So I’m late again – so sue me, I’ve had an exciting weekend. Anyway. The Love List:
- Kunming by night. During the day, Kunming is a far-above-average Chinese city: the crowds are not too bad, the weather is mild, the food is good, you can see mountains in the distance. On the other hand, the traffic is awful, a lot of the architecture is grungy and there are a lot of people noisily spitting at your feet. But at night all the ratty old buildings (which would be any building more than five years old) fade into the darkness, you have the streets to yourself, the air is mild. My favorite time to talk home around Cuihu park is midnight – Kunming is suspended in a quiet dark that calms and heals the stresses of the day.
- Moon cakes. Ok this is kind of a lie – moon cakes are actually extremely disgusting. A moon cake is the traditional snack given as a gift and eaten to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, coming up this year in the first week of October. A moon cake is a pastry with any number of flavored fillings – red bean, fruit, nuts, meat, etc. It is about the size of a very thick hockey puck and approximately twice as dense. On the more expensive varieties, the top of the pastry is quite beautiful and intricately decorated, but there also exist ones that you spend about 50 cents on. The cheap-o ones with the traditional Yunnan ham filling look like this (purchased from a convenience store across from my apartment):
But the point is that even the expensive and tasty-looking ones are gross – not to be harsh or anything, but all the flavors are appalling, you will chew them until your jaw hurts, and they sit in your stomach for a week afterwards. It is an error to get drawn in to trying to eat them, which all of your Chinese friends and colleagues will make you do, because it is tradition.
But I’ve gotten away from why this is on the Love List instead of the God Awful Disgusting list: the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the two most important holidays in China (the other being the lunar new year in February). The government has made it a week-long holiday, and in the period leading up to Mid-Autumn Festival moon cakes are sold everywhere, on every corner. New shops and markets spring up just to sell these things. They come in a million flavors and are packaged in elaborate boxes and gift baskets. (The way they are presented is MUCH more important than how they taste when you give them as gifts.) Everyone buys moon cakes for one another and you see people staggering around the streets with towering piles of moon cakes in preparation for going back to their hometowns to present them to their families.
It’s a great gift to be able to witness other people’s holidays and traditions knowing that you are an outsider; it allows you to really observe with no preconceived notions and none of the pressures of your own holiday seasons. Plus you get to take lots of pictures and when shopkeepers protest that you are just taking photos and not buying anything you can say “But we don’t have moon cakes in my country!”
Oh yes and in other news, why my weekend was so exciting: RP proposed. From a cable car sailing over Dianchi Lake (Yunnan’s largest lake) up to the top of Kunming’s Western Hills at over 8,000 feet. When we came back down in the cable car I managed to pull myself together enough to take a picture out the window – it looked like this (the windows were tinted slightly blue):
GUYS I’M GETTING MARRIED!!