Two weeks ago I took part in the Lantern Festival here in Wuxi. Whoopie! Celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the lunisolar calendar, the Chinese take a brief pause in their packed lives to gather, eat, and set the night ablaze with lanterns.
I pestered my friends to join me at a Xihui Park in Wuxi, at the crest of Huishan Mountain.
The festival’s origins are as multi-layered as Spring Festival, with mythology tightly woven in the cloth of a crimson lantern.
Some myths say the festival was meant to culminate with the first full moon of the lunisolar year, others speak of the Jade Emperor’s anger at villagers who killed his favorite animal, a crane. The Emperor planned to destroy the village with hellfire, when a wise, elderly man (why is it always an old guy?) counseled the village to set off firecrackers and light the entire village with lanterns to make it appear as though it was already in flames. This ruse worked, saving the village.
Another one I like is the association to Taoism. The Taoist god for good fortune is Tianguan and ironically, his birthday falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. To appease and please, devotees coordinate various activities to bring good fortune.
Either way, I got my fill of lanterns, lanterns, lanterns!
Xihui Park is a vast area in the west side Wuxi (apparently 687 mu) with some historic key points to marvel at or puzzle at, because many signs are in Chinese and my character reading is shoddy at best. There’s Jichang Park from the Ming Dynasty and No. 2 Fountain under Heaven of the Tang Dynasty and Huishan Temple, the oldest temple in the city, clocking at 1,500 years.
An ancient city was reconstructed from dilapidated building and has become a major thoroughfare to gawk at historical Chinese architecture and shop for trinkets (I must caution, usually junk oriented stuff).
That night, families and friends came together for entertainment, street food and performances.
A common dish to nibble on at the festival is glutinous rice balls steeped in a sweet sauce, sometimes sesame or brown sugar based.
Some unforgettable faces.
When we finally got to the temple area, it was an orgy of food, lanterns and worship.
Not strictly eaten during The Lantern Festival, Chòu dòufu is a common dish in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. To translate, chòu dòufu = stinky tofu. It’s fermented tofu that is deep fried and sprinkled with a chili sauce. My street food chef also added some unknown pearly, white sauce that I couldn’t identify, but I went with it.
It tasted crispy with a zap, not pungent like a man’s sweaty squash shoes. In other words, I give it an endorsement. Try it if you’re ever in China.
Performances in China permeate a staged quality, almost kitsch and Vegas at the same time. If you were a fan of all things adorable, you could call these displays ‘cute’.
In the temple area, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the instruments of a religion dating back 2,440 years.