get the girl some poetry
Chinese ink drawing from years ago
The mid-autumn festival is my favouritest of festivals (yes, monster ru,miles better than the delicious but tiresome Chinese New Year), only because it is the most poetic.
There is no poetry in Chinese New Year - all fake firecrackers, bad television, the greedy examination of ang baos* (I confess!), inquisitive relatives who might as well have been strangers, and long warm car rides with dad, mom, sis, bro, aunt and mandarin oranges. Even those auspicious idioms chanted like spells as the yusheng is tossed and the endless puns with luck-prosperity-wealth-health-plenty are just words enslaved to avarice and anxiety.
But the mid-autumn festival is different.
It has all the ingredients for a perfect poetry -
Firstly, there is the moon, perfect in its glow and geometry. On it are supposedly a bunny and the annual meeting of star-crossed lovers (a cross-species love, since she is a fairy and he a mortal). He would have traveled the milky way to meet with her only on this day! And if our lovers manage to disengage their gaze from each other, they would look down on earth at children and the childish with our lanterns (lit or on fire, good fun either way). Last but not least, even the festive food eschews the crass puns of New Year. Yue Bing - because the Moon Cake dares to be literal and prosaic in its name, I shall declare it poetic in its signicance! All its sweetness is tolerable only with the bitterness of a tea sipped.
Right. OK folks, since I don't write poetry, all this lyricism I have lavished on the mid-autumn festival is just a literary fancy.
Back at Toa Payoh Lorong 8, whatever poetry the mid-autumn festival promised was recited through a public karaoke session organised by the Potong Pasir Town Council. A simple stage was set up right under the large trees by the hawker centre with the world's best BBQ chicken wings. All the hawkers generously lent their chairs to the event and a crowd of 100 gathered. This was no professional getai (my guess is they don't have the money for one!). Instead, one after the other, residents in their shorts and slippers went on stage to belt out Hokkien and mandarin karaoke classics. Who says we are not a spontaneous people?
As J and I devoured our fried hokkien mee, we recognised the familiar strains of Long Shu Xia*. We turned and looked...it was a man, wearing a short-sleeved shirt, trousers and a garland of jasmines. Of course, it was Chiam See Tong! The crowd cheered and clapped for probably Singapore's most tireless opposition party member of parliament as he gamely sang!
At 9pm, with just 3 hours left before we would have lost all chance to fulfil the poetic potential of this festival this year, J attempted to save the day. Ever the sweet boy, J revealed this creation he had made in the afternoon for me while I napped... an ampulets lantern!
It was as much poetry as 3 toilet rolls, some wire, masking tape and 2 pencils could muster. And it was enough.
*ang baos Red packets, containing money and given out by the married folks.
*long shu xia I think this means "under the banyan tree" and made popular in the 70s by Taiwanese singer Yu Tian?