The Hunt for Orange October

It’s that dreaded time of year again. No, it is not Tax Day. Nor is it time for back-to-school dental check-ups that always end in the need to have a cavity filled. It isn’t even the shortest day of the year, when the sun seemingly rises and sets simultaneously.

It is Halloween.

I know some people love this holiday with a passion that most hold in reserve for their spouses and children and baby pandas. I admire those who can look upon this season of spooks and goblins as a blessing bestowed upon autumn by the pagans of years past.

I am not one of them.

Last year, I laid out my argument against Halloween in terms my dislike of most things in costume. (You are welcome to review that good-natured anti-Halloween diatribe here, in “Gourd Sculpting and Arachnid Treats.”) But there is more to my dislike of Halloween than just adults dressed as creatures from Star Trek that follow me around bars in Las Vegas. ( I would like to take a moment  to point out that toddlers and babies are excluded from my aversion to costumed critters. Whether it is a niece dressed as a puppy, the awesome kid who showed up on my doorstep dressed as a UFO in an outfit fashioned from two Rubbermaid trashcan lids fitted with Christmas lights, or a sleeping baby as nearly anything, whether it be animal, vegetable or mineral, I am on board. Little ones in cute costumes are adorable. The distaste starts when the disguised reach middle school. Sorry niece #1- you’ve hit the line this year! Unless, that is, you fathom some awesomely literary costume, of course. Then I will reconsider my arbitrary line.)

Although the costumed creatures are reason enough to not have Halloween on my “favorite days of the year” list (which I don’t have a physical manifestation of, but does exist in my head), I also cannot get on board with the black and orange thing. Black is okay. It is slimming. It makes for a nice little dress. On a car, it can help hide dirt. But, orange? Nope. Rarely is orange a flattering color and it is impossible to rhyme in a poem. It is a waste of a wedge on the color wheel.

Regardless of my personal feelings about Halloween, part of my CLO job is to plan/host events for our community in Chengdu.  Any such day that is uniquely American or culturally significant becomes a bigger deal when you are living overseas. People want their kids to experience Easter like they would in the US, with a giant bunny who delivers eggs filled with chocolate in baskets of plastic grass. They want an abundance of red, white and blue streamers amid which they can eat BBQ while celebrating the birth of our great nation. And, they want Halloween– costumes, trick-or-treating, jack o’ lanterns. ..the works.

To prepare for this festival of ghosts and ghouls, we needed pumpkins, as I am hosting a carved-pumpkin contest next week. (I hesitate to call it a jack o’ lantern contest, as entrants might have to be creative with how they design their oddly shaped gourd art.) Out went the call for pumpkin orders and in they came. With a total required number of orange orbs surpassing the two-dozen mark, I thought I’d get thirty, just to be safe.

With the help of our staff gardener, I headed out to a wet market on the edge of Chengdu, which was great because I love markets! There is something fabulous about seeing all the fresh produce stacked and ready for purchase. The colors in an outdoor market seem more vivid and vibrant. The smells are more aromatic. (This is true for both the pleasant scents and the not-so-pleasant odors that waft on the breeze.) Markets tend to have a different sort of shoppers than supermarkets, which is also intriguing to experience.

Chinese pumpkins aren’t quite the same as American pumpkins. (I am sure there is scientific nomenclature that would trace the lineage of these various gourds, but that isn’t my world. In the US, I see large, round, very orange pumpkins. In China, I see large, squat, toadstool-like, slightly orange gourds trying to pass themselves off as pumpkins.) But, Chinese pumpkins are the only choice, so we’ll do our best with what we have.

After digging through a woman’s enormous pile of pumpkins, sorting out the best, most-likely to be carve-able ones, we had a stack of thirty chosen gourds. As the gardener picked through the stack, helping me along in the process, getting a “hao” (thumbs-up) or “bu hao” (thumbs down) on each selection, he quickly caught on to what I was looking for and supplied a good number of pumpkins to our purchase-pile.

At one point, looking up from my hunt for the next great pumpkin, I glanced over my shoulder to see a crowd of probably fifteen or twenty people, mostly older folks, watching the show. I can only imagine what they must think of the blonde woman in a skirt and galoshes, buying thirty pumpkins. Is there a good story to fill in those gaps?

Thanks to the help of the gardener, I was able to haul my load of necessary Halloween adornments back to the consulate where they were quickly picked up by those who had submitted orders, taken to be carved in to…I actually have no idea.

While Halloween is not high on my list and I’m not a big fan of dressing up, I will be celebrating more than I have in years.  (My current costume plan is to go as the great Chicago Bears defensive player, #99, Shea McClellin, but Thad tells me he is pretty sure Shea never wore gray yoga pants with his jersey.)  And it will be great! I’ll judge funky-shaped carved pumpkins, that I am sure will be extraordinary, since our community is amazingly creative. I’ll hand out candy from the “trunk” of my hot-pink scooter during the “truck or treat.” And I’ll do it all with a genuine smile on my face because distinctively American holidays are just a little more special when you live on the other side of the world.

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6 thoughts on “The Hunt for Orange October

  1. I don’t comment on all your blog posts, but I do read all of them. I feel it is not necessary for me to comment on some of the more gender specific posts because my old codger clashes with your upbeat, dare I say yuppie, outlook. I do think you are a very good story teller, and I always get pictures in my head that are very similar to the ones you post. I admire your ability to find some good in almost everything, and even to make a story about something you dislike a treat to read. I am a fan, since your Washington D.C. days when I became aware of your blog, thanks to your Mom. I have been able to travel, as it were, through your blogging skills, and I am grateful for the experience. I have been to both Taiwan and Hong Kong while in the Marine Airwing, but they were short visits and not much time to soak up the culture. Spent almost a year in Japan, and managed to learn quite a bit, I admire that culture on several levels. I also spent a year running back and forth from the Phillipines and Da Nang Vietnam. Spent time in Okinawa, and several places in Europe thanks to a Med cruise, courtesy of the Navy and an aircraft carrier. All Marine pilots have to be able to land on carriers and since the Navy could not service the computer warfare version of the EA6A we flew, so did the maintenance crews. So have had some travel, but to have to learn the language and immerse yourself in the culture, this is something I envy about the life you and your husband are living. The fact that every two years you will be uprooted and sent somewhere else, well I will have to reserve my opinion until I read a few of your blogs on the subject when it happens. So keep writing, you are a valuable information source as well as entertaining, a rare combination!


    • John,

      Thanks for being such a loyal reader! I’m glad you enjoy the entries so much. I do like sitting on my living room floor, with the laptop on the coffee table, cobbling together words in a way that will hopefully put people in my world, not just tell them about it.

      And you are probably right on with the yuppie thing, although we go with DINK as our label of choice. (Double Income, No Kids.) They are both pretty spot-on descriptors.

      Thanks for dropping by and feel free to pass the address along to others you think might be interested.


  2. Ah…the one thing you and I differ greatly on. Halloween is my favorite! I am totally in love with the pumpkins, the decorations, the cute little kid costumes, and everything that comes with the changing of the seasons. I have to admit…I’m with you on the older kids trick-or-treating though. We’re planning on cutting Dar off at 12. I’m also kind of a wimpy Halloween lover. I don’t like anything scary. I can’t watch horror movies and I don’t like haunted houses. I like the “cutesy” Halloween.

    You did pretty darned good on your pumpkin shopping from the sounds of it. Your stash looks admirable. Have a great time with your party and carving!


  3. Wonder if I’ll miss my own festivities overseas, I’ll definitely miss Día de Muertos but Día de la Independencia? I would think not… but I wouldn’t bet on it.


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