September 22, 2010
In the ever-progressive country of Singapore, where we have advanced so fast in our short 45-year history as an independent nation to become the modern cosmopolitan that we are, and where many of us, especially for those in my generation, speak English as our first language, it is very easy for us to lose parts of our roots and culture.
As a Singaporean Chinese who speaks English 95% of the time, I admit that I am not very fluent in my native tongue, Cantonese. However, I’m glad that my family still tries our best to follow certain customs that my late paternal grandmother, who immigrated to Singapore in the 1930s and passed away two years ago, introduced to us at a young age. For instance, we celebrate Dong Ji (Winter Solstice), a festival where we gather as a family to eat tong yun (glutinous rice balls), a festival that I dare say that most Singaporean Chinese tend to forget about. Did you know that it’s one of the most important Chinese festivals along with Chinese New Year and Mid Autumn Festival? We are traditional in that way.
Which brings me to my point about Mid-Autumn Festival. I shall not delve much into the significance of the festival itself as Wikipedia can probably do a better job, but there is something else I would like to share. I do not know whether this is an actual custom or this is just something that my grandmother came up with:
Every year, my grandmother would make a lantern in a shape of a chicken out of pomelo skin. She would then place a tea light inside, and go around every corner of the whole house with the lantern, turning on all the water points (taps, showers etc) where ever they are positioned, while reciting the phrase “路路两头遇贵人”, which translates to something along the lines of: meet benefactors at both ends of the road.
Truth be told, growing up, I never followed my grandmother around the house; only my sister did. And even then, none of us knew what she was saying and the significance of her practice. We later learned it was her way of blessing the family and the household.
The year she passed away, my dad, who is the head of the household, took over the “duties” of carrying the lantern around the house. Admittedly, we do it now, in my opinion, more so in honour of my grandmother. That said, I believe this custom has continued to bring my family together, which is after all part of what this festival is about, and has helped to maintain some semblance of this custom in my family.
This year, my parents were away in Japan, but my dad’s sister, who’s not married, came to have dinner with my siblings and I, and the four of us repeated this custom of bringing the pomelo chicken lantern around the house.
Some other photos:
Water Caltrops (they resemble bull heads, complete with “horns”) and yam. These are seasonal autumn food and are traditionally laid out as offerings. My family still does that, though merely symbolically:
Some not-so traditional food, a result of globalisation and localisation. I’m not a fan of the traditional mooncakes with the salted egg yolks so no photos of that:
Besides celebrating with the family, Mid-autumn festival has evolved to become a time for my friends and I to gather and relive some childhood memories of playing with lanterns and sparklers (the sparklers bit isn’t exactly traditional, but fun nonetheless):
To the Chinese of the world, hope you had a great Mid-autumn festival!
PS: Sorry if some of the photos are blur. I took most of these with my mobile phone.