Archive for September, 2007
Qinhuangdao. Without looking it up, what do you think it is?Â Post your idea.Â In a couple of days we will publish the answer.Â The most original response wins a prize (to be picked up at our house).Â Our first truly interactive posting!
In a few minutes we head out for our annual team retreat for the next 3 days…
– Dan6 comments
Traveling by bus to our friend’s home for the celebration
Today is the fifteenth day of the eighth month according to the lunar calendar, making it … you guessed it … the Mid Autumn Moon Festival! The Moon Festival has ancient roots and many accompanying folk stories – here is one of the popular versions:
The Legend of Chang E
No one is certain of all the details of the Chang E legend, but the story goes something like this:
Chang E was a beautiful young girl working in the Jade Emperor’s palace in heaven, where immortals, good people and fairies lived. One day, she accidentally broke a precious porcelain jar. Angered, the Jade Emperor banished her to live on earth, where ordinary people lived. She could return to the Heaven, if she contributed a valuable service on earth.
Chang E was transformed into a member of a poor farming family. When she was 18, a young hunter named Hou Yi from another village spotted her, now a beautiful young woman. They became friends.
One day, a strange phenomenon occurred — 10 suns arose in the sky instead one one, blazing the earth. Hou Yi, an expert archer, stepped forward to try to save the earth. He successfully shot down nine of the suns, becoming an instant hero. He eventually became king and married Chang E.
But Hou Yi grew to become a despot. He sought immortality by ordering an elixir be created to prolong his life. The elixir in the form of a single pill was almost ready when Chang E came upon it. She either accidentally or purposely swallowed the pill. This angered King Hou Yi, who went after his wife. Trying to flee, she jumped out the window of a chamber at the top of palace — and, instead of falling, she floated into the sky toward the moon.
King Hou Yi tried to shoot her down with arrows, but without success. Once on the moon, Chang E became a three-legged toad, as punishment from the Queen Mother, according to one version of the legend. Her companion, a rabbit, is constantly pounding the elixir of immortality in a large mortar.
The moon is also inhabited by a wood cutter who tries to cut down the cassia tree, giver of life. But as fast as he cuts into the tree, it heals itself, and he never makes any progress. The Chinese use this image of the cassia tree to explain mortal life on earth — the limbs are constantly being cut away by death, but new buds continually appear.
Meanwhile, King Hou Yi ascended to the sun and built a palace. So Chang E and Hou Yi came to represent the yin and yang, the moon and the sun.
The moon is particularly worshiped on this night, specifically by the women of the household (as the moon is considered female while the sun is male). Families will gather together to eat, and especially to share mooncakes. Mooncakes are round with scalloped edges, about the size of your palm. They can be filled with candied fruits, nuts, red bean or lotus paste or even meat. Stores here are packed to the brim with various types of mooncakes. A typical good quality mooncake cost about 10 RMB, but the fanciful wrappings for gift-giving can drive the cost above 100 RMB each.
Origin of Mooncake
Mooncakes have played a central role in Moon Festival traditions. Once, according to Chinese legend, mooncakes helped bring about a revolution. The time was the Yuan dynasty (AD 1280-1368), established by the invading Mongolians from the north. The Mongolians subjugated the Han Chinese.
According to one Chinese folk tale, a Han Chinese rebel leader named Liu Fu Tong devised a scheme to arouse the Han Chinese to rise up against the ruling Mongols to end the oppressive Yuan dynasty. He sought permission from Mongolian leaders to give gifts to friends as a symbolic gesture to honor the longevity of the Mongolian emperor. These gifts were round mooncakes. Inside, Liu had his followers place pieces of paper with the date the Han Chinese were to strike out in rebellion — on the fifteenth night of the eighth month.
Thus Liu got word to his people, who when they cut open the mooncakes found the revolutionary message and set out to overthrow the Mongols, thus ending the Yuan dynasty.
Today, far from the exotic and heroic legends, Chinese communities all over the world make and consume mooncakes during the traditional autumn Moon Festival. In San Franciscoâ€™s Chinatown, during the eighth annual Moon Festival, many stores will be selling modern-day mooncakes, the continuation of an honored tradition.
Tonight, Zach, Noah and I were honored to join our friend ‘Helen’ (the President of the English Club at our local university) and her family at their home for the Mid Autumn Moon Festival celebration. We enjoyed a wonderful, lavishly prepared dinner, shared mooncakes and learned more about their family and customs. Helen’s mother and grandmother are Buddhist, the rest of the family are atheists. It was interesting to learn more about Chinese style Buddhism, their views on the U.S. and their hopes for Helen’s future.
jiaozi waiting to be steamed (everything is prepared in a round shape for this festival)/our friend and her family/our gracious hosts working non-stop in the kitchen
Every time we are invited to visit a local family’s home, I am struck again by the genuine hospitality and warmth of the Chinese people. Generally speaking, most families in our city have significantly less (by material standards) than most westerners, but they graciously and generously share all they have with strangers. This is a cultural value in the East that impresses and humbles me. May we, who have been given everything in this life and the next, be as gracious to the strangers and foreigners we meet along our journey.
Two weeks ago, our dear friend Keith was able to visit from Michigan. He cheerfully brought with him about 200 pounds of dongxi (our favorite Chinese word – it means stuff in the Stuffmart sense of the word) for others and about 1/2 pound of his own belongings. We thoroughly enjoyed sharing our lives here – from Tienanmen Square to the brand new Tianjin Olympic Stadium to Harvest Coffee Shop for English Corner to the Great Wall and Scipmylo (field day at the international school), Keith jumped in with two feet. We were even able to host a Catan Fest in his honor. Thank you Uncle Keith for the wonderful visit – same time next year???
Daniel and Keith in front of the Forbidden City/Mia greets Keith upon arrival to Tianjin/Melva is ecstatic to see her long-time friend again/Beginning to unpack all the goodies (even Peppermint Patties – you are too kind!)/Keith, the tall American Superstar
Catan Fest – 13 players, one baby, four sleeping Kennedy kids in a small apartment – Wow.2 comments
We just wanted to share this wonderful picture with you. It was taken by our friend Mike Pollock during a school trip to learn and share with the beautiful people of Tibet.2 comments
Daniel and I in front of the main radio and TV station building for our city of 13 million.
Two Saturdays ago, Daniel and I were special guests on a local radio program. The show was called “East & West” – this daily program explores differences and similarities in western culture vs. the culture we live in here in China. The topic was language learning – the hows, whys and best methods of learning another language. One of our local friends from English Corner is one of the producers of the show and graciously invited us to participate in the program. As with all media in China, the government owns the radio station and heavily monitors its content. We will post a weblink to the program once it has been cleared and posted.
Here are a few pictures from our adventure:
“This is a station full of charms, a station you will find useful” – FM 92/the guests, DJs and producers of the program pose in front of the station’s sign (our friend John is on the far right)
One other interesting thing happened that day (only in China!) … another local friend who works in the TV station happened to be producing a kids version of “Let’s Make a Deal!” in the next building. She invited us over after the radio program to view the filming. What an interesting day for us!3 comments
If you have been reading our blog for awhile, you’ve probably noticed that we love to host dinner for our local friends. With four young children, dinner at our house is always a little chaotic and always a lot messy, but in some ways the chaos and the mess add to the warmth (or so I will choose to believe) – it is certainly not intimidating to visit this particular foreigner’s home!
So in our usual tradition, we invited over several local Family friends from last year, and also extended the invitation to two new friends. On the menu this time was Florentine lasagna (no ricotta or cottage cheese available, but it was still pretty good. And if you’ve never had lasagna before, you really don’t miss the ricotta!), Italian salad, garlic bread with olive oil and watermelon. The food was a hit and the company was even better.
Rachel was here to bless the group with her ever-popular hair braiding services, Melva was able to relate the truly very sweet “I’m really new to China, but I love it here!” stories and Daniel and I continued to provide comic relief with our attempts at joining the conversation in Chinese.
We look forward to many such dinners, and for the relationships that continue to be built among our local friends outside of our home.5 comments