Disorganised pumpkins and other Halloween mishaps

Halloween was an interesting event here in school.

Preparations started weeks before hand, with decorating every possible inch of the school in old bandages and witches made from foam.

They wanted to celebrate just the same as the UK, and asked for my advice. I explained that, as much as it’s fun for kids at home, it’s not made a huge deal of in schools though they might have a school party. It’s probably more celebrated by teenagers annoying their local pensioners and by students – making it an excuse to get drunk. I certainly used it as that during my student days in Aberdeen.

I remember as a kid, we lived down a dark track at the edge of town, so people didn’t come to the door trick or treating. I used to always be disappointed, but wasn’t usually in the house to notice anyway. I don’t remember going out on halloween that often back home, but maybe a few times.

There were this funny old couple who always came to assemblies at my primary school. The man was an ex-policeman in the town, and his wife had been a teacher (I think). They creeped all the kids out, as harmless as they were. They lived in the upstairs of a house that had been converted into two flats, with stairs going up the outside of the house – just a couple of streets away from mine. On the night of Halloween when all the local kids were out annoying everyone in every house in town, the old man would wait until he heard kids in their yard, and get ready. When you were at the bottom of the steps, about to ring their bell, he would tip a bucket of freezing water over whoever was unlucky enough to be standing in the way. I can remember being terrified to go to their house, or even down that street, for fear of being soaked.

Here, each department were in competition with each other as to who could make the best decorations. The primary department had all of their teachers and all of the kids to decorate their nice, low ceilinged corridor, and the same for the secondary department in their corridor. The kindergarten had stairs to decorate, a spare classroom to turn into a graveyard, places to hang things and the entrance doors which are all glass. Us in the English department? We had to decorate the hall. There are 6 of us – none of the kids, and two were away at some conference in Ho Chi Minh City, making four people to decorate the full hall. Tell me again how it’s going to be fun?!


Apparently, to celebrate an event, they have a competition. It’s not an optional competition either. It’s more like “You have to decorate and it will be fun”… Yes, sir.

They then told us, a week before, that because the school weren’t prepared for Halloween, we (the English dept.) would have the following week off to prepare, while we were two members short to this conference. We ALL spent hours on the Sunday morning decorating, and it didn’t even look like we’d made a dent in the bareness of the hall. It honestly still felt naked.

On the Saturday, we went to the market and I bought some fabric from a fabric stall there. I had no idea what I wanted, or how much I’d need but I decided that I’d take a blind guess at what I wanted and try to get enough, even if there was some left over afterwards. After what? you may ask. Well, seeing as there are so many tailors here in Vietnam, and it should be even cheaper in Vinh than in Hoi An, I had decided to have my costume made this year, and I was going to be a witch.

In Big C I found pretty much the only witch’s hat in the whole of Vinh, and though it had a horrendous criss-crossed bight pink ribbons all the way round I decided I would get it and try to do something with it.

I took the fabric to a tailor not far from school. I do find the massive language barrier here pretty wearing. Lizzie knows quite a bit of Vietnamese, and can say things pretty well. Even though she is good, people laugh because they can’t believe she can say things that way. I’d drawn a picture of what I wanted but of course they still didn’t understand. I gave them my hat too, describing what I wanted through drawings. I don’t know if they just want to ask questions to confuse you or what, but the lady took the paper and started babbling away really quickly. I recognised one or two words but not enough to have any idea of what she was trying to say. Luckily, there was someone in there who had quite good English so she semi-translated for me. They quoted a price, and it seemed a HUGE amount of money to pay for such a simple design. They wanted to charge me just under £20, which is more than I would spend on a Halloween costume at home really. If I had a sewing machine I could make it myself, and that’s saying something! Anyway, the woman was set on the price and not budging at all. I was sure I was being ripped off but I was tired and couldn’t really be bothered hunting for another tailor and trying to explain again. I needed it for Friday, so I would collect it Thursday morning.

My witch costume in process

My witch costume in process

On the Tuesday morning, Lizzie and I hopped on our bikes and cycled down to a shop where we know you can buy stationary and a few random craft supplies. It’s no Hobbycraft, but it’s all we have to work with here, so we have to make do. We found some rolls of very thin foam, which we could cut shapes out of (there seems to be no coloured paper here, which is very frustrating when it comes to things like this), and also some massive rolls of coloured sticky back plasticy paper in all different colours which we got a selection of. We found some horrible looking dolls which cost next to nothing too, so we added those to our pile.

The problem here is that we were expected to do all of the work and preparation for our department. The other departments know where to get things from, but we had no idea where to buy stuff from, like old bandages etc. One of the girls in the English who’d gone away to HCMC had bought a few supplies for us, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough to compete with the other departments.

We wanted to make some dead bodies, but how do you start when you don’t know where to buy anything? We looked in kids clothes shop and saw a baby grow. Brainwave – we would buy baby grows, stuff them with newspaper and spray red spray paint – like blood. We didn’t want to buy that one though, because it was too nice. So we took the stuff back to school and got a taxi down to the market to find some nasty cheap looking ones which we wouldn’t mind destroying.

At the market, we found only 2 TINY baby grows in the whole place, and they were seriously overcharging us for them, so we came up with plan B: cheap pyjamas. They love their matching PJ sets here, and wear them as day clothes too. We’d find some of those, try not to get TOO ripped off (they definitely increase the price by a significant amount because we are white and they assume that we have no idea how much things cost), and sew them together, stuffed with a magazine we found in the living room. That’s yet another thing we have no idea where to find – newspaper and magazines. We got some little socks for our dead children too, then headed for some lunch.

We spent the afternoon cutting out orange pumpkins and drawing cats for ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-cat’ which, in the end, were never used. I was pretty gutted since I had been nagged about getting them finished and they’d taken over an hour each.

In the evening, I had arranged to show a Halloween movie (The Nightmare Before Christmas) on the projector in the hall for the boarding kids. I’d promised them fizzy drinks and popcorn (just the 5 boarding kids). The Principle wanted me to invite from grade 4 upwards. No pressure then. Well of course, I’d loaded it onto my laptop but some connection didn’t work with my mac so we had to wait for it to load on someone else’s laptop. The girl who had come to Hanoi with me asked me why I hadn’t downloaded it – simple, I don’t know how. The Principle told me she had asked three people to help me to make sure I was ready during the day, but nobody had actually helped. Now there were 30 kids from school plus some brothers and sisters who I didn’t recognise waiting for this film to start. It started about an hour later than I had intended.

The next day, two of the girls from the English department came in and we spent three hours in the morning and three more in the afternoon decorating the hall. It was still going to be hard to beat Primary, who had turned their corridor into a haunted graveyard, with tombs all the way along between each door, HUNDREDS of bats on the walls, a shrine at one end, and white netting/cloth hanging all the way along from the ceiling. It was really, REALLY good.

We made a pumpkin patch at one end of the hall with all of the pumpkins we had made. We had a grave for each member of the English dept., a witch flying over her cauldron, a huge big scream face on one wall with bats flying out of its mouth, scary Halloween lanterns (which I had made with the boarding kids the night before), a spider’s web made from some plastic rope/strapping stuff, rats all around the hall going along the skirting board (which we drew and cut out during lunchtime on our mass decorating day) AND of course the dead children. It looked pretty good, maybe not good enough to win, but pretty damn good since Primary had about 100 people working on it and we only had 4!!

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We just had to hope that the decorations would survive two days of the kids until Halloween on Friday.

On Thursday morning, I collected my costume from the tailor. I wasn’t massively impressed. I had indicated for it to be loose fitting so that it wasn’t disgusting and tight on me, since I know how they can be quite inaccurate with their measuring. They had understood loose fine, but this looked like a tent. It was better than nothing, though really not worth the huge amount of money (600,000VND is a LOT of money here)

Friday came and it was Halloween. The Primary corridor had had even more stuff added to it. The Secondary corridor looked like a mess. The hall looked bare in comparison. Not much we could do about it by then. We had a meeting in the morning which really only lasted about 10 minutes then we met again at around half 1/2. Time to scare the kids!!!

When we were first told that on Halloween we dress up scary and then go to the kindergarten to scare the kiddies I was so against the idea. I felt so cruel doing it.

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Basically, the Kindergarten kids were all in their classes, and in come us horrible people – cackling/making zombie noises/moaning/whatever. They were terrified. One little girl, Cleo, who is quite possibly the cutest kid this side of the planet, was so scared of me that she started shaking before she cried. I felt really really bad, but, actually, it was hilarious!!! We took some little biscuits with us in a bag to give them after the scaring. Some of them wouldn’t even take a biscuit from us. I used to be petrified of fancy dress when I was small, especially when you can’t see the person’s face. Like one of the girls in the English dept., no one had any idea what she was meant to be. Minimal effort, but fully scariness!! A mask and a sheet wrapped around her, with her hands poking out. I was even scared of her.

After the fun of scaring Kindergarten, it was time for the Kindergarten Halloween show, and how cute it was!!! Honestly, my heart is no longer heart shaped, it’s just a melted puddle of mush splashing around in my ribcage somewhere. Two of my two year old class came down the cat walk, blowing kisses and strutting their stuff. They seem to teach kids how strut etc when they are pretty much just born. Anyway, Hannah and Victor from my twos were strutting along, then they got to the end, Victor got down on one knee and presented a rose to Hannah. I had a tear in my eye it was so cute. Of course the rest of theKindergarten show was cute, but those two were just adorable.IMG_0555 IMG_0558 IMG_0578 IMG_0581   10334239_888391381172691_970827673610801706_n 10650060_888391581172671_3091536028163756601_nIMG_0586

That finished around half four, and we were eating at five, apparently. Lizzie’s make-up was some kind of safety pin wound made with red painted toilet roll and Sellotape. So she had to decide whether to re-do her make-up first, or eat first. She couldn’t really move her mouth with out it cracking or peeling.

They judged the decorations, I don’t know this for sure but I’m pretty sure (like 99.9%) that Primary won (see pictures). We hadn’t been given a full criteria so we automatically lost, even though it wasn’t our fault. Nobody had told us that we had to make it super scary, with lights and music and a performance to scare the judges. Once again, we lost by default, because we hadn’t been properly informed.IMG_4615 IMG_4591

As with so many things here, it got dragged further and further out. We didn’t eat till half five/quarter to six, even though the Primary show was meant to begin at 5.45pm (as the invites said). Then nothing seemed to be happening at all. We went into the hall and there were no staff there setting up or anything. It was really weird. Where was everyone?!!! Of course, they were all upstairs taking photos of each other. This is the most photo obsessed country I have ever been to. It’s even worse than Thailand. I asked one of the senior kids to find out when it was meant to start, so she went off and came back maybe ten/ fifteen minutes later saying that it would start when they were ready for it to start. Thanks for the completely useless information kid! It was already an hour later than it was meant to be.

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Two kids from my evening class had made the effort to come, even though they don’t even come to this school. I was embarrassed to say that I had no idea what was going on. One of them had made a pumpkin for the pumpkin show. Nobody knew where to put it or how to enter it into the competition. So I took it and put it with the English one at the edge of the stage… if they were going to be paraded along the stage, surely then the edge of the stage would be the best place for whoever was organising (organising being a very loose term here) the whole thing to find them.

When we were allowed to eat, there was not food left because the kids had eaten it all. So the English department ate in the office in our own little buffet. We often get privileges like this. When we go out for whole school meals, we can’t sit with the other teachers, we have to sit with the head staff. I guess that’s nice, but I haven’t yet had an opportunity to get to know many of the staff outside of the English department, so sometimes I want to escape a bit.

Eventually we were told it would start in fifteen. My poor kids from my evening class were bored out of their minds because they didn’t know anyone else so just sat together looking dazed and confused.

And so, it began. It went on for hours and hours. Each class did a performance and some of them were really good. All scary, most dancing. Each class had a pair that went down the catwalk to be judged by the judges at the end. The teacher groups did performances too, the kindergarten, primary and secondary groups. Even my evening class kids went up and back. No performance from the English department, but, last but not least, we walked along and back, with no prep or anything.

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Then it was time for the Pumpkin Show. Students walked along the catwalk with their pumpkins which they clearly hadn’t made themselves. Lizzie had made a great one of the Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas, but wasn’t even entered into the competition, even after we were asked for an explanation over the choice of design a day or two before. The boy from my evening class didn’t get to display his pumpkin at the show either. I felt really let down and annoyed at that. I had been nagged to nag the kids in my class to bring a pumpkin, and there was no acknowledgement of his effort. So I bought him a prize that weekend to get to him the next class I taught.

Party games were next on the agenda. We had been grilled on ideas for party games for Halloween, and it had been whittled down to three games: piñata, pin the tail on the cat, and (as we know it in Scotland) dooking for apples (as usual, anything which I say is Scottish is told that it’s silly by anyone who isn’t… e.g. everyone), also known as apple bobbing. The piñatas were good, hadn’t been made by the English dept unlike everything else, but the kids who did them really enjoyed them. The dooking for apples wasn’t so successful. The kids couldn’t bite the apple so they ended up being told to see which pair could eat an apple the fastest – boring in comparison. The pin the tail on the cats, after all my hours of effort, weren’t even used, much to my disappointment. They (school) decided that the fun was over just before the cats were used. You can see them in the pictures, all sad and tail-less.

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We then, after the many hours of watching these Halloween events, had to take all the decorations down and tidy the hall. It wasn’t really that late then, it was around 9.30pm, but it honestly felt about midnight. Each tiny thing which we’d stuck on the wall had to come down, and each one pulled a chunk of paint and plaster with it. We were told we’d have to paint the hall if we did any damage. Luckily they took that threat back because I have seen less patchy patchwork quilts in comparison to the patchy walls in the school hall. It didn’t take long, maybe about 15 minutes with all English department hands on deck.

We headed to grab showers then Lizzie and I ended the day at the night market with some bread and noodle soup.






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