Sim: “What is a good Halloween tradition in America?”
Greg: “Hmmm…well carving faces into pumpkins is a very old tradition.”
(I failed to mention that so is smashing them)
Sim: “Really? Will you carve some pumpkins for the hostel?”
Greg: “Uhhh…don’t know…it’s messy and I’m a little tired.”
Sim: “If you carve one, I will make a Halloween party and drinks are on the house.”
[sounds of Greg choking as he jumps up too quickly]
Greg: “Be right back!”
…and so went the conversation in Chengdu, China, last year at one of my favorite guest houses. Very quickly I found myself literally running down the busy street with an Australian and an Israeli around 22:00, looking for a market to buy a couple of pumpkins. Vagabonding can be so random sometimes — random and beautiful.
Cars honked and people on bicycles cursed us in Chinese as we pushed down the broken sidewalk, but we paid no mind — this was a very serious mission indeed!
In a matter of minutes, we were searching all over a gigantic indoor market (consequently owned by Wal-Mart) for the fresh produce. No one could even dream up the Chinese word for pumpkin, so we covered every foot of the sprawling place. Finally, on the third floor, we encountered a bin of watermelons and squash. Interesting to note, Chinese Wal-Marts are red. Surprise.
A quick search indicated that this was the closest thing we were going to get to a pumpkin in Western China, so back down the street we ran carrying innocent vegetables and fruits to their doom. Back at the guesthouse, and a messy knife-wielding 30 minutes later, we were looking at two slightly sad, but functional jack-o-lanterns. The resident white rabbit gave us a hand by cleaning up the seeds.
The owner of the guesthouse was so pleased to be promoting a Western holiday that he threw a sizable party, drinks and food included. The weather was cold and there were maybe only a dozen of us or so, but I could not have asked for a better Halloween.
Sim loved our squash-o-lantern attempts and posed with us for lots of photos documenting this monumental occasion. There were no fishnet stocking “costumes”, no candy, no ghosts, and no fake blood — but we partied the frosty night away in the open lounge anyway…and did our best to ignore the foreign smell of hot, burning watermelon.
The year before, I found myself in northern Italy partying with lots of friendly Italians. This one was more oriented toward the kids getting candy, and once again there were no costumes, but we made the most of an incredible night that I will never forget.
It looks like this will be my third Halloween in a row without a proper costume or pumpkin — I will be in L.A. doing who knows what. Maybe I’ll get lucky and stumble upon a big haunted mansion.
Since Halloween is somehow becoming a vagabonding benchmark, I wonder where I will be next year?
I will say that it feels good not to know!