Last night my friend Color and I were taking a post-dinner walk when we came across two of my student. They were all giggly and excited and told me “something special” was happening before running off, still giggling, to the lake. So we followed.
What we found was the preparation of a declaration of love from a girl (not my student) to a boy (my student.) In China, these grand sweeping gestures are incredibly popular. I hear countless stories of public spectacles, such as a boy creating a heart out of a dozen candles underneath his sweethearts dorm room, or even a whole class getting together to sng a song, or light off fireworks to impress a girl or boy.
But this was the first time I ever witnessed one first hand. The location was a wooden gazebo on our campus, and it was decked out with pink and purple balloons. Everyone had little hand held lights, but, to my disappointment, no ring of candles in a heart shape. (Sorry for the poor quality pictures, but all I had was my iPod to take pictures with and it sucks even in high light situations.)
The gazebo is a romantic and peaceful spot, especially at night, and the students had to continuously keep other lovers away while waiting for the boy to arrive. Finally the couple arrives and we all jump out of our hiding spot and run to the gazebo as well. Then, because we live in a modern world, the girl opened up her laptop and started playing a powerpoint presentation she had prepared to express her love.
Truth be told it was really boring. About 10 minutes long and filled with stock photos of Ningbo (the boy’s hometown). All I could make out was “In Ningbo…” and “If we went to Ningbo we would…” But when it finished we all clapped and cheered. Everyone started shouting “Kiss! Kiss!” But they just stood around awkwardly, kind of looking at each other shyly. (By the way, this isn’t a new relationship, they have been going out for months.)
Being all shy and awkward is kind of cute in a way, but it got a little ridiculous at how long it took them to do it. “If he doesn’t hurry up, I’M going to kiss her,” I said at one point. There were two other couples watching and they ran to the middle and kissed to “show them how it was done.”
Then Jorsen, one of my students and classmate to the boy, read a romantic speech he had prepared, and even rapped a little bit of a “traditional chinese song.” (‘Was that a new song?’ I asked him later. ‘No, an old song,’ he said. How old? ’21st century old.’) Then another boy gave a “best wishes” style speech, and finally it was time for the marriage certificates. In China it is considered romantic when boyfriend and girlfriend call each other husband and wife. (Personally I find it a bit odd.)
So a boy gave a little speech and handed the boy a (fake) marriage certificate. Then a girl giggled her way through a speech and gave the girl a (fake) marriage certificate. Then, obviously taken up in the spirit of things Lindy, one of my favorite students, grabbed his new girlfriend, stood in the middle of the group and loudly declared his love for all to hear. (He actually did it in English and ended with a loud I LOVE YOU!)
Then they broke out the snacks and we all feasted on crackers, candy, watermelon and dry tofu. The final event was writing on a paper lantern so they could send their love to the stars. Everybody wrote traditional chinese sayings and wishes and when it came to me, my mind was blank.
“Write a traditional American saying!” my student encouraged. Suddenly feeling very on the spot the only thing that came to my mind was:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
This was real fun,
best wishes to you!
(Shakespeare I ain’t.)
The whole thing was very cute and right before we left I asked Tony (the boy) how he felt about everything. “I…I…..I. It’s hard to say,” was his answer. Cute.
Sometimes I feel like an anthropologist, studying the chinese student species. I like just coming across these casual activities that I wouldn’t normally see. I get to see my students in a new light, and I get to experience the same things they do. It’s pretty cool.