September 20, 2013

Happy Moon Festival - Zhongqiu jie kuaile - 中秋節快樂

Zhongqiu jie kuaile  - Happy Moon Festival

How to celebrate the local festivities

This week has been a short week at university, and elsewhere as well. This week we are celebrating what in English is called the “Moon Festival” - but translated from Chinese actually is Mid Autumn festival - Zhongqui jié kuàilè (in pinyin, Chinese characters written with the western alphabet.) 

Moon Festival is celebrated across the Chinese speaking world, and it is a very important event. I have not been in Asia long enough to pick up all the history but regardless, it is a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family (you can read more about the Moon Festival in mainland China if you follow this link).

In Taiwan the Moon Festival traditionally means two things, at least (and I don't mean the obvious thing, the moon cake – that is a common treat for this time of year all over the Chinese speaking world):  

Pomelos, WenDan (or YouZi) in the market
First of all it means pomelos ( - youzi (柚子) - although in the shop you will also see "wendan"- 文旦. Pomelo is the big green citrus fruit that resembles grapefruit, just milder, sweeter. Fact is that the word youzi seems to be used for both grapefruit and pomelo in Mandarin, but it is indeed different fruits. The pomelo is less common though, at least in Europe, and I suspect that's why it's not always clear which name to use.  Pomelo season starts just about now and since the Taiwanese people are all about what's in season for the moment, it is a big celebration; You will see pomelos everywhere, and at university we even had a pomelo eating competition as well as a pomelo decoration event.

BBQ on the street. Everything is BBQ:d
Moon festival here also means, and maybe that's more important, barbecue. BBQ with friends and family. The Taiwanese go and get tonnes and tonnes of meat, fantastic mushrooms, fruits and vegetables, they make Japanese style okiniri, riceballs with seaweed and special spices, riceballs they later grill too, they get juice and make tea, and they get plates and chopsticks, coals and everything else you need  – and then they build a little grill in the front yard or just in front of the house on the asphalt, bring out chairs, lights the grill - and so the party begins. 

The BBQ:s have been burning since the beginning of the week and it really is a wonderful thing! Everybody is out!  I don't know if it as big in the rest of Taiwan, but in Taichung you see the BBQ:s everywhere - not just outside people's homes but also outside the shops - and not just the local shops, but in all areas of the city. It's fantastic, and everybody is really upbeat and happy about the Moon Festival - the mid Autumn Festival. 

The girls managing the BBQ
As I mentioned before, Taiwan people are also very very friendly, if you are only friendly and open minded yourself. Out walking on Thursday – trying to explore the city and it's surroundings – I met a wonderful family who started to talk to me – first in Chinese but as my Chinese at the moment very very limited they filled in with English words. The three girls managing the grill could also help with some translation -  although it is amazing what made-up sign language can do.

When I told the family that I had lived in Germany – Déguó (德国)– they asked if I spoke German, and when the answer was yes they brought a friend of the family who was around and happened to be from – you guessed it – Germany. We spent a lot of time talking and in the meantime we were nibbling of what came from the grill, and we were given fruits, ice tea, and not least a bowl of absolutely fantastic bamboo shoot soup. Once I finally left the spontaneous party I had both pomelo and honey tea with me – that's Taiwanese friendliness for you. And the best thing is; They do it from their heart, not because they feel they have to or that they want you to buy something.

Did I mention I love being here?   It's so easy to feel welcome.

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