Ode To The Moon

So it’s Mid-Autumn Festival (MAF) today, or known as 中秋节 in Chinese, sometimes known as Mooncake Festival or Tanglung Festival depending on the context of use, is one of many important festivals that was still celebrated by the Chinese & diasporas all around the world.

“Tanglungs & its significance in the festival”.

It was a chilly MAF here in the UK, & since it is not a significant occasion here, the local Chinese community managed to come up with lots of effort to organise parties to bring the community closer.

I wasn’t involved in all those as it was run by mainly British born Chinese/Hongkies. I rather organise my own private party with close friends. Moon cake is scarce, hard to find & freakin’ expensive. How I wish I had a teleporter! I would definitely teleport dozens of homemade mooncake from home! Damn! I missed my mom’s home made mooncakes! It is because I could request what ever filling I want – mixing & matching flavours!

“Mounth-watering traditional mooncakes – reformation messages please!” LOL

As a kid, MAF does bring lots of fond memories to me because only this day that the curfew of going out late in the evening is lifted so that I was allowed to play with my neighbour’s kids who were about the same age like me.

I have no idea what the festival is all about apart from my mom’s vague stories of the moon goddess who was originated from Hsia Dynasty, the bunny aka The Jade Hare, the sun-archer Gen. Hou Yi & various versions of the stories tale-told to me.

Only when I grew older I was fascinated about the Chinese myths & legends about this festival so I end up scouring the books only to find, not only the tale was linked to some surreal myth & legend, but it was also linked to political struggle during the feudal wars in China.

“The melancholic Chang Er with her flute & the Jade Hare – supposedly green eh?”

I have quite taken back by the political side of the story that make me understood even during the toughest conditions subjected by ‘enemies’ oppression, one can still lead a struggle using alternative ways.

Even Keadilan comes with their own fancy mooncake amicably decorated with a Keadilan logo on their box that pay a homage to the rebellion against the Mongolian ruled Yuan Dynasty in 1280 AD! The political transition & climate does play a role in making festivities like this seemingly more vibrant yet symbolic with a touch of culture.

“Tian Chua’s brilliant idea”

As everyone knows that the festival now has transcended beyond its years now even there were some elements which was still being preserved, the practices soon losing its genuine touch compared to the old days.

Younger generation doesn’t bother much about the festival apart from scoffing off the cakes because its sweet, loathing the salty egg yolk, thinking Chang Er is Miss China with a hot-bod, have no idea MAF contain political significance to the Chinese & thinking that tanglung procession around the taman is so uncool & geeky!

In the old days, during the eve & the night of MAF, me & my mates will congregate around with our tanglungs ready, sometimes accompanied by adults on one end of our ‘taman‘ (housing estate). We will ‘gotong-royong’ to fix each other’s tanglung by distributing candles, ensuring the knot on the bamboo handle is fastened & ensuring the girls are not isolated from the procession group (cheh wah, so little but chivalrous!).

Those days we do have lots of fancy tanglungs that can be bought cheaply from the shops or market. I wasn’t sure about the designs now, but we used to have tanglungs made out of metal wires made up as the frame & coated with transparent plastic (very flammable!). The top apex of the wire frame is fasten to a string attached to a long bamboo stick used as a handler.

The motifs of the tanglungs will be based on animals, flowers or mythical creatures such as dragons or phoenixes. I was envious as my richer mates will have long & big dragon tanglung which was pretty expensive, skilfully made, while mine & some others only possess cheapo tanglungs based on ‘uncool’ creatures such as rooster (wtf?), wabbits, dogs, frog (wtf?) etc.

The cheapo tanglungs wouldn’t sustain long cos after few rounds of walks, the tanglung will be scorched down to ashes leaving only the skeletal frame to be brought back home! This is because the cheapo designs have crappy candle panels & was crapply made! It just take a strong wind or a minor jerk to dislocate your candles off it’s panel hence torching them instantaneously without you having enough time to save it!

When this happens, we refuse to process empty handed. That is where the coconut shells came handy! Since the procession does pass-by my granddad’s sundry shop, we make use of those disposed coconut shell from the dustbin. It was a cool & simple design though as it only need very little effort.

To make a coconut shell tanglung, all we need is two piece coconut shell (hemisphere shaped resulted as the coconuts were chopped half) which was clean-grinded in it’s inner part. If you are growing up in the 80’s you know that most sundry shops (kedai runcit) has this coconut grinding machine. (look pic below).

“Mesin kelapa 80’an – coconut grinder of the 80’s”. Source: istockphoto.com

The two hemispheric piece must be different in diameter size. The shell with the larger diameter will serve as the base & the smaller one will serve as the ‘dome’.

The smaller piece will be snapped on the base perpendicular so that the ‘dome’ (vertically placed) to act as the wind-blocker. On the centre of the base, is where the candle is placed & lit. To ensure the hot air doesn’t concentrate & heat the shell of the vertical dome, a hole in the centre must be poked so to allow air circulating.

The procession will go on few rounds until everyone is tired. Then we will end up in our own house or neighbour’s house feasting on moon cakes in the outdoors with the elderly. We will house-hop around the neighbourhood & feast tit-bits & cakes along the way. If everyone was still in the mood to play, we will end up playing hide & seek in a large group of more than a dozens of kids.

The best place to play them was at the parking lot in front of the shop houses where there used to be a cigarette distributor with more than a dozen of distribution vans parked in a row just right next to my granddad’s sundry shop. So we will hide in between the vans, under the van or in a more naughtier way, some even hid on the roof of the fan!

It was pitch dark at the back of the row as there were a row of bush hedge right behind it. Some even hide in the hedge in pitch black! We will try out best to save our asses in every game as being a hunter, is terribly tough to find as each fella has his/her method of hiding atrociously!

The Moon Cake ‘tradition’ during my childhood days lasted for another few more years as many who were in their teens after that doesn’t mingle as much due to personal commitments etc. Some even shifted elsewhere, get married & the circle dwindled thus fading away.

I do wish I could turn back the clock & making myself another coconut shell tanglung!

Happy Mid-Autumn Day everyone!

(Note: This entry is also a tribute to my childhood neighbour & friend, Hew Fatt Chai – who passed away earlier this year due to a stroke. He was one of the eldest kid in our neighbourhood bunch (mentioned above) who taught me about the coconut tanglung. He was survived by a wife & a young son. May his soul rest in peace.)