The Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, is one of the most important holidays in China. It is a celebration of the harvest and of the full moon so people celebrate by eating Moon Cakes and visiting their families. This year, the Festival fell on September 30th, which was the second day of our 9-day vacation. We have nine days off from school to celebrate the Festival and National Day, which is a government-sponsored extravaganza held on October 1st of every year. The National Day is marked by concerts, fireworks displays, and country-wide celebration of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. To commemorate these holidays, we went with our tutor-turned personal assistant-turned friend Erin to visit her family in Jintang, a county in the Eastern part of Chengdu City. The five days that we spent with her large and generous family were unforgettable.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon, Erin’s parents were out but had left us this magnificent meal, which consisted of nine different dishes that Erin’s mother, Zhen, had prepared for us. Each dish was delicious and it was all vegetarian, which is uncommon for Chinese meals but Erin’s mother made special efforts to accommodate us. After filling our bellies to the brim, we walked across the street to Erin’s father’s clinic. He is a traditional Chinese doctor who is a wealth of knowledge, kind, and gentle. After brief introductions, we walked about 100 yards down to the river where we met Erin’s mother, who we were told was assisting in a competition. Erin was vague about what kind of competition it was so we didn’t know what to expect as we approached the river where a large crowd had gathered. As we approached, a cheer rose from the crowd and when we got closer we were surprised and delighted by what we saw.
A potato (or in this case rice) sack race! Old women and police officers alike were jumping, falling, laughing, and cheering each other on as everyone took part in various games. Next came the three-legged race.
The man in blue is a police officer playing the next game: a race dribbling a basket ball.
Erin is a loud, boisterous, and enthusiastic person who is quick to laugh. We quickly learned where she got it from when we met her mother, who was the team captain of the tug-of-war team. Naturally, her team won each bout.
After the competition was over, Erin led us on a walk along the river to see some of her favorite parts of her hometown. Old people were everywhere enjoying each other’s company, singing, dancing, and playing some of China’s favorite games, card games, Chinese chess, ping pong and má jiang.
Periodically, we came across another common sight in China, outdoor exercise equipment. So, naturally, we joined the old people in their work out. Each implement is not only fun, but it is low impact and works your whole body.
Singing appears to be a popular pastime. Notice the traditional Chinese Violin.
Playing Chinese chess.
There are three rivers which converge in Jintang. Here you can see a clean one meeting a not-so-clean one.
Walking along the river made for special and picturesque views. We saw courtyards designated for Tai Chi, old people singing into microphones for impromptu concerts, fishermen throwing nets into the water, ferries, birds, and butterflies everywhere. Below is a group of women singing and reading the lyrics from a large sheet of paper.
The Mid-Autumn festival is a time for celebrating the seasons and the moon by lighting lanterns, spending time with family, and chowing down on Moon Cakes.
We were so thankful to have Erin as our guide because we were able to indulge in many treats we would have been too hesitant to try and learned about things we would have just walked by, like this pot of brewing rice wine.
This is a common sight in Jintang as there are many streets devoted to selling fruit, vegetables, and snacks like barbecue, which the town is famous for.
Playing games such as Wú zǐ qǐ (五子棋), or in English, five in a row, is a popular pastime that Kelly and Mi quickly learned. It is similar to Connect Four, but a bit more complicated. There are other games that can be played with these pieces and board, but Erin could not recall the rules, so we are supposed to Google the directions.
Erin’s mother treated us to our first Hot-Pot (火鍋 huǒ guō) experience. We had been warned by Kelly’s parents and the other teachers (who all eat meat) that it was terrible, but quickly found out that it is very tasty. We think that because we had vegetarian hot-pot, and avoided things like pig intestines and duck palates, our experience was much more pleasurable. It is now one of our favorite dishes.
In traditional Chinese fashion, Erin’s mother re-filled our glasses at every sip and put 3 more bites of food in our bowls for every bite we took. Needless to say, our bowls were overflowing, and our bellies were nice and full.
After dinner, we went on a walk to work off the 3-hour meal we had just devoured. We continued this routine after every meal of the day for the entirety of the holiday. Jīntáng is a small city (large to us) and Erin knew people everywhere we walked. We were pleased to meet the townspeople including this baby who makes the cutest kissy-fishy face.
Everywhere we walked, games were being played including this one where you use a whip to keep a big stone top spinning. Everyone was happy to let us take part in their games. They didn’t even get mad when Mi broke the whip (thankfully it was quickly repaired).
At night, cities are lit up everywhere you look. We learned that the government gives tax breaks to cities and businesses for installing LCD lights.
We were happy to meet lots of new people and experience new things. However, some experiences were better than others. We mentioned earlier that Erin’s father is a kind and gentle man and we soon learned that his generosity extended beyond the human world. He believes that everything born deserves a chance to live, so he and his family live in harmony with some unusual house guests, of the eight-legged variety.
This is one of three or four massive spiders living peacefully in their home. We were reassured that they are not poisonous, but we were unnerved nonetheless whenever we had to use the WC and were eye to eyes with this fellow. After a few days of shying away from these behemoths, they mysteriously vanished, and we still don’t know if they had been removed for our sake or if they had just gone into hiding. Either way, we breathed a little easier. We still checked between the sheets before going to sleep though.
Each morning we awoke to a different delicious breakfast that Erin’s mother had prepared for us. This is a traditional dish called Glue Pudding which consists of rice balls filled with sesame/peanut paste. Yum!
Our next adventure: climbing up Yún Dǐng Mountain to Cí Yún Temple with Erin and her friend Doris.
This is the first of 6 long staircases that we laboriously climbed. At each level there is something new to see: a cemetery, farms, roadside restaurants, a school, and small villages. In total, we climbed 1922 stairs up to the temple (this does not include the stairs we climbed while we explored within the temple itself).
This is the name of the mountain. You read it in the old way, from right to left. The character for “mountain” looks like a mountain.
This is our new favorite breed of dog, the Chinese Field Dog. Although they are very common here and can be bought for cheap (the equivalent of about $1.50 US) at many markets, we think they are lovely.
Halfway up the mountain it started to rain. We were glad of it though because it kept the mosquitoes at bay (they were particularly ravenous in this area), drove away the fair-weather tourists, and kept us cool as we continued to march up the stairs.
The tree was here before the road, so naturally the monks made sure that it had the same right to live, and built the road around it.
At the temple, we had our fortunes told by a monk. We were instructed to kneel on an embroidered pillow before a huge Buddha statue, bow three times, then shake a box of carved sticks until one fell to the ground. Each stick has a number carved on it which the monk painted onto a slip of paper for each of us. We then went to a different monk who handed us each a paper that corresponded to the number. Each number has a fortune, which Erin read and interpreted for us.
It’s good luck to toss a coin into the hole at the Buddha’s feet. We missed.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where the food was not especially appetizing, but it was spicy and vegetarian. Plus, there was a family of dogs milling around that refused the noodles we tried to feed them but gobbled up the vegetables.
We encountered crews repaving the road on our way down to the car where Doris’s boyfriend’s father was waiting to drive us back down to the city. We had to zigzag across the hot asphalt for a few hundred meters before we passed the front truck.
Later that evening we joined Doris’s family for another round of Hot Pot. Due to the rain, we took tripeds to get there instead of walking.
Kissy-Fishy baby with his grandfather joined us.
Every night there were festivities for National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival.
The next day, we planned to go to Chengdu for more sight seeing, but were deterred by the long line and the prospect of spending hours stuck in traffic. During the holidays, everyone travels. We decided to explore Jīntáng some more instead.
We enjoyed a relaxing day by the river front drinking tea and teaching Erin and her friends how to play “traditional American card games.” Their favorite was Bullshit, which kept them laughing hysterically for hours.
Erin had us taste every meat- and dairy-free snack around. This one was tofu pudding. One was sweet, and the other spicy. Unlike most of the things she had us try, these were not very tasty.
Kelly having her back adjusted.
Later that evening, we had barbeque. We chose the food we wanted and had it grilled to perfection. It was incredible.
This is one of the new snacks that we tried. It is called “ice noodle soup” and is basically molasses water with cubes of rice noodles that look like gelatinous ice-cubes served with green beans, peanuts, and fruit. Yum! The food must have been going to our brains as we became sillier with every bite.
After we pampered our stomachs, we walked to the closest pedicure shop to pamper our achy feet. This included a foot cleaning, and a foot and leg massage. We each spent over an hour in these chairs and it cost about ¥30 each.
It tickled but Erin did not believe us until it was her turn. Afterwards, we walked back to Erin’s home and fell to sleep very quickly.
The next morning we woke up with the sun to see the people by the river practicing different types of Tai Chi.
Upon returning to Erin’s home, her mother made us another delicious breakfast. This time, it was potato, tomato, egg, and noodle soup. Then we spent the rest of the day roaming around the town eating snacks and attempting to learn how to play mahjong.
Later that night, we went to another barbeque joint with Erin’s cousins and had some more scrumptious food. Kelly had fish for the first time in China and was happy to do so with Erin who knew exactly what to order. This was craw fish which Kelly loves due to her time spent in New Orleans.
Mi’s favorite was the lotus root pudding. One lemon flavored, the other strawberry. Both delicious.
Later that night, after a shower, Erin’s mother blow dried Kelly’s hair again. It was very endearing.
Then, it was time for another day of pampering. Earlier that week, Kelly received a back adjustment, Mi had a full-body massage, and we all had a pedicure. Lastly, it was time for facials and more massages. This spa is owned by Erin’s classmates’ family so our treatment lasted about 3 hours.
For our final night in Jīntáng, we were treated to yet another hot pot. This time, the owners of the restaurant picked up the tab. We toasted the owner and her son numerous times to show respect and gratitude. Before our meal started, Erin darted out to a man on a bicycle who was selling soup. When she returned, we were surprised to find the soup was in plastic cups, and tasted more like sweet tea. The one on the left is silver ear fungus and the one on the right is green pea soup. They were both deceptively delicious.
After dinner, we took our walk and stopped for exercises. We made it safely back to Mianyang the next day. We are now preparing our lesson plans for the next few weeks so we can take more weekend trips.