School is back in full swing this week, just in time for us to do a fun Valentine’s Day lesson! Much like Christmas, Chinese people know about Valentine’s Day and they are trying their best to get into it; I saw a few feeble red and pink decorations around town (mostly in the jewelry stores—go figure), and a few ladies were out on street corners selling single red roses out of buckets. I liked the idea of not jumping into a serious lesson on the first week back at school. It seems that schedules are still changing this week, and I keep seeing students walking through campus with their rolling suitcases as if they’ve just finally made it back to school (and seeing firsthand the craziness at the train station during Chinese New Year, I don’t doubt that some of them were unable to return to school on time, despite their best efforts).
I wasn’t sure if I would actually have that much to teach them about Valentine’s Day, since they already seem to know the basics of it. However, our British friend Kasia (who is here in Huzhou teaching English at a fancy private Kindergarten) told us that she wanted to do some Valentine’s Day activities with her children at school, and the other teachers on faculty thought it was absurd. “Valentine’s Day is a day for lovers, not children,” they said, laughing at her. After hearing about that, I realized that perhaps Chinese people are a little in the dark about this particular holiday, and I set to work on my lesson.
I did some research on Valentine’s Day so that I could add a little bit of history to my lesson, as well as teach them about the way that we celebrate and go all out for it in America. I was surprised to learn that we are celebrating the day a Saint was executed! But nevertheless, I tried to summarize it in the least gruesome way possible. I also tried to explain Cupid, by acting out fluttering over to some unsuspecting boy by flapping my arms like wings, shooting him with an arrow, and pointing out the girl who he would fall madly in love with, thereby thoroughly embarrassing two students in each of my classes (much to the amusement of their classmates). When I met up with Justin for lunch in the cafeteria, I found out that he did his share of embarrassing his students as well. He taught them several “romantic” phrases in the spirit of Valentine’s Day—such as “I think I’m falling for him/her,” “He/She is a real catch,” “I’m head over heels, “etc. The embarrassing part is that he would pick out a guy and a girl and have them come to the front of the room and try out the phrases in a dialogue (again, much to the amusement of their classmates). He said that they made some funny mistakes in their dialogues, such as saying, “I catch you,” instead of, “You’re a catch!” and making the very common Chinese mistake of confusing pronouns (calling a guy “she” or calling a girl “he”). The Chinese language uses only gender-neutral pronouns, so Chinese people are not accustomed to having to distinguish males from females when they speak—which often leads to some very amusing (and confusing) conversations.
We also had our student create their own valentine cards! Arts and crafts projects are always fun, and the students seem to like having a break from their routine. I encouraged my students to give their valentine to someone special, and one of the boys in one class named Caster (not sure how he came up with that name) said, “Teacher, this is for you,” and presented me with his valentine. It was so sweet that I wanted to take a picture of him holding the Valentine, which caused him to get all flustered and embarrassed (it seems that embarrassment is the running theme for the day). He wouldn’t even look at the camera, explaining, “I am too shy!” I included a picture below.
Later, when I got home from class, I found a bouquet of a dozen red roses waiting for me, along with another homemade valentine from Justin—very sweet!
We went out for dinner that night and tried a new restaurant in Aishan Square. We tried to get the waiter to take a picture of us with our dinner, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out how to work our camera. He kept pressing the button as lightly and quickly as he could, as if he was afraid he would break my camera or something. After ten minutes of Justin explaining, “No, you hold down the button,” and after a giant flock of ten waiters and waitresses had all gathered around the camera and tried their hand at taking a photo, we gave up. So we have no dinner photo, but I don’t really mind because I thought it was funny. Also, our dinner was pretty expensive and not all that filling, and when we were finishing up the last of the food, Justin made a passing joke about swinging by McDonald’s afterwards. Then he said, “But it would be crazy to go to McDonald’s on Valentine’s Day…” and he gave me a searching look. I looked at him trying to figure out if he was kidding or serious, but I was actually still feeling hungry too. “I wouldn’t mind going to McDonald’s,” I said tentatively, and look of relief swept over his face. “Really?” he said. “Really!” I said. So we went to McDonald’s and got a cheeseburger, some fries, and a McFlurry.
Not the fanciest Valentine’s Day we’ve ever had, but it was nice. It was definitely very “China.” And we have plenty of years in the future to have “fancy” Valentine’s Days if that’s what we want to do. The valentine I made for Justin pretty much sums up my feelings: