everything is a little more complicated here, but everything turned out really well, and it just might be one of our best parties yet. There was some concern, at first, that we might not find a pumpkin. While in the states every super market carries huge lofts of giant pumpkins the entire month of October, none of the markets around here seemed to have any.

With a little more than one week before the holiday a few of the more western markets began selling a few pumpkins (and I do mean a few, one store had maybe 5 pumpkins in stock). Creatively, my wife and a few others didn’t let the lack of decent pumpkins bother them and bought some brightly colored squash instead.

The other problems involved the fact that none of the stores were selling pumpkin patterns or carving tools. The patterns weren’t too much of a problem as we could find some on the Internet and print. The carving tools were a bit distressing. In the States we have a large collection of little miniature jigsaws, scoopers, shavers and other tools all designed to create interesting, intricate pumpkin carvings. Here we had a set of steak knives.

For reasons that aren’t really clear to me we have more friends in China than we did back in the States. More friends, but not any more space. Pumpkin carving takes more room than your typical standing around drinking parties and there was no way we could invite everyone. Discretion was the word and we invited as many as we could and told everybody to keep it hush hush as to avoid making any non-invitees angry.

The music was hand selected, the decorations hung, the designs printed and the day came. We had an interesting collection of people as two couples have wee ones (a first for our pumpkin party, and a sure sign that we, and our friends are getting older). Another young lady had never carved a pumpkin before in her life.

I had picked out a nice large pumpkin that was more width than height. It was a little different than the pumpkins I am used to carving as it wasn’t exactly orange and it had a extremely thick shell, but was mostly hollow. The shell was so thick, in fact, that I broke my knife trying to get the top off.

The shape of the pumpkin was such that I had a very difficult time thinning the shell with my scooper. This created a difficult carving situation, but I prevailed in the end. Creating something that at least looked like a ghost, if not exactly what was on my picture printout. We all scooped and sliced and carved as best we could until slowly we began to finish. Carved pumpkins found their way to the dark porch, candles lighting their insides with “oooh” and “aaahhhs” from the crowds.

As is tradition, we each voted on our favorite pumpkin and the winner received a lovely prize (a collection of DVDs.) It was really a lovely party, and even though I had worried about China’s ability to have a crackin’ Halloween party it showed us a rather good time. Now the candy has been eaten, the mess has been cleaned up and my wife and I are ready to go back to being boring.

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