As of this writing, it is about 11pm on a Thursday night. The autumn moon is hanging brightly above a cloudless sky of Los Angeles which I call home. Since this is the US, unfortunately, there is no holiday for us. I envy the long weekend holidays in those countries that officially celebrate this delightful festival known also as the “Lantern Festival”.
It doesn’t matter. I’m going to play hookie tomorrow and follow Hong Kong’s example. This is my third entry on this festival since I joined italki. How time flies. Unlike the past two years, there was no gathering on this actual day of the festival. Just all by myself, treating myself to something good under the bamboos and viewing the bright circular orb up in the cloudless sky.
My memories harkened me back to my days of old; with lanterns in our hands, my siblings and I would explore the darkness within the safety confines of our garden. It was one of the rare occasions that we were allowed to venture out into the night and not having to go to bed at the appointed hour; to which we thought, was ridiculously early. In the daytime, the large garden (to our eyes) was a friend but in the night, a scary stranger and yet we could not resist. In trepidation, we surged onwards into the darkness. And yet we hoped that some monster would jump out at us and frightened the shit out of us! Yes, those were the simple thrills of childhood.
Then, inevitably, sometime into our foraging, one of us would trip and the lantern caught fire from the lighted candles within. This was our biggest thrill of the night since no monster had ever come out. Of course the one whose lantern now laid in ashes would be in tears. Our rambunctious actions would cause a faraway shout from grandmama telling us to be quiet as she prepared the table with offerings to the moon and its inhabitants. She had cooked a special dish of conches or some kind of shellfish with spiral shells. Of course, I would never eat such strange looking stuff. The feast will begin just after midnight. Mother would be the ever dutiful wife managing my father’s activities with his buddies or with the relatives and keeping an eye on things in the front. Not to mention is there was the ever present sound of mahjong tiles with an occasional cry from the winning woman or curses from the losers. Not to be outdone, the men too have their act in their poker games.
Such is the life of a mid-autumn festival of the yesteryears. As a matter of fact, it is the same for all festivals with the adults. Us, the children just have to invent more imaginative games to entertain ourselves. It was a good time when the huge clan would descend and congregate at Grandfather’s house. Cousins were like strangers whom we knew by face. Even though we lived in the same town but because of different schools we attended, we hardly ever saw each other except during these clan festivities. When Grandfather was alive, all have to make obeisance and the mandatory pilgrimage to the ancestral house.
Most of the people in my memories, well, are now just memories. Some had gone to the great beyond, others no longer in touch; for our clan is as factious as China’s Age of Warring States. When the grandparents had moved on, the later generations no longer saw the need of such gatherings anymore. No more emperor to please, for each is now a warlord of his own realm. Sad isn’t it? As for my siblings, some had married and now we lived in different cities. Though we are close, some are technophobic and even refused to be on Facebook.
Anyway, here I am by myself. My good buddies? Some are back in their ancestral countries; some on business and others don’t have the courage as I did to play hookie. Alone? Yes, physically but not so mentally; for memories are good companions. They lull, they cajole and even play tricks on your mind.
The wind is cool but my body is comfortably warm as I have been sipping hot Chinese tea by myself. Rocking back and forth on my deckchair, in sway and nostalgia, I view the moon with a different frame of mind tonight. In some ways both of us are the same. One high above in the sky and nary a cloud to be seen and the other, far down on this earth, surrounded by quietude but with one half empty pot of hot tea…
Out from the dusty corridors of my mind, I hear the voice of grandmama relating the lunar tales of yore. How the Fairy Chang-O went to live on the moon. Then there is the immortal woodcutter forever chopping down a self-healing osmanthus tree. With each blow at the tree, the wound would recover immediately. Like Sisyphus, he was punished for his hubris or laziness. Let us not forget too, the other lunar inhabitants in the form of the Jade Rabbit and the Three-Legged Toad. Thank you grandmama, for you have enriched my life by telling me all these and other wonderful tales. You have opened my imagination and let me enter into a world of splendiferous beings.
Then I espied on the tin cover of the moon cake packaging, there in her bosom, was Chang-O’s Jade Rabbit being caressed lambently by her against the backdrop of the bright full moon. New thoughts came flooding and replacing my memories of yesteryears and casting them back into the dusty corridors of my mind. The moonlight was bright enough for me and with a pen, to scribble down my thoughts on a piece of paper…
竹下深坐嘗月餅,Under the bamboo, I sat deep in thought and tasting moon cakes,
風吹樹搖落英雨.The wind blows; the trees sway and flowers fall like rain.
廣寒嫦娥一仙子,In the Great Cold Palace, is the Fairy Chang-O,
懷擁玉兔非郎君.Caressing the Jade Rabbit in her bosom; no lover it can ever be.
With this, I can now tap-tap on my laptop…