Personal Note: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it is too expensive to order one from USA. Read it and share it with people you care and love. There is one final chapter to go…Enjoy sharing it with you all. Peace, Steve, usa, November 20, 2019
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The next day was the long anticipated Lantern Festival. After our lunch, David decided to take me to one part of the city that has remained true to its past, in terms of the architecture. David told me that the city government had adopted policies that would require new buildings to follow strictly certain architectural conventions. For example, in certain downtown areas, many new four to six-floor buildings must have the traditional Chinese tile roofs with points on the corners. And new buildings near the famous old mosque must include Islamic themes in the architecture. Quanzhou has a diversity of old religious buildings, rightly called a museum of world religions: Christian churches, one mosque, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian temples. And what an honor, the Zhongshan Road rebuilt shopping area received an UNESCO award for heritage preservation. And in 2003, Quanzhou got an international award as one of the most livable cities in the world.
And of course, David insisted I must follow him to an important museum. This is a big tourist attraction for people who believe mainland China and Taiwan belong together. Mintaiyuan Museum is a museum showing the kinship between Fujian and Taiwan people. Many Taiwanese could trace their roots to mainland China. (This is a must see place for President Donald Trump should President Xi invite him to visit mainland China. So ignorant Trump might understand why Taiwan belongs to mainland China!) Now if you go to Taiwan today, many would prefer to be an independent island or nation or entity. So I followed David to this interesting place…attracting many tourists both from mainland China and the island of Taiwan (which is across the strait from Fujian Province). It is an enormous museum focusing on the many similarities between the peoples and cultures of Fujian Province and Taiwan. The vast displays cover their history, culture, folk art, music, dance, and architecture. In its main lobby, you could not miss a huge white painting of a tree, made with explosions of fire crackers.
On the way home, David picked up a few lanterns for the household: five lanterns, one for each one of us, his mother and father, he and his wife and one for me, the house guest. The designs or shapes of these lanterns were not the traditional ones.
With the use of flexible bamboo or plastic rods, one could make or purchase any kind of design to please one’s taste: animal, house, tree, plant, fruit, and other contemporary themes from songs and movies or history or traditions. The Lantern Festival, known in Chinese as Yuan Xiao Jie, is celebrated on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month, officially marking the end of the most important public holiday
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in China, the Spring Festival. That means the end of all the Spring Festival taboos, and the removal (optional) of all the festival’s decorations. It also marks the first full moon night and the return of spring and symbolizes the reunion of families. Because it is not a public holiday, not all families will celebrate it together since most adults have returned to work in faraway cities after the official seven-day public holiday of the Spring Festival. Many of my Chinese friends would tell me that the Lantern Festival was originally a Buddhist tradition or custom which became a national festival in mainland China today. It is said that when Emperor Hanmingdi (Eastern Han Dynasty 25-200) discovered that some monks would lit lanterns in the temples to honor Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month, he, himself an earnest advocate and follower of Buddhism, immediately ordered all the royal palaces, temples and households should light their lanterns on that evening.
David and his family and I could have driven to Xiamen (about two hours or so away) to enjoy this festive occasion. Why? Because there are four top cities and their lantern fairs recommended to all curious tourists to experience Lantern Festival spectacular and colorful lanterns and performances: Nanjing, Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen. The one in Xiamen would be held from February 10 to March 25 at Yangboyuan Garden, Xiamen. The Chinese people in China have been lighting the lanterns since the Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. 1911 marks the end of the last dynasty rule in China when China became a republic. In modern China, during the Lantern Festival, red lanterns decorated with traditional Chinese folklore can be seen everywhere: in the streets, houses, stores, and parks. Those in the parks would attract countless visitors, families and young children, and many would carry small lanterns of their own along the way.
But David had plans for the Lantern Festival evening after the family dinner. In the apartment balcony, we would first light each lantern and hang it on a tight rope to enjoy. David shared with me a tradition known to his family about the significance of lighting the white or red candles for the lanterns: that if a woman wants a baby boy, they should light the white candles first, or red candles for a baby girl. Another tradition says that if a woman is planning to have a baby, she should walk underneath the lanterns. It did not matter because Nina, David’s wife, was not planning to have a baby soon. With the bright full moon above, and the colorful lanterns lit, we enjoyed watching our lanterns, also listening to distant firecrackers. Although we did not venture out to the city center to watch other Lantern Festival activities and performances, we watched on the family’s big TV how Lantern Festival was celebrated all across mainland China.
David’s mom and Nina were busy preparing for us to eat some yuanxiao or tangyuan
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(rice balls stuffed with different kinds of fillings, like white sugar, brown sugar, sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts, sweetened bean paste, rose petals or jujube paste), an important family get-together snack or meal, an essential part of the festival. That is why the Lantern Festival is also known as the Yuan Xiao Festival. Some like it boiled, some fried and others steamed. Personally, I like them plain and served in fermented rice soup (tian jiu or sweet liquor). Anyone can make the fermented rice wine at home ahead of the festival. We sat around the table enjoying tangyuan, the lanterns and the full moon above. On the big TV screen, we watched the celebrations across China: dragon dance, lion dance, parade of lanterns, people walking on stilts and guessing riddles pasted on lanterns hung in the parks. If your answer is correct, usually the owners of the lanterns and riddles will reward you with a small prize.
Here are five of my favorite riddles:
1. What kind of dog doesn’t bite or bark?
2. What is the smallest room in the world?
3. What kind of coat is always wet?
A coat of paint.
4. What do you break before you use it?
5. What goes up and doesn’t come back down.
The Lantern Festival marked the official end of the Spring Festival, and life would slowly return to normal, and stores and shops were slowly opened for business. And I would return to Holiday Hotel to meet a student who would return early to the campus because we had planned to meet to work on his plan to spend a year living and working in Australia. In fact, there were some students who did not go home for the Spring Festival as they were busy preparing for their post-graduate exams, required in China if you plan to study for an advanced degree. Most serious students would opt to stay for an important exam, instead of going home to be with their parents for the most important holidays in our Chinese culture. I had observed there would be students staying on the campus to prepare for some major examinations during major national holidays in China, when most students would hurry to go home or go on travels across China. So Jay would not be returning to an empty campus. He would not be alone in the dormitory though most students would not return for about another two weeks for the spring semester. Holiday Hotel is right outside the campus. Jay and I would spend some time together before I flew home to America.