The Most Poetic Festival

Last Wednesday (June 5, 2003) happens to be the Chinese Double Fifth Festival. In Chinese it is called Duan Wu (¶ËÎç). Since all Chinese festivals are marked by some special food, this one is associated with Zong Zi (ôÕ×Ó). Each piece of Zong Zi is a small tetrahedron of sticky rice wrapped inside a large bamboo leaf. Depends on the local custom, the sticky rice could be mixed with red beans(sweet version, it is supposed to be eaten after dipped in sugar), or marinated pork chunck(salty version).

When we were living in San Francisco, our landlord lady used to give us a plate of their homemade Zong Zi every year when Duan Wu came around. Their Zong Zi was the Cantanese variation. It contained not just marinated pork, but also salty egg yoke, peanuts, and Chinese sausage. Eaching our landlady’s Zong Zi was like unwrapping a small bundle of treasures. One never knew what would be in the next bite.

Mom was from Shanghai and the kind of Zong Zi she grew up with usually only contained one piece of marinated pork. After we have tasted our landlady’s Cantanese style, Mom soon adapted. Now the Zong Zi comes out of our pot usually contains a huge chunk of marinated pork(my favorite), a few piece of whole chestnuts, a piece of sausage, and a salty egg yoke. Yummy!

Wrapping up all the goodies in a bamboo leaf is not an easy task. Last night was the first time I tried my hands at it. Mom taught me a bunch of tricks that she has figured out over the years. By the end of the night, I finally started to get it. 🙂

As for all Chinese Festivals, there is always a legend. Duan Wu has by far the most romantic one. Zong Zi was made by the locals of an ancient Chinese state called Chu (³þ), to save their beloved poet and state official in exile Qu Yuan (ÇüÔ­), who drawned himself in the river. Thus came the Dragon Boat and Zong Zi, in the most typical Chinese fashion, one was designed to scare and another to bribe fish in the river so to preserve the body of Qu Yuan. The complete story of how Qu Yuan ended up in the river can be find easily on the web. Here is a pretty detailed one- Qu Yuan, the Patriotic Poet.

The patriotic portion of Qu Yuan never made as strong an impression on me as his romantic side shown by his vast collection of love poems. Those were the most beautiful and elaborate ones ever written in ancient Chinese. Reading his poem, I could hardly connect him with the officialy approved hero who died for his country. The entire collection of his poems can be found here: ÇüÔ­È«¼¯.

Here is one sonnet. It reminds me of another Chinese classic: The Dream of Red Chamber. Names of that family garden’s many scenaries and vista points seem to come straight out of this sonnet.