The Mid-Autumn Festival

By Charles Paquin

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“Autumn is only just beginning, it can’t be Mid-Autumn yet, M. Blogger”, might you be saying. You have got a point, but this is China here, so don’t always expect things to be logical or the way you’re used to, ok? China is a fairly modern country that is “westernizing” quite (too) rapidly, but it still remains unique in many ways. On the one hand, people here use the Gregorian calendar, the metric system, they drive on the right-hand side of the road, drink light beers, the usual stuff right? But on the other hand, national holidays are still based on the traditional lunar cycle here. I don’t know what the sky looked like in North America during the night of September 18 to 19 (the evening of September 19 in China), but did you notice the full moon anyway? It was the Harvest Moon, the biggest and shiniest of this year’s full moons. It was also the one closest to the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and in the ancient Chinese calendar it was the sign that Mid-Autumn had arrived.

So this tradition goes back a long way and celebrates the reunion of beloved ones as well as the pleasure of exchanging gifts. Sounds a bit familiar, right? The Festival’s culinary emblem is the famous moon cake, which actually looks more like a small, circular pie. Moon cakes are stuffed with all sorts of things: fruits, vegetables, nuts, dried meat, cheese, in combination or not. Not all of them are exactly delicious but, sshhhhh… Anyway, on the evening of September 19, the sky was cloudless and the moon was as pretty as it can get here. In Yantai, people gather year after year on the beach on this special night to dip their toes in the seawater and marvel at the big shiny celestial sphere. Moments such as this remind me why I came here in the first place…

The next day, I was invited to a party that one of my potential future boss’s landowner was throwing at a chic residential complex somewhere in town. Yes, exactly: when you’re a foreigner here, you get invited to all kinds of happenings by all kinds of people. In general, Chinese people really like to hang out with foreigners; but most of all, they usually love being SEEN with foreigners. It makes them look good, apparently… So anyway, when Lisa asked me to join her group at the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival party, she also insisted that I take part in the dance act she was going to perform along with other friends of hers… Wait, what? I tried to avoid humiliation by mentioning my ability to play drums, if that could ever be useful… Thankfully, Lisa was finally able to provide me with some percussions, something that brought a huge feeling of relief through my whole being.

So after a semi-official rehearsal on an incredibly humid Tuesday afternoon and after having learned a kitschy Chinese song on my iPOD during the three previous days, there I was. At 7 PM on a Friday night, on a stage in front of a crowd of strangers with five Chinese women I barely knew and who were dressed in shiny pink jackets. They were performing a dance of questionable quality while I was pounding on two bongos at the sound of the music and dripping with sweat right next to the spotlights… and I had just been here for eight days.

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Charles Paquin is currently participating in the CE Teach in China program

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