Looking ahead, we will have a week filled with rain, which makes me happy because it cleanses the air. Looking back, I have wonderful memories of our campus Chinese Cultural Fair, which I had been anticipating for two years, ever since my students first wrote about it in an assignment when I was teaching online at the beginning of the pandemic.

Luckily, it wasn’t raining last Saturday. The fair began at noon, so after I finished my lunch in the canteen, I wandered through the town square. The Club Carnival was the same afternoon, and the various clubs were setting up tables and awnings to showcase their activities. The number of booths was impressive, and I looked for our own ECO Club, which began a year ago as the Compost Club.

The students decided they wanted to branch out to other ecological issues. Now it has three parts: compost, where students collect scraps from the canteen kitchen, the fruit store, and the coffee shops to dig into our compost piles; an ecological survey, where we identify species of plant and animal life on campus; and publicity, which writes articles publicizing ecological concerns. I’m really proud of how the club has grown.

Each club had games and prizes at their booth, like spinning around five times and bouncing a volleyball 15 times to collect a special sticker. If you get a sticker from each club (I guess there were at least 30 of them) you can get a prize at the end. One booth was not a club, but a dressing booth for the hanfu show. Hanfu is traditional Chinese dress.

Two happy students grabbed me and invited me to try on some of the dresses. They helped me slip into a pink, silken robe, embroidered with flowers. It had long, white cuffs that they slipped back over my arms. They showed me a traditional pose and took photos of me with my camera and theirs. The second dress, a darker pink, and even more richly embroidered with red fringe off the shoulders like a shawl, had long cuffs that covered my hands and hung down about two feet. They had me rest my left hand over my right arm and draped the white cuff to hang behind my elbow.

Most of the games were too energetic, and I gave up on collecting stickers for a prize after a few dizzying tries. But the cultural performances were about to begin, so I wandered back to the stage area. Here, Christina, a Russian first year student, was one of the MCs, and she introduced the acts in English, while a Chinese student addressed us in Chinese.

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It was a little like the Academy Awards, with cue cards and the speakers keeping up a banter of information and jokes. A group of five musicians energetically drummed in the performances on large red drums with golden dragons chasing around the barrels. The first performance was a segment of a Chinese opera: He Wenxiu “Visiting his wife in a mulberry garden.” The graceful costumes and makeup were exquisite. There was folk music from a Chinese ensemble, children giving a martial arts demonstration, and my favorite, Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, full of acrobatics and magic.

We saw dance, a calligraphy display, and the hanfu show. One of my male students modeled a long, black robe, while my friend, Maria, wore a long dress of red and white, with an elegantly embroidered collar. She held a black fan and opened it to display. Everyone remained solemn in the slow choreography of the show.

I found out later that there were demonstrations of traditional arts and crafts. I heard from my students about lantern making, shadow plays, and calligraphy, but I couldn’t find these and went home to have a nap. Oh well, something to look forward to next year.

Walk in Beauty; Work in Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays teaches writing at UIUC and Zhejiang University in Haining, China. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856.