Lighten up with alien glibber!

February 28th, 2010

On the last day of February it was time. Time for anniversary. Needless to say, it wasn’t a pretty one, but you just can’t overlook it.

Rustily the fallen ogre raises towards the heavens, stained like the fur of a scabiesious mutt. The metal skin is pervious and bust open at countless places. Steel struts from every corner join to form a crumbled monument. Like begging hands they dramatically raise their silent “why”?

You guessed it – we’re talking about the Mandarin Oriental. It was destined to become the new talk-of-the-town hotel inside the glorious CCTV complex, right at the heart of Beijing. And we all know how that turned out.

Authorities managed to blame 20 wild jumping jacks for the whole premature deconstruction during the course of the past year. Ignoring police advice they indulged in their explosive needs at the time in question and in the courtyard of the CCTV. From now forth they may indulge in splitting that extensively large piece of paper that resembles the bill. A few millions in length. Talking about explosive!

However, the clever reader certainly has already detected a flaw with the date. The five-star fireworks of last year took place on the 10th of February. So, how come the anniversary is this late?

The answer, mind you, lays within the calendar system. 15 days after the Chinese New Year is the lantern festival. On this day the Chinese dig up their last cracker reserves and celebrate the final day of the New Year’s festivities. Not a good day for devotees of peace and quiet. And not a good day for new buildings either as it seems.

So on the 28th it was lantern festival again. And this time it should be well prepared. Nobody wanted another major BBQ event. And so a truckload of signs were erected, cautioning everyone that fireworks wouldn’t be allowed in the city center. Neither close to buildings, places of public interest and best of all would be not to have any fireworks at all. You could call it the “No bang” parole.

But frankly, what do you think that billions of Chinese will do when there are countless sales tents in every larger street, just tempting everybody’s explosive desires?

Well, certainly – they buy. And they do it by the dozen.

This year the country has seen 676 fires accompanying the New Year festivities. Bottom line of damages? 2 Million Yuan. Approximately. Strange enough you can hear the authorities being proud that the death toll was reduced by a staggering 66,7 percent compared to the year before. However, they pre-cautiously don’t publish any total numbers.

Maybe that’s not such a bad idea, given the fact that just in Guangdong 21 people were swiped off the face of this earth in a single explosion due to exaggerated use of fireworks. We better don’t project that to country-wide numbers.

The odd truth is that the lantern festival originated from the will to keep suffering and death away from the country rather than attracting it. To intimidate the evil with red light like from fire and the noise of exploding firecrackers and to embrace the good into your home – this was designed to harvest heaps of luck and fortune for the coming year.

Catering to my endeavor to make the readers of this blog the best-informed on the planet I tried to gather as much information as possible about this special day. Every spot of this country was decorated with red lanterns and so it looked promising. Mister Li’s ancestors, however, have been happy travelers. And so I learned that all the historical rites and customs of the countless regional cultures have been blended into an altogether-now-smoothie.

It’s tasty in a way, but nobody really knows what’s in it or where certain traditions originate from. There was this dragon they had killed. And now the god was in a bad mood. So the Chinese had thought up the clever plan to spoof the almighty mate and thus created a certain theatrical masterpiece. By making the Earth look like it’s already doomed, they had hoped the god would refrain from his revenging plan. Why bother? The humans are already killing one another as it seems. You must wonder though why nobody thought about this possibility: What if that god got up the next day and saw this very Earth calm and in order while looking out of the window and having a godly morning coffee? Wouldn’t Lord Thunder just pick up his revenging plans again on that day? The mumbled answer to this question is a simple: “don’t ask ‘why’ all the time”!

Yes, the Chinese don’t like to ask “why”, they just do as they are told! Not going to the hairdresser until March 17, because this could make your uncle suffer? Well, there’s half an explanation, but no-one really is too sure. Still they obey that rule. Eating dumplings for the New Year, trying to find a coin in them? Come on – we always did this, what’s with all the questioning?

I have to admit – in Europe people on the streets would have trouble explaining why there are eggs for Easter and what the deal is with the special biological feature that these are delivered by a bunny. And the turkey for American Thanksgiving? Yea, well, there were these pilgrims and they kinda didn’t find the drive-in….ah, gee, don’t ask so much!

So in Beijing, anyway, at lantern festival they eat this …eh…stuff. For clear identification and to make things easier I dubbed them as “alien glibber”. Those who fancy a more disgusting description may very well refer to them as ‘something like soft-boiled cow eyeballs’. That would be very related to their texture. But it doesn’t help the will to bite into them.

Frankly, this dish carries another thousand years old history full of dragons, agony and valiant virgins. But this tale shall be told another time. For now let’s focus on the taste. It only took a very short year to get used to them (you simply don’t really eat them at any other time in the year) and they are not that bad. Really. Strangely similar to a Squash ball you push the top surface almost all the way down to the bottom, before the laws of physics allow a tearing of the ball and reveal the inside. And that’s where the color contrast awaits the nosy one: a dark black substance oozes out and over the innocently white edges.

“Indiana Jones part 2″ is the first thing that comes to mind. Memories of a childhood, staring at the TV screen. The rental VHS tape in the squeeling player. Harrison Ford, fitted with hat and lash, sitting at the table of horror. Monkey brain, bugs and snakes offer themselves as the utmost delicacies. The first impression is indeed related. How disappointing and boring the truth! There’s no busting chitin armor and no horrible bitter substances are attacking the taste buds. Instead it’s total relief: they are nothing but sticky rice balls filled with a sesame cream. And that’s just how harmless they get acquainted with the senses. A nice dessert. Unfamiliar but not untasty.

When sitting among the happily smacking and chatting family circle, shouting “ganbei” more often than not, there’s a single thing one can constitute at the end: Not even the Western foreigner needs a “why” for cosiness, peace and comfort. The only question coming to mind may be “why not more often”?

Note on the side:

We were able to make use of our private artillery without any unplanned incidences or blazing cultural possessions.

But then again – we only had two very tiny crackers….

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