A Uni Ball, Chinese Style.

17 Jun

Two Fridays ago Dave and I went to a student ball and wow, what an eye-opener that was. I can’t really say that it was good but it was entertaining and ultimately I did enjoy myself. It’s the first time the students at University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC from now on) have organized something like this but given that it had already been called the Annual Masquerade Ball I reckon it was the first of many.

Because it was a work thing I initially wasn’t going to go but as a few other friends/colleagues were going, in the end, we decided to make a night of it. So we donned our glad-rags and headed to the Sofitel Hotel for a night to remember… or uhm, 2 ¾ hours to be more specific.

Now, I’ve never been to a departmental ball or a charity ball. The only balls I went to at university were a whole bunch of the sport balls and a couple of graduation ball, none of which I remember much of! But I assume any uni ball in UK follows these basic steps:

  1. Meet with friends/team mates/society mates at somebody’s house that is close to the shuttle bus stop. Get as many drinks in as possible while doing last-minute touch-ups to make-up and outfit. Take lots of pictures while you can still focus the camera.
  2. Get on bus (avoiding the one with the rugby boys’ team on it) and drink the bottle of whatever you managed to smuggle on.
  3. Arrive at whatever hotel and eat the 3-course dinner with the dessert being eaten without the use of your hands (to anyone who didn’t have the pleasure of attending a uni ball in the UK, yes, that’s right, that means hands behind your back, face in your food), tank the included wine, clap while awards and whatnot are being handed out, get more drinks at the bar, heckle the celebrity speaker (or try to stop your boyfriend from heckling the celebrity speaker), get more drinks at the bar, hide your handbag and shoes under the table, get more drinks at the bar, hit the dance floor, throw some shapes.
  4. The great thing about a ball in Scotland is the ceilidh which breaks up the evening of cheesy-Top10-pop-songs-and-80’s-anthems shape throwing. A ceilidh band will play traditional dances and with the help of a “caller” (who calls out each step of the dance for those who dinnae learn at school… or who cannae remember… or who are te drunk te remember) the 400 or so people will partner up and try to do the Gay Gordon’s or Whisk the Willow.
  5. Madness ensues. Drinking, fighting, crying, shagging. Lost handbags, shoes, dinner jackets, cameras and underwear (yes, that’s right). Until last orders are called at 2am and after about 10hours of having a night to remember you stumble onto the shuttle home (where you’ll join the rugby boys singing “Show Me The Way To Armarillo”).

You can probably imagine that the UNNC’s First Annual Masquerade Ball was nothing like this. WHATSOEVER.

First of all, it was scheduled to run from 6:30-9:30pm. THREE HOURS!! I mean, even Cinderella’s curfew was midnight! Is three hours even worth the hassle of finding and buying a dress? Judging from the students’ outfits, it certainly was! All of them looked stunning! (I have to remind everyone that all these kids come from extremely wealthy families; University of Nottingham Ningbo is China’s most expensive university, so believe you me, everyone was decked out!) Lots of short chiffon and satin party numbers (nude hues being very en vogue this season) though there were some proper full length ball gowns in the midst as well. And a chick in a short, black, body-con dress, black stiletto boots and a black cape!! It sounds ridiculous but she looked awesome!! And the boys all wore skinny suits with funky lapels and shiny shoes. Hair done Korean pop star style. Topped off with the masks everyone wore, the whole room looked very stylish.

So, everyone made such an effort and it’s all for three hours?

Here, I have to mention that student dorms lock their doors at 11pm, if you’re not in by 11pm you’ll have to find somewhere else to sleep. However I don’t really think that’s the reason why the evening was so brief.

It seems to me that the Chinese like to have a programme. Something to do, watch, eat. And when that’s over, it’s time to go home. When Chinese eat in a restaurant it’s eat and leave, there’s no socializing with a drink afterwards. At weddings, many will leave after the ceremony and food. In Chinese nightclubs playing dice and singing karaoke are the preferred activity.

So the ball had two student hosts that were in this kind of mock conversation with each other while introducing various performances and speeches. Good on them for getting up in front of all their peers and attempting to do these skits, but it was a bit cringeworthy at times.

Dave’s head of the department couldn’t make it so as team junior Dave was made to give a quick opening speech. He’s very popular with his students and the fact that he was wearing a kilt – “Oh, Fleming, I like your dress!” – got him endless photo requests. After his speech there were a series of student performances: ball room dancing (!!), “modern” dance (skinny Chinese girls gyrating and trying to imitate Beyonce? Uhm… not so good), a band performance (they looked like a Chinese Green Day, had a girl drummer and were not bad), solo performances and later-on Cape Girl gave a speech about NUTS (a newly founded university TV station) and a short movie was shown where students had been interviewed about what they liked about UNNC and life on campus. Unfortunately it was in Chinese – Cape Girl apologized to staff about this – “we can better express our emotions in Chinese” – but for some reason I couldn’t stop watching it anyway because it seemed really sweet.

Unfortunately all the chairs had been lined along the wall so, of course, most people were sitting on them instead of dancing or mingling. The ballroom was way too big for the amount of people there and it created a large empty space between everyone and the stage which obviously killed the atmosphere of any performance or speech. How To Host A Party 101: limit the number of chairs! And don’t play waltzes: the organizers must have taken the term “ball” a little too literal because in between the performances only classical, waltzy music was played which was completely bizarre. I mean, where’s the cheese? The Korean boyband pop songs that everyone loves so much??

So with the waltzy music, plush hotel ballroom, ball gowns and masks… but with Chinese people everywhere, it felt like being in some warped Venetian costume drama.

The NUTS speech was the finale on the programme and when Cape Girl thanked everyone for coming it was like the end-of-class bell had rung: A whole chunk of people left, some people went to the bathroom to change into their ordinary clothes and THEN came back into the ballroom to mingle (huh??) and in general the event’s atmosphere seemed a lot more relaxed. Or maybe it just seemed like that to me because the wine had kicked in by then.

Oh yeah, and the whole thing finished 45min early! Early!! I can’t even comment on that.

I hung around while Dave and Clif (Dave’s Ozzie colleague who stays with us half the week) did one more round of photos with their students and, as they were quite merry by this time, had a little waltz with each other. While I waited I managed to witness what I thought was a marriage proposal! The ballroom had more or less emptied by this time save about 15-20 students who were excitedly chattering in Chinese. They lined up in two rows, facing each other, all holding electric candles and swaying.  There was a little, skinny girl at the one end of this “aisle” of people. Then a boy walked through the aisle and stopped in front of the girl. The crowd hushed and then he gave what appeared to be a very grave speech. The girl looked absolutely terrified and super embarrassed and at the end of his 5-minute long tirade, while he eagerly lent towards her she only very hesitantly gave him a timid kiss. Which made the onlookers go mental with cheering and clapping! The couple then walked out of the ballroom and I asked one of Dave’s students what it was all about.  As it’s very common here to get married straight after uni I was thinking I’d just witnessed an end-of-year-end-of-uni marriage proposal, but no. It wasn’t even his undying love for her that he was confessing or an attempt to ask her out, he was simply letting the girl know that he had a crush on her. I don’t know why this strikes me as so strange, maybe some of you are thinking it’s romantic, but with all those people there and the electric candles and the swaying and the clapping… it was weird! But I guess it worked for the guy: a timid kiss is better than no kiss at all, ey? Though once out of the room and out of sight of their friends I saw the girl punch the boy on the arm!

Thus ended the masqueraded night to remember. Even though the wine had been served in thimble-sized proportions Dave, Clif and I had managed to salvage a lot of thimbles and we rolled out of there quite jolly. The university’s department of Teaching English was having their end-of-semester dinner in one of the Sofitel restaurants so we gate-crashed and later-on went for a few drinks in town. So all in all, a very good Friday night.

Except this minor development:

I’d bought this pink plastic mask to wear to the ball but unfortunately it was – you know – Made In China and therefore – you know – crap: the colour had rubbed off onto my skin so that I looked like I’d burnt my cheekbones and forehead with a hot iron. My chick friends kept coming up to me and discreetly whispering to me that “Uhm, Mira, you might want to check your make-up in the bathroom, I think you may have overdone the blusher.”  I tried scrubbing it away with soap and water but the stains wouldn’t budge which made me wonder what the hell they put into the plastic and it worried me a bit! But hey, you go to a Chinese masquerade ball wearing a Chinese mask, you have to live with the Chinese consequences! And there’s nothing another drink won’t fix!

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