Mid-Autumn Festival (zhong qiu jie) is a Chinese holiday for getting together with family, and eating yummy food, and drinking tea, and looking at the moon if you can. It was too cloudy for moon-gazing, and my family is all across the ocean, but I got the rest of the experience tonight.
One of our neighbors is a friend of my roommate’s family (which is how we ended up living in this neighborhood, and is a story for another post), and he and his wife invited us to their Mid-Autumn Festival party. They are super-nice people, so there was no question about going, even setting aside any thoughts of social obligation. And it was definitely worth it to go, because it was a wonderful evening.
The party was Chen Laoshi and his wife Ms. Yang, their 10 year-old daughter and her best friend, and Peipei, a recent college graduate whose mom was a friend of Ms. Yang’s. Bing and I showed up and were promptly treated to fancy Chinese tea, something Chen Laoshi loves to make. After a pot of green tea and a pot of oolong, we had dinner. Dinner consisted of clams steamed with bitter melon (I only had two pieces of the latter), fish with scallions, scallops, bok choy, special wood ear mushrooms from Fujian, Chinese beef stew with carrots and potatoes, and some salmon sashimi. Once we’d eaten enough that we could clear more space on the table, they brought out takeout Beijing roast duck from a local restaurant. While we ate, we talked about politics in both the US and China– Bing and I trying to explain American gun control attitudes and the student loan crisis, Ms.Yang and Peipei talking about their childhoods in Xinjiang and the changes in Han-Uyghur relations since they’d grown up, all of us talking about Bo Xilai and corruption. After a while the conversation sort of trailed off as we all got a little depressed, which was when Chen Laoshi said, “Okay, time for mooncakes!” We were then treated to six different kinds of mooncakes, plus another three different kinds of tea, and we talked about language education, and compared educational systems, and how Bing and I handled teaching Chinese history, and why UChicago has a holiday called Suicide Prevention Day (they all thought this was hilarious, which just goes to show how wrong the “Chinese people don’t have a sense of humor” stereotype is). Ms. Yang also has an older daughter, who showed up halfway through mooncakes and joined in the discussions. She’s studied some Japanese and a semester of Manchu, so we got to talk about that, too. The party finally ended when we finished the fifth pot of tea, and realized it was quarter past midnight, and time to go home. Bing and I said our goodnights and thank-yous, walked back to our building, and now I am writing this.
Aside from the delicious food, it was also fun and encouraging to get to have such a wide-ranging series of conversations, all in Chinese. The first few days I was here, I could only understand pretty simple things, and just doing that took up enough brain power that I had none left to form coherent responses to anything I did understand. Tonight I understood almost everything anyone said, and while I was a little quiet and sometimes had some trouble with specific bits of phrasing, I was able to contribute to the conversation. I was starting to worry that I had lost all my Chinese and would never get it back, so this was not only fun, it was also necessary reassurance.
This morning I was sick and this afternoon I had a bunch of frustrating paperwork hassles, but an evening of tasty food, good tea, and interesting discussion more than made up for it.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, everyone! I hope you all get to spend the day eating mooncakes and talking with loved ones!
Cross-posted from Archives and Stuff.