Monday, September 25, 2006

Mid-Autumn Festival

In my earliest childhood memories of the impending Mid-Autumn Festival or sometimes more plainly known as the Mooncake Festival, I remember a coffee shop bedecked with wire framed glass paper lanterns for sale to celebrate the season. Even the market vendors would be vying for a piece of the pie at the morning market. Each year, if the lantern from last year did not survive storage or went up in smoke in a tragic candle mishap, my mom would bring me to this coffee shop to get a new one. I can still remember the delight of seeing so many different kinds lanterns in all hues of the rainbow casting their wondrous colours on the walkway. Rabbits, horses, goldfishes, ordinary animals to mythical beasts like the phoenix and dragon, you name it they had it.

Paul had this image which inspired this post, it's not the same lanterns in my childhood memories, but the imagery comes close.

During the season, the Rukun Tetangga would organise a lantern parade for the kids in the neighbourhood. Everyone would be comparing their lanterns in a kiasu attempt to outclass the other. Being kids, the bigger your lantern, the more awe and envy you would inspire. My mom of course would encourage no such thing, so yours truly's lantern was always somewhat lacking in size. I think at one point, my mom no longer encouraged the buying, she actually learnt to make them herself, but for some reason, she went no further than making star-shaped ones. I think this was one of my very first lessons in humility. After a while, I learnt not to mind that my lantern did not have all the fanciness of a bought lantern, it was special in its own way. Nobody had the same design.

During the last few years, when I had the chance to return home for the season, I noticed the same coffee shop no longer sold the lanterns which had become a cherished sight in my childhood. In fact, try as I might, no where could I find the same sight again. Market vendors have stopped selling the traditional wire framed ones. In their place were the cheap foldable paper ones. But even that is beginning to see a decline. What is becoming a fixed fashion are mass manufactured, battery operated plastic ones, in all garish designs, from ridiculous manga comic characters to David Beckham. Yes, you read right, DAVID BECKHAM. And God forbid, some of them could actually emit music. Maybe I am just nostalgic, but these current forms of lanterns did not appeal to me at all, though I remembered at one point of time in my childhood I had one (before my parents trusted me with real candles). They just did not hold the same feel for me.

For some reason recently, I had the urge to get one of those wire framed ones. Though a rare sight, you could still find some if you looked hard enough. However to my dismay, they look so poorly made, I couldn't bring myself to buy one. The original lantern makers took more pride in their trade, and I guess it went with them as time claimed them. Somehow that made the season look more like a time to reflect than to celebrate for me. To mourn for a past that was lost, to mourn for a tradition that is in its twilight. What I would give to see that familiar colourful sight again.

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