Sunday, September 30, 2012

Beginning of The Great Curmudge

Today is the traditional festival of Mid-Autumn Day in China.

All fine and jolly, I suppose, if you have been brought up in this culture, and have affectionate memories of the event from your childhood. For many people, it is an excuse for a rare family reunion, and may be cherished for that alone.

However, there doesn't seem to be that much ceremonial associated with the day: the core traditions are 'moon-gazing' (which must get boring quite quickly; and, in a city as polluted as Beijing, is often impossible anyway) and the exchange of 'mooncakes'. 

I have railed against mooncakes before: they are quite possibly the most disgusting snack 'treat' in the world. I haven't come across many Chinese people who really like them. Perhaps the most telling evidence of their lack of appeal is the fact that Western-inspired 'novelty' mooncakes have been rapidly displacing the traditional inedible ones in recent years; Haagen Dazs' ice cream-filled range are now the single biggest selling variety in the country. (Hmm, I might try me some of those...)

And, unfortunately, the family reunion idea seems to be weakening amongst the modern generation; or, at any rate, it isn't feasible for many people. So, the only leisure activity that is within the imagination or the budget of many Chinese city dwellers these days is shambling along the streets gawking at stuff. We get quite enough of this in my neighbourhood as it is (the Gulou area of central Beijing, becoming increasingly boutique-ridden and touristy in the last few years). On this night, roads and sidewalks across most of the city are likely to be thronged, impassable; and around Gulou and Houhai it will be a complete nightmare. There won't be a hope in hell of getting a taxi to go anywhere either.

Heck, it's like that on a 'normal' Mid-Autumn Day. I can't remember the last time the dratted festival fell on a weekend. And this year it's the weekend at the beginning of the 'Golden Week' National Holiday as well (the National Holiday is fixed in the Western calendar as the first week of October, but Mid-Autumn Day is defined by the Chinese Lunar Calendar, and so can occur at almost any time during September or early October). With this unfortunate combination of circumstances, the crowds are going to be unimaginably HORRENDOUS. I don't think I'll set foot outside my apartment all day. (If the sky is clear tonight, I can get a nice view of the moon from my terrace. I'd invite people over to join me, but there's very little chance anyone would be able to get here.)

The Chinese holidays can seem quaint to expats in their first few years here. But after that, they become increasingly tiresome, an ordeal to be endured.

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