Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy Birthday PEOPLES Rep. of China

According to my very un-scientific poll on Facebook, the outside world did provide news coverage and recognition of the China's 60th National Day. (That is, a few of my friends did, indeed, hear about China's October 1 Birthday Party.) Reviews of the 16 hour extravaganza in Beijing continue to be replayed here. It was spectacular. Eighty-thousand school children stood in formation holding red and yellow flowers to create an aerial view of the flag and other Chinese characters. There were dancers and singers and representatives from all 56 of the minority groups who live here. The parade of military branches was orchestrated in extreme detail as well. It reminded me of how impressed I was after the opening ceremonies of the olympics here in 2008. "We got people." is some company's motto. It could definitely be China's slogan!

Anyway, the PEOPLE'S Republic of China (PRC) is a mere 60 years old. If you're like me and think of Chinese history as being ancient and full of dynasty names ending in "ing" or "ang", this seems like a WAY TOO SMALL number. This birthday is based on Chairman Mao's declaration of the exsistence of the PRC in 1949. His powers were firmly established (with strong ties to the Chinese Communist ) and with the oust of Dr Sun Yat Sen's "Republic of China" (ROC) followers. (The ROC leaders fled to Taiwan and remain there, hence the strife between China and Taiwan.) If you want to read more (after 16 hours of hoopla, I did), follow this link to a Wikapedia timeline of Chinese history. Go to the bottom of the timeline, which appears at the right margin of the page, and click on the categories in the section about Modern Chinese History.

It turns out that when the "birthday" hits a multiple of 5, (like 55 0r 60), China has a mega-holiday and review of the troops. It would be a wise financial move to invest in a company that makes Chinese flags just prior to one of these celebrations. (next one is 2014; don't say I didn't tell you so). I can only imagine Beijing, the epi-center of all of this. Shenzhen, where we live, is covered in flags! On the interstates, you can drive for miles and every light pole has 2 flags. National pride appears to be very high.

Our family arose early on October 1 in order to watch the neighborhood security force (it is sizeable to protect all of us westerners and our "stuff") raise the flag. They had announced there would be a ceremony in the last monthly neighborhood newsletter. Since the event took place at 8:00 am, we did not expect MANY residents. Sadly, we were the ONLY residents. Our guards, who normally don hawiian shirts and wave friendly hellos to us, had worked on a crisp march and chants. They even wore Chinese military uniforms. Music (the National Anthem?) blared from loudspeakers, and the staff not in the marching unit stood at a proud attention. We stood out of respect as the flag passed. (This is a behavior ingrained in me from many a Memorial Day/Fourth of July/Sports Event occasion. ) It was a small but sincere and solemn effort. I was glad we were there.

This vast, ancient yet young, and very POPULATED place, is my current home. It is not easy for me to grasp all of it's complexities but I think I should try. The world has grown so small that we are all affected by one anothers significant events. A birthday is a big deal.... just as I hoped when I celebrated my own birthday recently, may the best be yet to be....

Let Them Eat (Moon) Cake!

Before beginning this post, I went to the NBC web-site to see if there were any news stories related to it. I realized that China's holidays would not be a lead story, but I was sure there would be some references. To my surprise, the ongoing, simultaneous, celebrations of China's "Birthday" and of one of her most significant annual holidays (The Mid-Autumn Festival) were not mentioned anywhere! I admit I did not search too hard, but I didn't think I would have to. These events are the ONLY STORIES here. I wish I were more scholarly and able to do justice to the subjects. Because I am not, a brief summary and some pictures will have to do. This post will try to enlighten readers about the Autunm Festival. (I'll post later about the National Holiday. Maybe it WILL get coverage in the USA and it will be old news!)

Every fall, on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, China celebrates the mid-autumn festival. This tradition can be traced back to 2170 BC. It is a time when family members gather for meals, especially the eating of "Moon Cakes" and pomelos (picture included - it's a giant grapefruit.). There are several legends that surround the festival and highlight our celestial giant, the moon. (Google the "Moon Featival" and read about Chang-O or the Jade Rabbit.) It is also customary to decorate with colorful lanterns and stay up with family members and gaze at the moon.

Since our family is a part of a chapter of "Families With Children From China of East Tennessee - FCC-ET" we have had the pleasure of participating in several Knoxville-based celebrations of the Moon Festival. I thought I had a really good idea of how this worked. In Knoxville, we would gather at a park on a full moon evening. Among those present, there was usually some vague discussion about what a moon-cake was. Then we would eat various round foods with our girls (eg: cookies, pizza), make paper lanterns, read a legend, and march with flashlights around the park. We also shared other tasty foods, pot-luck style and enjoyed the company of our "family" of other friends with the common China adoption experience. The togetherness was definitely "authentic" Chinese. BUT, it is the "Moon Cakes" that have made an impression on me as we experience our first Mid-Autunm festival.

Moon cakes are EVERYWHERE! There are special displays in every store & hotel lobby. Ladies in special costunes stand near the displays and escort buyers to the check-outs. Though you can get reasonably priced ones in individual wrappers, many boxes of 4-6 small cakes cost $20 -$30 USD and much higher! They are wrapped elaborately and boxed beautifully and given as gifts by everyone, to everyone. Bill came through the door day after day exclaiming "more Moon Cakes!" He and others in his office got many from various vendors.

And what IS a "Moon Cake"? It is a cookie-ish/cake-ish outer crust, stamped on the top with pictures or chinese characters. Inside is a filling which is the consistency of very thick peanut butter. It is made from lotus seed paste and tastes sort of nutty/sweet/salty. In the very center is a whole egg yolk which (apparently) has dried or baked intact in the process of making the cakes. It is - I surmise - the moon! (I opened a moon cake to take a picture for this post and it had TWO MOONS! I probably would have double good fortune if I ate it - but I didn't....)

I have concluded that moon cakes could be compared to that US holiday "favorite": the fruit cake. They must be an acquired taste - surely somebody eats them because they are produced in great quantities. We ate some of our moon cakes, then we shared them with workers, neighbors, everybody! But they seemed to multiply in our pantry! We'd give one and receive two! The only variety that did NOT multiply was the unique "Dove Chocolate" mooncakes sent by some Chinese friends who know the family weakness. Enjoy the included photos of (only some of) our moon cakes. Also, I included a photo of the MANY gorgeous lanterns installed near the entry of our neighborhood.
Enjoy the's the same one we're gazing at here in China..... Happy autumn!