Last week gave Chinese a 3-day weekend with the coming of Qing Ming Jie, or Tomb Sweeping Day, celebrated on April 4. This is a new holiday added to the official government calendar and is in its second year.
Qing Ming is a traditional Chinese day where relatives visit the tombs of their ancestors, clean the gravesites, offer incense or flowers and have a small memorial service.
In countryside areas, this is quite popular as many relatives are buried in the mountainsides nearby hometowns or villages.
Most modern Chinese today, however, are cremated and thus there is no grave to visit. People enjoy going to temples instead or merely performing duties in the grassy yard complex of their apartments by burning paper money and lighting joss sticks outside.
This year had our newspapers and TV stations reporting on those visiting mass gravesites of the Sichuan earthquake victims. The visiting family members had traveled many hours to reach areas deep in the mountains, arriving in small towns and villages that had been completely destroyed last year by the quake. Some had not returned since that terrifying day as there had been nothing left to come back to.
This past weekend, they came by the thousands to mourn their loved ones, many of whom had never been found.
A Trip To Chengdu
While everyone in the country received Monday as a day off from school, our Luzhou college designated last Friday as a day off instead.
Xiao Lao-lao (Little Old) had 4 student babysitters who camped out in my apartment watching movies, eating snacks, cooking and enjoying home life. In the meantime, Little Flower and I left for Chengdu on Thursday afternoon for our own vacation time.
It had been 6 weeks since last I met up for dinners and outings with the Yang family, Jalin and her parents, who were my neighbors last year in Chengdu. I dream about the family’s home-cooked dinners almost every night I’m in Luzhou and am always invited over for meals when I visit. It’s just another special treat that I enjoy along with taking Jalin to the Bookworm for fun or wandering through the teen fashion clothes’ stores in her neighborhood.
But my main purpose in going to Chengdu had to do with Easter.
Gearing Up For Easter: Religious Lessons and Easter Seals
Along with Christmas, Easter is another important cultural event I feel is necessary for my students’ understanding of America and their future roles as English teachers in China.
Our Easter hand-out includes both religious and traditional symbols of this springtime holiday. Last week, we learned the reason Christians celebrate Easter. We covered the significance of the cross, the resurrection of Christ, and the special days Christians have for this season and what they do.
The highlight of this lesson is when everyone receives a lily from their teacher, Connie.
In actuality, I can’t give every student a real lily, mostly because they aren’t cheap. But because of generous Easter Seal mailings from so many of you who keep up with my life in China as a United Methodist, I am able to give each student an Easter Seal sticker.
Because Easter Seals are nowhere in China, these are truly an exciting gift which the students love. They carefully choose from the sheets which lily they’d like.
There are so many varieties and kinds, it’s difficult to choose.
Once the selection is made, the students enjoy finding a place to put them. Some place it into their textbooks. Others onto their English folders, which hold all their hand-outs from my class. And quite a few put their lily right on their cell phone, where they can see it every day.
Wherever they place their Easter Seal, needless to say, this special stamp is one which they truly hold dear and will always remember as being a unique gift given from their foreign teacher, Connie, at Easter.
As for me, I always remember those of you who thought enough to hold onto them from year to year and send to me.
Who’d have thought such a simple thing would bring so much joy to so many of us?
From Easter Seals to Chocolate Eggs and Jelly Beans
Which brings me to the reason for my visit to Chengdu for our Tomb Sweeping holiday.
In America, you’re probably inundated in Easter goodies and supplies at this moment. The Walmart Easter aisles are overflowing with chocolate eggs, foil-wrapped Easter bunnies and little baskets filled with cutesy stuffed animals. The Dollar Store is practically giving away their seasonal Easter offerings for next-to-nothing. For a few dollars, you can probably get enough special gift items for friends, relatives or children without spending any more than $10.
But in my area, finding such things is not an easy task, nor is it a cheap one.
I specifically went to Chengdu to search for Easter buys in the tiny Sabrina’s International Store and the mega Metro, which is much like our U.S. Sams Club. It’s a large warehouse of both international and Chinese goods, a place foreigners love.
Pickings were slim in both places, and expensive, but I did manage to get several small chocolate Easter eggs and a chocolate bunny for $20.
These will be used as visual aids for the students and be the winning prizes of a drawing we’ll have for our Easter activity evening. (More on that later)
Fortunately, jelly beans are in great abundance in China so I didn’t have to shell out a fortune for those.
That’s a good thing as it allows each class to enjoy our “How many jelly beans in the bottle?” guessing game. Students write down their guess after inspecting the bottle filled with jelly beans. At the end of the class, we see who is the closest to the number. The winner, of course, gets the entire jelly bean bottle.
For all 8 classes, I’ve already prepared 8 bottles and a few jars.
The total number of jelly beans I’ve counted out? 1,867.
Yes, that’s a lot of counting and a lot of candy, but it’s well worth the enthusiastic screams of delight from the winners who rush up to get their prize.
Nothing like games and candy to brighten up a classroom, let me tell you!
An Evening of Easter Fun
Already, students are anxiously awaiting our evening Easter Activity Night. We’ll be having two of these next week, one for 4 classes (180 students) and one for another 4 classes (another 180 students).
Coloring eggs, making crafts and having our Easter chocolate drawing will be among the list of fun things we’ll be doing.
This is an optional event so I don’t expect everyone to show up but I do hope we’ll have a fairly good crowd.
Sports Days Are Here!
I had hoped to do our Easter activities this week but we ran into a slight scheduling problem.
This week is our annual school sports’ meeting, meaning Wednesday afternoon to Friday there will be no classes held. Students will only be participating in track and field events or watching to cheer on their classmates as the participants try to win honor for their department or their class.
Sports days in Chinese high schools and colleges are meant to promote physical health, school camaraderie, feelings of community and give students a break from studies.
Because there are no sports teams or few competitive sport activities in school, these Sport Day meetings are very important.
Just like in the Olympics, the opening ceremony is a serious affair. Every departmental class is required to march by the stadium stage, shouting enthusiastic, rhythmic chants of “I love exercise! I love good health! I love my school!” while keeping in perfect step.
Opening ceremonies are a mandatory event that everyone has to participate in so students have been practicing for the past 6 weeks to get their marching down. It’s quite something to see and also hard for Americans to understand, this "forced" unity and practice time.
Can you imagine getting an entire American university student body interested and excited about such an event, much less have department student reps march around in military precision, wave departmental flags and create special formations on the field?
I think not.
Chinese teachers and administrators are still required to be on campus, in the offices, during this time to help with school duties and paperwork. As faculty, we are also invited to join in the games as well. Many have already signed up for relays, high jump, and other races.
As for me, I’ll most likely be on the sports field with Little Flower and her tiny brother, Xiao Lao-lao.
We’ll all three be giving our support for the students and my colleagues.
So be looking for lots of pictures of our upcoming Sports Day meeting, starting tomorrow.
Here’s wishing you all a blessed Good Friday and a great Easter celebration at home or church. As always, I’ll be attending services at our Luzhou Protestant Church where the baptism of new believers will have the pews crowded.
Now that’s definitely a “Hallelujah!” moment.
From far away China, Ping An (Peace) and Easter greetings are sent your way.