Fright night

Updated: 2014-10-31 08:04

By Mike Peters(China Daily USA)

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Ghosts and goblins are preparing to prowl Beijing's streets as Halloween's popularity grows in China. Mike Peters samples the tricks and treats available in the capital.

Immense brown spiders squat on orange cupcakes in a bakery window. Australian student Brian Wilson, 10, arrives at his international school with blood streaming out of a gash on his face. Skulls, some of them broken, leer menacingly from shop windows and billboard advertisements.

None of this weirdness around Beijing causes much alarm. The spider, the bloody gash and the skulls are all fakes, artful creations for a Western holiday that many in China have cheerfully imported.

For some, in fact, Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year.

"It's definitely like Christmas for me," says Nina Griffee, a British makeup and body-painting artist who runs branches of her art studio FaceSlap in Beijing, Hong Kong and Macao.

"Except we don't get any presents."

She and her team get a lot of business, though, as the artists roam between Halloween events, trendy bars and private house parties that started with celebrations last weekend.

"It's just super busy," she says at her Hong Kong studio.

"But when you face-paint for 36 hours straight, you get even better at it. At the end of it, you either love the job or hate it."

Fright night

Cupcakes put their scariest faces forward this week at bakeries in Beijing. Photos Provided to China Daily

Fright night

Left and right: Two partygoers get makeovers from the British makeup and body-painting artist Nina Griffee. Middle: A display of plastic jack-o'-lanterns creates a festive mood in Shenyang, Liaoning province.

Griffee is just one of hundreds of people, most of whom are expats, making the most of the holiday that inspires gruesome faces and creepy-crawly art. Fatface caterer Hsu Li will serve up macabre munchies at a "Death From Heaven" party on Friday night, where guests will be invited to eschew the usual black garb of Halloween, dress in white and dance the night away.

Beijing Moroccan bar owner Badr Benjelloun will team up with the Four Corners restaurant on Saturday night to combine fig-infused rum, salsa dancing and Brazilian capoeira performances with party fare. Carol Chow's bakery crew is churning out custom cupcakes topped with spooky faces as fast as muffin pans can clear the ovens.

"Believe it or not, I'm swamped by orders placed by Chinese customers this Halloween," says Chinese-American Jennifer Yeh, an artisan baker in the Beijing suburb of Shunyi.

Her Halloween treats are gluten-free cake lollipops with orange or white fright-mask faces.

Her daughter Nanda, meanwhile, will get to dress up twice. Her school doesn't promote Halloween but designated Friday as Autumn Harvest Day.

"Families are encouraged to bring in food and small items so kids can bring home some harvest," says Yeh.

"Costumes are welcomed from book characters or historic figures only. Nanda will be the Statue of Liberty for one day - an old bed sheet comes very handy for this task," she says, laughing.

"But Friday evening she will transform into a Gothic-looking vampire!"

Meanwhile, no one with WeChat has escaped the flurry of creepy masks, ghastly makeup and blood-curdling audio clips that have been flying over the Internet all week.

"The weirdest thing I was ever asked to paint," Griffee says, "was not on a person, but a cricket."

She got the call because a cricket owner decided his show insect was the wrong color before its imminent movie role, and he'd heard about Griffee's face-painting skills.

"I just said no," she says, wincing at the memory.

"I said: 'Can't you just change the color digitally?' I really think paint would have harmed the cricket."

One Halloween client was a two-year-old girl, who wanted the artist to paint David Beckham on her bare leg.

"What did she say?" her perplexed father asked.

Griffee held up a photo of the soccer superstar and repeatedly asked: "You want this?"

The child insisted, Dad shrugged, and Griffee went to work.

"A lot of the year we spend a lot of time painting kids," the artist says, noting that she's painted more butterflies and tribal tattoos than she cares to remember.

"But on Halloween, it's OK for a grown-up to say: 'Hey, I want to be a skeleton.' Adults are free to turn into children for the weekend. It's a cool thing."

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