Wednesday, October 21, 2009


"Friends are the family you choose."

-Anna Doherty

Happy (late) Mid-Autumn Festival! During my October break, there were not one but two holidays: National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional Chinese festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival was October 3, so I celebrated it in a small town in Hunan, where I was visiting a friend. We had the good fortune of making friends with some locals who invited us to celebrate the festival with them. That meant playing traditional Chinese music, singing, drinking tea, and eating moon cakes.

The Mid-Autumn Festival centers around the moon. One traditionally gives "moon cakes" to one's friends. Moon cakes are little cakes filled with different flavored paste fillings: fruit, bean, meat, peanut- you name it! Many of them have an egg yolk in the middle, to symbolize the moon. I'm not such a big fan of the egg yolk; I like the plain fruit-flavored ones the best.

One is also supposed to gaze at the moon on this night, and think of friends and family in other places who are also staring at the same moon. This festival then was particularly poignant for me, as I am separated from most of my friends and family right now.

Below I've posted a video from our night. You can see and hear the traditional Chinese music - be forewarned! It's very different from Western music.

This festival was a good time not only to think of loved ones in far away places, but also to appreciate the people I have around me here. For example, when my 2 day stay in Shanghai turned into 2 weeks, I felt like such an imposition on the friends I was staying with. They honestly didn't think anything of it though. My friend said to me, "So many people have helped me. I'm happy to help you out too."

I think that when you move so far away from everything and everyone familiar, you have to construct a new support structure, one that plays the role of "family" in your life. So all of us ex-pats support each other whenever we can - when I needed a place to stay, my friend in Shanghai opened her home to me without a thought.

Similarly, when I traveled to Guilin (on my way to Hunan,) a friend there let me stay with him. And when his money ran dangerously low because his employer was a week late in paying his (first!) salary, I was happy to cover meals. And when I arrived home in Quanzhou at the end of break, though they were both 2 provinces away, it was my friends in Guilin and Hunan that checked in with me to make sure I'd gotten home okay.

So don't let me fool you into thinking I'm too brave or independent, because I've got lots of help.

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