Of mooncakes and bookends: celebrating Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival in Manila

Of mooncakes and bookends
By Walter Ang
September 26, 2001
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is always fun. At the very least, it gives you a day where you can pig out on great food. On a more formal note, this festival that falls on the 15th lundar day of the 8th lunar month is a day to think of family. Sometimes mistakenly called the Moon Festival; the festival is a day for reunion, with the round shape of the moon symbolizing family, abundance and prosperity.

If you think about it, a day where it's "official" to have a little fun with family isn't so bad now that the world isn't feeling so cheerful. Chinoys (or the much longer label, "Filipinos of Chinese descent") around the country have a chance to bond and strengthen a few cultural roots.

Kids get to play a popular dice game that involves confusing dice combinations that will either win you a dinky consolation prize (usually a ballpen) or the biggest, grandest pot of the day (which could be a new cd player if the sponsors are generous). Regardless of the prizes to be won however, it's the coming together that's important.

What's most funny about the Mid-Autumn Fest (among other Chinoy celebrations) is that usually, most of my Pinoy friends are more excited about it than I am. They're the ones who are the first to look for mooncakes. Whenever the festival looms close, morning greetings are punctuated with "And don't forget my mooncake!" All in good fun, of course.

Sweet treats
You can't live in the Philippines and not know about mooncakes. Sweet treats that come in round-shaped bronze-colored pastries filled with sweet lotus seed or red bean paste. Tons of the stuff are sold in Chinatown a couple of weeks prior to the day of all days. Sidewalks are lined with metal tins and whatever new containers they've thought up to make the stuff hipper for the younger crowd. I've heard of mooncakes with cartoon character faces ? I guess the novelty cake concept has spread to these kinds of sweets as well. People descend in droves into the little streets of Ongpin in Chinatown and leave with armfuls, bagfuls or car trunks filled to the brim with the stuff.

As for my friends, I'm happy to oblige their requests for mooncakes. After all, food doesn't taste as good as when it's being shared with good friends and sprinkled with great conversation and stories. Speaking of stories, there's a funny one about the ubiquitous fruitcake. There are only ten fruitcakes in the whole world and that nobody really eats them, they just get circulated from one family to the next. There are times when I tend to think that the same might hold true for mooncakes.

The first few pieces you get to eat are always fun, but once you realize you're left with a dozen or so of the stuff and you can't give them away anymore because it's too late, it's not so fun anymore. You have to endure several days' worth of eating mooncakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner just to finish off your surplus.

Sometimes, you have to think creatively to get rid of excess mooncakes. Of course, one can always go the altruistic and magnanimous route and donate to charitable organizations. Then, there's always your classmates, orggmates or officemates.

If you're having problems with one of your subjects, you can always give a couple to your teacher to help sweeten her disposition. Also, you can give one to your boss if you're positioning yourself for a raise. Just make sure you don't wait too long after the Mid-Autumn Festival, otherwise she'll figure out you're just using her to get rid of your leftovers. Her disposition may just turn sour instead of the desired sweet!

We could probably even contribute to the world of science using mooncakes. Scientists who study microscopic germs like Neisseria gonorrhea, Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Aaron Carter need to grow the germs first. They use a growing concoction they call "culture media". We all know what kind of stuff can grow on leftover food if you leave it out for too long (it's not a pretty sight), perhaps scientists can use it as a new kind of culture medium.

At the end of the day, if you still have a couple of cakes left, I suppose you could use them as hockey pucks, doorstops, paperweights, or as fancy bookends. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!