“Do you like my new wound?” Nancy Boyd asks, proudly extending her arm. She shows off a festering wound that slashes her arm in two: purplish, with hints of blackish red, it’s fresh and pulpy.
“It looks so real, right?” she cackles, using a paintbrush to dab more purple on the fake gash. Boyd, principal of Taska Nakorn Sari in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, is preparing for her annual Halloween party. The 60-year-old is crazy about all things Halloween. Her house, where the party is to take place, is festooned with Halloween decorations. On her sliding doors, there are huge stickers of black ghosts and a giant cobweb.
Outside on her lawn, there’s a makeshift graveyard. Small cardboard tombstones – R.I.P. M. Monster, R.I.P. Dracula – rest against a sprawling tree. Eyeballs and miniature skeletons hang from the branches like baubles.
Opposite the graveyard, a life-size skeleton dangles from a tree.
But it’s not all doom and gloom: there are splashes of colour everywhere. Cutouts of bright orange pumpkins are pasted on the walls, the handiwork of the kindergarten children. The atmosphere is more kid-friendly than truly scary.
“We make it child-friendly, make it a fun thing,” Boyd says. The goal is to have the children exposed to a different culture, to celebrate something new. Boyd wants the kids to have an authentic Halloween experience, which includes trick-or-treating. A novel concept in Malaysia, she first started trick-or-treating with the kids in 2000.
“The neighbourhood here is quite nice, so I decided to try it. We started in the morning first,” she says. “When the kids, and the parents, got braver, we did it at night. It went well, and we’ve been doing it every year since.”
She has roped in willing neighbours to help. This year, around 80 children will troop over to 17 houses. The neighbours are given goodies to distribute to the kids. If they want, they can decorate their lawns and hand out their own candy and toys.
“I make sure that everyone has little toys more than all the sweets! The neighbours try to frighten the children, so it’s fun,” she says, eyes twinkling, letting out that infectious cackle.
Tradition with a twist
For Cecilia Yeo, 40, Halloween is all about fun and cultural exposure. Her four-year-old daughter, Ilena Chan, is a student of Boyd’s. Timid and shy, the little girl gravitates towards pink and girly costumes.
“I let her pick her costumes. She likes pink fairies,” Yeo says.
“I like the sweets,” Ilena pipes up, smiling demurely.
“It’s about exposure as well. When they see Halloween on TV – children going trick-or-treating – they can actually experience it for themselves,” Yeo adds. “As parents, we get into the fun ourselves. I’m coming as a ghost this year!”
Yeo’s excitement as a parent is palpable, and very different from the reactions Boyd first received at her Halloween parties.
“Parents were afraid then because they didn’t know much about Halloween,” she says. “But now they know, and are happy to participate.”
The kindergarten principal has a holistic approach to education, hoping to impart her international worldview to her students. She doesn’t believe in rote learning, instead using the power of play to teach. She doesn’t want her students to be limited by an insular outlook.
“We celebrate all the major festivals. You know, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, and Christmas,” she says, ticking them off on her fingers. “It’s culture for the children, and they get to learn about someone else’s culture.”
“I always make sure to add an element of fun,” she explains.
She has an unorthodox take on tradition, especially when it comes to Halloween. A highlight of her Halloween parties are the water gun wars, where children, parents and teachers douse each other from head to toe. Everyone ends up sopping wet, shrieking with laughter as they dry off.
Another must-see is the starry fireworks display at the end of the night. “Oh, the children really look forward to that,” Boyd chuckles.
The party starts with the costumes. Over the years, Boyd has accumulated a sizeable collection, with enough variety to satisfy even the pickiest child. She has superhero costumes, glitzy princess and fairy dresses, and flowing witch and wizard robes. For the littlest ones, there are cute animal outfits: a red ant with yellow spots, a cool shark, and a furry mouse.
“They really like dressing up. It’s not something they do every day. It gives them more confidence,” she says. “They can come out of their shells, and be as brave as they want.”
In the past, parents were hesitant to buy or make their children’s costumes, but now they’re more likely to plan ahead.
Artist Azarine Rahman and her sons Rayhan Khairi Choo, 10, and Dean Khairi Choo, 7, are gung-ho about gore this year.
“I have a box at home with all the props. One wants to be Jason from the movie and wear a mask, the other wants to be a scary skeleton,” Azarine says. “Since I craft, I can put together the kids’ costumes.”
“We like the candy,” Rahyan says.
“And we like to scare people,” Dean adds.
As alumni of Taska Nakorn Sari, the boys will join around 80 other students and ex-students at the party. The children will gather at Boyd’s house at 6pm, where they’ll play games like picking bones out of slime and tossing ping-pong eyeballs.
Boyd, an expert face painter, will get out her painting kit and work on their faces, brushing on streaks of scarlet blood and smearing on purple bruises. Tattoos (fake) are drawn for kids who want them.
Once the children are fed their dinners, the party will be divided into groups. Accompanied by 14 teachers and parent chaperones, each group will be handed a list of houses to visit.
A map of the neighbourhood is tacked up on the wall. (It turns out trick-or-treating sessions are planned with military precision.)
From 7.15pm to 8pm, the eager trick-or-treaters venture out, “demanding” treats from participating houses.
Friendly neighbours, armed with sweets and toys, greet the children, sometimes soaking them with sprays of water.
“I ask the teachers to sing songs from house-to-house,” Boyd says.
It creates an atmosphere of fun and fright, just enough to spook the kids without really scaring them.
Once they return to the house, the parents enjoy a potluck meal, complete with creepy finger biscuits and brain cakes.
To end the night, Boyd and her teachers stage a play. It’s a funny little production about hungry witches who want to feast on children.
“And then the head witch will say, ‘We will have the children to eat!’ Then I’ll ask, ‘Children, can the witches have you for dinner?’”
Boyd throws back her head and cackles loudly.
Want to learn how to make Nickelodeon’s green slime this Halloween? Read on to get your hands on this simple treat!
What you need:
White glue (4 oz or 120ml)
Borax laundry detergent
In one bowl, mix 1/2 cup (4oz or 120ml) white glue and 1/2 cup water. Add food colouring if you want bright green slime.
In the other bowl, mix 1 teaspoon Borax with 1 cup water until the Borax is dissolved.
Add the glue mixture to the Borax solution, stirring slowly.
The slime will begin to form immediately. Stir as much as you can, then knead it with your hands until it gets less sticky.