Monday, February 16, 2009

Yuanxiao Jie--Lantern Festival

February 15th was Yuanxiao Jie, Lantern Festival, which celebrates the first full moon of the lunar calendar. I joined friends to take in the lights and lanterns in Shanghai’s old town, Yu Yuan. Lanterns of different shapes and sizes were strung across the walking paths that wind through the old city center that's been transformed into a main tourist attraction. Some lanterns had poems and riddles written on the outside. Crowds of people would stand gazing upwards to decipher their clues. Large illuminated displays were floating in the small pond celebrating the four seasons.

Yu Yuan is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Shanghai, made evident by all the souvenir shops and endless number of tour groups. I've visited a few times but, the Lantern Festival was the most crowded I’ve ever seen it. Local Shanghainese far outweighed the number of foreigners out to celebrate the festival. Most Shanghainese eat yet another traditional dumpling, known in Shanghai as tang yuan. They are made from sticky, rice flour and filled with sweetened black sesame. Served in a steaming bowl of hot water they really aren't aesthetically appealing but, very tasty.

There’s a famous zig-zag bridge that leads up to the actual garden. It is tradition for people to walk the bridge with its nine turns to bring wealth and luck in the New Year. We joined the hoards of people eager to claim their wealth during the financial crisis. That must have been the reason for the pushing. Okay, maybe not but, this is a common occurrence in certain places. Trying to stop to take pictures was always risky. Most times I just needed to stand still and allow the human waves to carry me along. These situations still test my patience and I realize I only tolerate it, I'm not quite up to acceptance. This was most apparent to me as I watched my Chinese friend throwing her head back and laughing as the wall of people would charge at us. Other times we were in complete gridlock and she'd only giggle, knowing that in only a few seconds the crowds would get her moving again.

We also came across a parade with people dressed in traditional outfits and pulling a large Ox, the Chinese zodiac symbol for this year. Everyone reached out to touch it for good luck. The “money god”, Cai Shen Ye , was also parading around with a plastic mold of gold coins. He walked up to me and, mesmerized by his long hair, beard and face mask, I wasn't quite sure what the customary greeting for a money god was. He helped me out by grabbing my hand and guiding it to touch the lucky pot of money he held. Now, I just have to wait for the influx of cash that should be coming my way.