Sunday, October 08, 2006

Our first Golden Week: National Day and the Mid- Autumn Festival

We are just finishing our first Golden Week, a week with two major holidays and a couple extra days off thrown in as well. And despite it all being done now, we have very little understanding of what we were just celebrating. When talking about the week, Roycie said “I love staying up late” and Adam said “bunny rabbit to the moon.” And that really sums it up. We all stayed up late on a couple occasions and on one of those late nights we followed a man in a bunny costume as he walked around a swimming pool.

The golden week concept, I think, is a recent one, dreamed up to promote local tourism. And in fact many people do travel domestically or abroad. As China’s economy grows, more and more Chinese can take an annual trip, possibly to Hong Kong. Fellow expats also travel at this time. We were caught a little flat-footed on this holiday. We did not know it existed or that Tori would have a week off from school. But we enjoyed some quiet time around our new neighborhood, including taking advantage of no lines at our local amusement park, Ocean Park (lots of rides, an impressive cable car ride, marine animal shows, and of course pandas).

For National Day, October 1st, we went down town for dinner and fireworks. As our kids have never stayed up to watch 4th of July fireworks in DC, they were pretty excited about the prospect of it all. At their request, we took a double-decker bus to Central. This bus ride was big fun for them and for everyone else on the bus as the kids were wearing fairy wings and singing loudly the entire way. As we got closer to our destination, a building (I think the National Bank of China) had an electronic flashing displaying saying “1949-2006”. This was the first and only indication that we were indeed celebrating something linked to the People’s Republic of China. We later found out that October 1 was just decreed the National Day and not a date coinciding with something else (except our wedding anniversary). And that the celebration of National Day is much more elaborate on round five year intervals. Despite not knowing much, we enjoyed the fireworks, all at eye-level, as we were on the 49th floor!

For the Mid- Autumn Festival, we had more chances to learn about this holiday via what Tori repeated from school, a puppet show in the building and a dinner/culture show we attended across the street at the American Club. Still it took much collaborating and clarification to get a bare bones sketch of what was going on. I attribute this to the fact that the holiday and the accompanying legends go back thousands of years. All the way back to the Xia and Shang Dynasties around 2000 B.C. Loosely, the legend tells how the goddess Chang ascends to the moon. She and her husband are to drink a life eternal potion but he is murdered and she ends up drinking it all. A rabbit also fits into this legend but I don’t know how yet.

The Mid- Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month and is all about spending time with family and friends while enjoying the full moon and eating moon cakes. Moon cakes are a little like fruitcake and have a great history. Apparently, when China was ruled by the Mongols around 1200 A.D, Chinese insurgents successfully organized a rebellion by hiding their military plans inside the little cakes. Tori brought home from school a paper lantern and told us all we were to light a candle in the middle of the lantern. I was sure she had this part of the festival wrong but no, people do use fire to illuminate paper lanterns and then walk around the beach and parks. We substituted day-glow sticks and this worked fine too.


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