Archive for September, 2012

Praising the moon in 2012

September 25, 2012

As I walked into town on the weekend to grab some lunch, the growing number of balloon wielding families moving in the same direction had me thinking that there was some kind of festival in town. Sure enough, the middle of Box Hill was choc-a-block with people, with the usual tent city setup. One of the things that I really like about Box Hill is that in the middle part, there’s always something going on on weekends.

I had initially planned to head into one of the centres and grab one of the amazing Vietnamese bbq pork rolls that I am addicted to, but I couldn’t pass up checking out the various food tents. While they’re often a bit of a rip-off in the price department, the food is often good. After knocking back an absolutely delicious chicken, cucumber and satay roll, followed up by a South Korean potato swirl thing and a can of coke – I was a happy man.

I have mentioned many times on this site that one of the things I like most about Chinese culture, is that there are so many stories and tales associated with practically every part of it. From the obvious things such as mooncake, lantern and dragonboat festivals, to even individual dishes having some pretty amazing stories attached to them.

Recently, and co-incidentally, I was reading a few old stories, and one of them happened to be about the mooncake festival itself. I have re-written it below as it was a bit…confusing…but one thing I have noticed with many Chinese stories is they don’t overly make a lot of sense. I mean, even in a fantastical way, there’s always some snake in the river with magic, or some poor monk whose suddenly become magical by eating blessed rice or what not. Sure, even most English myths and fairy tales have elements of this – and perhaps it’s just lost in translation, but I find many Chinese tales difficult to comprehend in their simplicity. That being said, they also have a terrific otherworldly quality to them. Many invoke fond memories of Monkey.

And without further ado – the possible story behind mooncakes. I say possible as the source isn’t what I’d exactly call textbook:

Many years ago, ten suns suddenly appeared in the sky. They scorched the earth and made the sea evaporate and the farmers could no longer survive. The disaster shocked the hero Houyi the Archer into action. He climbed Mount Kunlun and shot down nine of the suns (leaving what I assume to be our sun left). Houyi was praised as a hero for his actions and gained the respect of the common folk. Many patriots came to him wanting to learn archery, including the tricky Feng Meng (there’s always one tricky guy…eh).

Sometime later, Houyi fell in love with the beautiful and kind-hearted Chang’e. They loved each other immensely and often went hunting together.

One day as Houyi was returning to Mount Kunlun to visit a friend, he passed by the palace of the Queen Mother of the West. The Queen gave him a pill and told him that it could make him immortal. Houyi – being the honourable chap that he is, didn’t want to be immortal by himself (without Chang’e of course) so ask his wife to keep the pill for him.

Naturally somehow Feng Meng learned of this and wanted the pill for himself. He broke into their house, threatening Chang’e in the process. Knowing she was in danger, Chang’e gulped the pill and floated away into the sky.

Chang’e was afraid that her husband would not be able to find her, (and now was supposedly in space), so floated towards the nearest landing point, which happened to be the moon. Chang’e was now also immortal – hence the getting away with living in space thing. When Houyi returned home, he couldn’t find his love and was heart-broken. He looked to the sky, crying loudly and calling his wifes name. To his surprise, he noticed that the moon was lighter than before, and he could see the exact figure of Chang’e swaying within the moon.

Now every year during the lunar Min-Autumn festival when the moon is at its brightest, generations of Chinese eat moonquake’s in memory of Chang’e, and pray to her for good luck and safety.

Happy mooncake festival y’all!

Sweet, sweet satay…

South Korean potato swirl..things

The Apple Islands

September 24, 2012

I cracked up this morning when I came across this news article concerning Apple’s iOS6’s brand new inhouse maps software and the Senkaku Diaoyu fisticuffs going on between China and Japan.

Apple has been coming under fire for their new maps software being extremely inaccurate. Apple removed the old Google maps version (which worked a treat incidentally), as Google are becoming an increasingly large competitor in the phone market. Apple’s new map software actually performs quite well – utilising new high-speed vector graphics which allow panning without that annoying catch-up effect.

Anyhow, one of the inaccuracies relates specifically to these most hotly contested islands. Yes the islands are there…but in duplicate! I have absolutely no idea how the software could possibly do this, but it has mapped two identical sets of islands – one for for Japan 🙂

Who’d a thunk something so tense could be so easily solved? All that needs to happy now is to get someone from Dubai in to make this happen.

Twin Senkaku’s..or is that Twin Daioyu’s…

My island! Mine!!

September 17, 2012

Two things occurred today: I finally pulled my finger out and re-enrolled in Mandarin lessons, and I actually bothered to try and find the Senkaku (also known as Diaoyu) Islands on Google Maps.

Why did I try and find those islands I hear you ask? Well I was curious to see just how substantial these little islands were that are currently causing so much friction between China and Japan. But regardless of the importance of these islands specifically, it’s not like Japan and China need much provocation before they’re at each other’s throats. There’s a long history of bad blood between these two neighbours, thanks largely to Japanese brutality. Though it’s not just Japan that has thoroughly stamped on Chinese pride, England and many others have done more than enough damage there over the years.

However, getting back to the Senkaku Island’s issues – in a nutshell, both China and Japan are claiming ownership of this tiny (and I mean TINY) cluster of unoccupied islands just slightly North of Taiwan. In a move that has China seeing all kinds of red, Japan has cooly announced that they will be finalising the purchase of said islands from the current Japanese private owner. So what’s the deal with these islands? Apparently there are large reserves of oil to be found close by, effectively giving whoever owns the islands dibs on all the black goodies.

Now these islands are mere specks on the map. If I was in the business of handing out islands, I would probably give them to Taiwan as they’re effectively off-shoots of the Taiwanese island itself. Then again, they are also very close in proximity to the island chains that lead all the way up to the Japanese mainland.

What gets me though is the passion expressed as part of these protests. One can’t help but wonder if the words Diaoyu and Senkaku aren’t merely becoming public excuses for one race to hate the other. How many of these protesters actually know anything about these islands, let alone the reasons they’re in dispute? I would suspect very little. Living in a country that has no natural rivals or real enemy histories (no I’m not really counting the Japanese bombing of Darwin – I’m sure we did much worse to them), I can’t imagine specifically what it feels like, but I can imagine it wouldn’t take much to incite a bit of patriotism. Unfortunately in this country, patriotism is just a bit too scary close to boganism.


In other news I re-enrolled into Mandarin. Don’t let anyone tell you that learning a foreign language is easy – it’s hard, really, really hard. In fact I don’t think it’s the language itself that’s difficult, rather the vast reserves of motivation required to get you to continue with it. I find that I retain most things that I learn (particularly if I spend time studying it), but new stuff? That’s where the pain comes in. There’s a weird feeling of helplessness when presented with a new grammatical concept or vocabulary. In particular, I find myself putting up weird road blocks around certain subjects. For example the word school, study and students – I can simply never remember them! The amount of times in China we had to ask to be taken to our school….I just never knew the word – and still don’t! Well I do – but I just can never recall it.

I kid myself that I would like to learn some basic Korean and Japanese also…right after I’m done with Mandarin. When will that be? Never I expect.

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