Ritual – 中秋節

Standard

moon festival

 

Let your feet take you to Chinatown,
to the bakery recommended to your mother by the owner of a Chinese bookshop.
Stare at the many flavors of moon cakes through the glass case as customers jostle you, speaking Mandarin and Cantonese.
Try to decipher the price-tags.
Ask for two moon cakes. You can’t eat a whole box alone.
When asked if it’s a gift, say, oh no, it’s just for you. Don’t bother wrapping it.
They don’t take debit, you have no cash.
Wander the surrounding blocks until you find an ATM.
Withdraw money. With gratitude.

Return.
The server will ask if you speak Cantonese.
You wonder if it’s because you are wearing the jade pendant your grandmother gave you
because you wanted to see what it would feel like to be visibly Chinese.
It seems to be working.
You respond, siu siu, gong siu siu. I speak a little.
She calls you lang lui, pretty girl, says you are ho lek, very clever.
She is impressed that you cho dan che, rode your bike.
Take the moon cakes, stuff them into your backpack,
carry on with your errands.

Let your feet take you to the neighbourhood greasy spoon with all day breakfasts and authentic Xi-an cuisine.
Eat lunch.
Wish the owners a zhong qiu jie kwai le, happy mid-autumn festival.
Let your feet take you grocery shopping, to the corner grocer.
They have pomelos dressed in red ribbons.
Buy one.
Don’t stop to ask yourself how you will eat it all by yourself.
Stuff it in your backpack, and carry on with your errands.

Ask a friend if she wants to eat moon cakes with you. She’s busy.
Wonder how you will eat one alone.
They’re too sweet.

Return,
to your house.
Ask the internet to teach you
your traditions.
It will tell you that tonight is the autumnal equinox, the harvest moon.
A moon bright enough to harvest by.
That this is the second most important Chinese festival.
That moon cakes and round fruit symbolize completeness and unity.
That this festival is about gathering with family, giving thanks for the harvest,
and praying.
Together.

Follow a Facebook link about the origins of the festival.
The story of the woman who swallowed the elixir of immortality and flew up to the moon to become a goddess.
So the festival is about worshipping the moon, heaven and earth.
You had forgotten, but now you recall your mother telling you this story when you were a child, can hear her voice.
You learn that fruit and moon cakes must be laid out for the Earth God and the Moon Goddess
and that people should share moon cakes,
one slice for each member of a family.
But you are alone right now.
And you have no incense.

You look out your bedroom window.
The moon is bright and round.

Let your feet take you to the kitchen.
Take dragon eyeballs (long an),
three candles, and the
small moon cake your cousin brought you from Hong Kong.
Place on a tray.

Let your feet take you outside, into your backyard.
Light the candles.
Lift your head and look up at the bright moon.
Lower your head and think about home,
wherever that is.

Lift your head, and wonder how to pray.
Think of heaven and earth.
Break the moon cake in half.
Eat.
Tell yourself you should enjoy it.

* * *

Quiet Night Thoughts, 静夜思

Li Bai (李白)

床前明月光
疑是地上霜
舉頭望明(山)月
低頭思故鄉

Chuang qian ming yue guang
Yi shi di shang shuang.

Ju tou wang ming yue,
Di tou si gu xiang.

Before my bed
There is bright-lit moonlight

So that it seems
Like frost on the ground:

Lifting my head
I watch the bright moon
Lowering my head
I dream that I’m home.

 

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