Long time no update, huh?
I will admit to a sudden infliction of extreme laziness when it came to keeping up with relatives/friends and this blog. I will also admit to the extreme amount of shame I have felt for this action. The last couple of weeks have been filled with holidays for me. The end of September and the beginning of October for China includes both the Mid-Autumn Festival (which is in sync with the lunar calendar) and the National Day (which celebrates the founding of the modern China on October 1, 1949). In the case of the first holiday, this meant a 3 day holiday (one one day of which I received due to my condensed class schedule on MTW) and a 7 day holiday in the case of the National Day. This post will be separated into two parts, one part containing the ancient Chinese myth which underlies the Mid-Autumn Festival and the second of which will tell of out National Day dinner experience in Zhengzhou!
I will relate one of the myths that deals with the Mid-Autumn Festival. Please note that this is the tale that was told to me by my students and may not be entirely accurate. I beg your indulgence.
A long time ago there was an individual named Houyi, an immortal who had been banished from the heavens for falling in love with a beautiful mortal named Chang’e. During this period of Chinese history there were 10 crows that shone as brightly as suns when they flew. One day, the crows in their mischievousness decided to all fly around the Earth at the same time, causing the surface to burn and scorch. Houyi, who had become a very skilled archer, shot down 9 of the 10 birds and was revered as a hero.
Houyi was handsomely rewarded by the Emperor with a medicine which would impart immortality to him, but cautioned to wait for some time before taking it, to ensure that immortality was what he really wanted. One day Houyi was called away on urgent business. During his time away, Chang’e discovered the medicine and quickly drank it (the reason why she would do such a thing is never stated– but then myths aren’t entirely rational, are they?).
She immediately began to fly into the night sky. She flew high and far until, eventually, she reached the moon. This is where the story gets a bit crazy. Apparently there is a hare that lives on the surface of the moon. Chang’e, longing to return to to her beloved husband Houyi, ordered the hare living on the moon to create another medicine which would allow her to return to the Earth. It is said that even now the hare is in the process of preparing the necessary herbs to create such a medicine.
Typically, up to this point in the story my students maintain a cohesive story. However, occasionally one of my classes will then add this line:
Also, Chang’e lives with on the surface of the moon with a woodcutter.
There is no significance to this line in the story. I have asked one of my classes to come to class on Monday with some of their favorite Chinese myths and tall tales, and we will have a story telling class. It should be rather fun.
Regardless of the underlying myth of the holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival remains today as one of China’s most important festivals and is similar in nature to the U.S. Thanksgiving. Many Chinese people gather together with their families and celebrate the day by enjoying a fine meal and by partaking in the light of the full moon whilst munching on the (supposedly) delicious and ubiquitous mooncakes.
These pictures were stolen from Google Image search. Please don’t hate me.
Mooncakes are the traditional food for the Mid-Autumn Festival and they can range from having a strawberry flavor, to a 5-nut flavor, to a (what I imagine to be) disgusting meat flavor. In my mind, the only good mooncake is a not-mooncake. They are simply unpalatable and, most likely, not vegan.
So let’s talk of the National Holiday!
On October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was formally founded at Tienanmen Square. Since then, the Chinese have celebrated the date with a 7-day holiday from October 1 to October 7th, characterized by lavish dinners, excessive fireworks, and lots and lots of Chinese flags.
This year the foreign teachers were invited to a National Day dinner in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. The dinner took place on the September 30th and included an appearance by many of the province’s most important individuals, including the Governor and Deputy-Governor as well as the General of Henan Province’s Army troops. We arrived around 6:45, about 15 minutes prior to the start of the dinner. Josh and Ben sat at one table with the head of the Foreign Expert Department as well as the President of Henan University. Marlie and I (along with the Russian teacher, Anastya) sat at a different table with a collection of other Chinese men.
The dinner began with a speech by some Chinese man about the increasing industrialization and technological advancements of Henan province. The speech concluded with a toast, at which point the mingling section of the dinner began. As it turns out, events such as the event are not intended to actually serve as a dinner, but rather as an opportunity for the individuals to hob-nob with each other and chat about ongoing events. Much red wine and baijiu was drunk by us, and we enjoyed meeting a cavalcade of other foreigners from Henan province. We even got a chance to meet the General of the Army forces in Henan province as well as the head of the major department stores in Zhengzhou. The dinner was brief– only managed to last about an hour and a half before we were back in the van on our way home to Kaifeng.
Please enjoy the following pictures and video (the pictures document our dinner and the video is of the lovely Chinese band which performed traditional music in the time period prior to the start of the dinner). You can click on the pictures to make them larger, too.