An Expat’s Halloween

When leaving my house on October 30th, I found myself bid farewell by an animatronic skeleton telling me he would ‘take me to the underworld.’

Shenzhen Happy Valley on October 31st.

Starting a week before the 31st, lights, banners, pumpkins and fake skeletons can be seen strung from tree to tree or door to door, indicating the beginning of celebrations. Halloween may be a Western holiday, but here in China it’s tradition and spirit can still be felt. The presence of the holiday has integrated with expat culture right in the heart of Shekou, Shenzhen. Within the city’s multicultural population, many expats live in the following two residencies: Jingshan Villas and Fraser Place Apartments. All around the compound and apartment area, young children dressed in costume, both local and foreign, roam from house to house in hopes of finding some treats. Adults follow in their children’s shadows, keeping an eye out and happily snapping a photo for memory. The guards at the gate smile and watch with curiosity and excitement, wondering what could possibly be the reasoning behind their actions. Celebration usually occurs the weekend of Halloween, as close to the actual date as possible, with this year’s being celebrated on Saturday October 29th.

In Fraser Place, the structure of the apartments make it difficult for easy access to all buildings and rooms. However, children still manage to trek along the floors of their own building to trick-or-treat. Whilst all the commotion occurs along each floor, and the ding of the elevators arriving and leaving can be heard at all times, downstairs a small Halloween party is thrown. Young children will show up dressed as whatever they please to enjoy the small table of drinks and delicacies that the Fraser kitchen has prepared, and decorations are strewn across tables and walls. The spirit of the holiday was literally hanging by a thread, and the children were delighted to be able to do the same activities as they would do back in their hometowns. In order for the children to be able to enjoy such events, the manager of Fraser had to take into account the recreation and requests of his residents in order to ensure they had the best living environment. This means taking their cultures, traditions and habits into consideration, and organising an event such as the party or decorating his lobby was a small price to pay for some consumer satisfaction.

Likewise, Jingshan Villas are not too different. Instead of an apartment complex, the compound consists of hills and large houses along the area. Starting from 5:30 pm up until 8 pm, groups of trick-or-treaters are seen scouring the streets for candy. Despite coming to ring a stranger’s doorbell at the convenient time of most people’s dinners, the children keep the area feeling festive and ‘Halloweeny’ with their indignant “Trick or Treat!” and loud excitement that can be heard from indoors. The compound is decorated near the entrance, and many residents will purchase their own props and supplementary embellishments to their own homes, a sign for the children to approach and receive candy. At the sports field in the compound, a relatively large event is thrown, with live music and different food stands for residents to enjoy. Admission is free, and people of all ages can be seen enjoying the amenities. Anna Duan, another Salinity member and I personally decided to join in and experience what trick-or-treating in the compound was like, and found it rather formidable. One house we arrived at had their Ayi (local au pair) sitting outside on her phone, with a basket of cookies waiting to be handed out. Whether it be because I have outgrown the activity, had the festivity and Halloween spirit scrubbed out of me, or was simply late to the party, I was rather apprehensive when I counted my three pieces of candy and two biscuits.

I’m not sure if my age hinders me from giving accurate judgment, but when I reflect upon the differences between Halloween in China and Halloween in a nation that originally celebrates it, I’ve found that the latter is much more enticing. To me, Halloween here feels less real and authentic, the same way a Chinese holiday would feel in a non-Chinese setting. I think that whilst most of the origin, traditions and spirit is emulated and preserved, the fact that it is a rather small scale holiday diminishes the true Halloween feeling. To me, Halloween here is an expat’s holiday, like a rendition of the actual thing. With that said, the children and adults all enjoy it, the residencies work hard and put in a lot of work to set the events up, and so all I can say is — to each their own.