Saturday, October 3, 2009

The History of Mooncake Festival

For the ignorant souls, the story of how the Mooncake festival came about goes like this...

In BC 999, there lived a beautiful young lady named Chang Er. She was delicate and demure, and highly talented in poetry, painting, dancing and singing. One day, she was playing the qin in a small pavilion on Mount Ro (Ro Shan). A young hero named Hou Yi was shooting ducks at a lake nearby. Attracted by the beautiful music from the qin, he went in search of the source of the music. He came to the small pavilion and saw the pretty Chang Er and he instantly fell in love with her. They began dating each other secretly over the next few weeks because Hou Yi said his parents forbade him to date before he passed his imperial examinations.

Chang Er had an elder sister named Duan Er who was the complete opposite of Chang Er. True to her name, she was short and her physical looks left much to be desired. She was lazy, bad-tempered and spoilt. But her parents loved her more than they love Chang Er because they believed that she was their lucky charm - Since her birth, their family began prospering and became immensely wealthy.

Duan Er was way past her marriageable age but she could find no suiters, or rather, no suiters wanted her. She became deeply resentful of her sister Chang Er who was the object of envy of every women, and the desire of every man in their town. She always tried to make life difficult for Chang Er and so Chang Er tried her best to stay out of her way.

A few weeks after Chang Er met Hou Yi, Duan Er began noticing something strange about Chang Er. She seemed to have become more cheerful and often went into a seemingly blissful trance throughout the day. She would sing and dance in the garden and write letters secretly. Duan Er, being the mean and contemptible person that she was, decided to tail her on one of her trips to Mount Ro.

Chang Er had brought along her qin as usual and she sat down at the wooden table in the pavilion and began playing the qin. Duan Er hid behind a tree that was wide enough to block her girth and she waited for a long time. As time wore on, she became more and more sleepy due to the lulling effect of the music and the therapeutic warmth of the afternoon sun. After what seemed like hours, she decided to give up and return home for teatime. But before she could turn, she heard the music stop.

Duan Er quickly turned around to look and to her astonishment she saw the most handsome man she had ever seen. She gazed at him longingly, mesmerized by his charm. "He is only a poor hunter. What a pity. But I shall have him as my toyboy!" Duan Er thought gleefully to herself. Suddenly, she noticed that Chang Er was there as well and that she was leaning her head against the man's shoulder. Duan Er immediately felt intense hatred towards Chang Er.

"You will not have him!" Duan Er thought furiously. She then stormed home, fuming all the way.

And so, she began her devious scheme of sabotaging Chang Er and Hou Yi's relationship. One night, she decided to confront Chang Er.

"So, my dear sister, don't think I don't know you're having a clandestine affair. A tryst every now and then, am I right...or am I right? What shame you've brought to our family. I shall expose your shameful deeds to Ma and Pa and see what they'll do to you!" Duan Er said to Chang Er spitefully. Chang Er stared at her sister in shock. She had not expected her affairs to be discovered by someone. She looked at her sister imploringly,"Oh dear sister, please do not tell Ma and Pa! I know I am wrong! I promise to stop seeing him!" Chang Er broke down in tears. The thought that she could not see Hou Yi ever again pained her immensely.

Duan Er sneered at her and left the room. Chang Er wept throughout the night.

The next day when she woke up she found her whole family sitting in the grand hall looking very grim. Sensing that something was amiss, she asked softly,"Erm...what's going on?"

Her father then walked towards her and gave her a hard resounding slap across her cheeks. The force of the slap and the terrible pain caused her to collapse onto the floor. She began to sob uncontrollably. No one lifted a finger to help her up. Her maid whom she was very close with looked on in terror, not daring to speak up for her even though she wanted to.

"Duan Er told us about the shameful things you have done! How dare you! You are so shameless! You have brought shame to our family! Duan Er told us that you are no longer chaste! How long have you been seeing this lowly man in secret?!!" Her father bellowed irately, his veins throbbing.

"No! I am chaste! We have not done anything immoral! Please believe me Pa!" Chang Er pleaded tearfully. Duan Er who was standing beside their mother smirked.

Of course, her father did not believe her and after beating her up he had her locked up in her room.

A few days later, Hou Yi heard about what happened and quickly rushed over to Chang Er's home to explain to their parents. He received a very cold reception from the family. Moreover, he was dressed like a hunter and he received looks of disgust and disdain from the family. He was not allowed to see Chang Er even though he begged with her parents for a long time. He decided to go home and confess to his parents what had happened. His parents were very angry but agreed to help him mediate since he said that the girl came from a family of high class-status.

The next day, Hou Yi and his parents went to Chang Er's family, bringing along many expensive bethrothal gifts. This time, Hou Yi dressed up in his costly outfit befitting his actual status of a noble family's son. Hunting was actually just his hobby. Chang Er's parents' attitude towards him reversed completely. Realizing that Hou Yi actu-ally came from a highly prestigious and affluent family, they immediately agreed to their marriage.

Duan Er fumed at this turn of events. She stormed out of the house cursing and sprouting vulgarities. She stormed up Mount Ro and thrashed angrily at the trees. All of a sudden, an avalanche of apples dropped from a tree and hit her on her head. She fell onto the ground unconscious.

The next moment when she regained consciousness, she found herself lying on the ground atop a very high mountain. There was no trees, no grass, no flowers, just rocks and gravel on the mountaintop. Surrounding the mountain were several other mountains, but lower than the one she was on. The scenery was breathtaking. She could see a sea of cloud a few feet below her. It was heavenly.

"Holy shit. Am I dead?" Duan Er thought. Then, she noticed that she was not alone. An ancient old man was sitting at the peak of the mountain in a lotus position. He seemed to be meditating. A few moments later he suddenly opened his eyes and looked at Duan Er with an expressionless look on his face.

"Who are you?" Duan Er asked him cautiously.

"I am SSW the immortal of Mount Pra.."

"Mount Pra? Never heard of it. I only know of Mount Ro. Are they brothers?" Duan Er giggled nervously at her lame joke. Somehow this old man appeared formidable and intimidating and had an unsettling effect on her.

"Ever since the dinosaurs ceased to exist

Life for me has been a misery

My T-Rex brothers who taught me to roar

My pterodactyl who taught me to soar

Couldn't survive the asteroid attacks except me."

Immortal SSW recited poetically yet mournfully.

"You have dinosaur friends?" Duan Er asked incredulously.

"YES! But they have all gone! The asteroids killed them! I am all alone in this world now." Immortal SSW mourned agitatedly.

"Erm...well ok. So what am I doing here?" Duan Er asked.

"You are here because you chanced upon my inter-universe portal. Were you hit by apples before you arrived here?" Immortal SSW asked.

"Yes! How did you know? Er...what? Inter-universe portal?" Duan Er asked getting more befuddled by the seconds.

" Many many years ago, when the dinosaurs were still alive, I used to play hide-and-seek with my dinosaur friends. I realized that I have extraordinary powers and I could create a magic portal to hide myself. Later I realized that the portal is actually a door to a parallel universe. On the day of the asteroid attack, I was under the apple tree and I was using my powers to create a portal with the tree. One minute after I succeeded, the asteroid attacks came and the earth shook violently. There were huge balls of fire everywhere. Apples from the tree came down like avalanche and knocked me unconscious and transported me to this mountain which I named Mount Pra. Luckily, the tree was left undestroyed because of the magic I had cast on it. A few months later, I finally found a way to get myself back to the universe I came from and found only ruins upon ruins. All life had ceased to exist. Everywhere I saw death and grey ash. The sky was red and it was unbearably hot. I grieved for the death of all my friends. I gathered all the powers I had to breathe life into earth once more. After that I decided to leave the earth and permanently reside on Mount Pra because I can't bear to undergo another widespread destruction and more deaths." Immortal SSW sighed as tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks.

" Er..that's can you get me back home?" Duan Er asked impatiently.

"Fate has brought you to this place. Thank you for listening to my story. I shall grant you a wish. Is there anything you want?" Immortal SSW asked her.

Duan Er's face lit up immediately. "I can ask for anything?" She asked with a greedy look on her face.

"Yes." Immortal SSW replied tersely.

There was nothing that Duan Er wanted more than having Chang Er disappearing from the face of this earth. She told him just that.

Without a word, Immortal SSW rubbed his body all over and a small black pill materialized in his hands. He put the pill in Duan e's hand, who grimaced a little as she took it from his hand and quickly stuffed it in her sleeves. He then said," This pill will make a person fly to the moon and never be able to return."

He then chanted something and pulled an apple out of thin air and said,"Bite this apple and you'll be transported back to your universe. But before you go, I must remind you that your wish carries ill-intent. Your wish will come true but you will have to..." before Immortal SSW could finish his words, Duan Er had grabbed the apple from his hand and bit into it and she instantly vanished.

"...face the karma.."Immortal SSW said to thin air as Duan Er had disappeared. He sighed and went back to his meditation.

The next instant, Duan Er found herself beside the apple tree once more. She gleefully returned home to find Hou Yi's family and her parents chatting happily in the dining room. She smiled her sweetest smile at Hou Yi and thought secretly," Soon, you'll be mine!"

The wedding date was set to after Hou Yi's imperial exams. Meanwhile, they were allowed to see each other openly. One month later, Hou YI had to leave the town to take his exams in the capital. Chang Er bade farewell to Hou Yi tearfully but they were heartened by their impending wedding once he returns.

But alas, it was not going to be smooth-sailing as you will see.

One fateful night, two days before the day that Hou Yi was set to return home, Chang Er was playing the qin in the pavilion at night under the big and almost-round moon. Duan Er put the immortal pill inside a bottle and went to the pavilion to look for Chang Er.

"Chang Er, I am sorry for what I have done to you in the past. I hope you'll forgive me." Duan Er said as she put on her most innocent and repenting look.

"My dear sister, of course I'll forgive you. I'll be leaving this home after I marry Hou Yi and I'll miss you dearly." Chang Er said, glad that her enmity with her sister could be buried, or so she thought.

"I have a gift for you. It's a pill which I've spent weeks searching for and I even got all my friends from all over China to help look for it. It's a miracle beauty pill, produced by a very famous physician-cum-beautician. I would like you to have it, so that you will be the most beautiful bride in the world on your wedding day!" Duan Er said and offered the bottle to Chang Er.

"Oh this is the most wonderful present ever! Thank you Duan Er! You really are the best sister!" Chang Er chirped cheerfully.

"You must take it now so that you'll look your best on your wedding day!" Duan Er continued evilly.

Chang Er popped the pill into her mouth without hesitation and took a sip of tea. The next few moments, nothing seemed to happen. Chang Er continued chatting light-heartedly. But all of a sudden, Chang Er put her hands to her chest and started breathing heavily.

" What's going on? I feel strange. I feel...very light." As she uttered the last word her feet began to lift from the floor. Duan Er smirked at Chang Er.

"You'll be the most beautiful bride on the moon. Trust me. Ha ha ha!" Duan Er laughed wickedly.

Chang Er screamed in fear," NO NO! What's happening!!! Help me! Somebody help me!" She quickly grabbed the pillar to stop herself from floating away but she could not overcome the pulling force of the moon.

Duan Er watched as Chang Er floated further and further away towards the moon until she could no longer be seen.

Suddenly an idea hit her. She could ask the Immortal SSW to change her looks to Chang Er's so she could replace her sister and marry Hou Yi! She rushed over to the apple tree and shook the tree as hard as she could. Some apples dropped but not enough to knock herself unconscious. Impatiently, she grabbed an apple and hit her head as hard as she could with it. It worked, and she found herself on Mount Pra once more.

"What brings you here again, young lady?" Immortal SSW asked her serenely.

"Well, I have another request. I want to change my looks to become like my sister." Duan Er demanded.

"Why should I do that? I have already granted you your wish. You should not be so greedy." Immortal SSW said reproachfully.

"I will not leave unless you do it. I will disturb you so you cannot meditate. I'll send chickens and ducks and dogs here and disturb your peace." Duan Er said threateningly.

"I have magic powers. I can easily finish you off if I want to. Your threatens do not bother me one bit." Immortal SSW said mildly.

Duan Er felt very frustrated. She decided on another approach. She began weeping pitifully," I am sorry! I should not have said that! It's just that I have been feeling very miserable! I am way past my marriageable age already but no one is willing to marry me. They only want my sister, who is beautiful and talented, while I am ugly and un-wanted. Everyone laughs at me secretly. I am so pitiful! You are the only one who can help me! I promise to do anything for you if you will help me with this!"

Immortal SSW heart softened. He said," I see...Alright I agree to help you, but only if you agree to make a thousand bean paste cakes for me. I've not eaten for a hundred thousand years and I feel very hungry. It must be special and look appetizing and taste good. Come back after you have completed the task.

Set with this difficult task, Duan Er trudged back home (after taking a a bite of an apple conjured up by the Immor-tal SSW), racking her brains for solutions. She stared up at the moon and all of a sudden, a fist-sized rock hit her on her head. Moments later, several more came raining down at her. It was actually Chang Er hurtling the moon-rocks at her wicked sister.

Up on the moon, Chang Er sobbed. She was all alone on the moon and she could not die even though she tried to commit suicide. She had become an immortal, but a very lonely one. She was given the ability of great strength and precise aiming skills which enabled her to throw the moon rocks down at her sister on earth from the moon.

The impact of the moonrocks on Duan Er's head instead struck her with an idea. "Mooncakes." She said out loud.

She quickly rushed back home and tell her parents of her idea to organize a bean paste mooncake making competition to celebrate the full-moon night. She insisted on holding the competition straightaway because of the full-moon that night and to include all the townspeople in the lists of participants. Duan Er persuaded her parents to sponsor the costs of the ingredients saying that this will raise their reputation (which has not really been that good because of their notorious arrogance and snobby attitude), and perhaps improve the chances of her father being elected as mayor of the town.

2 hours later, the competition was up and running. The grand prize was the right to be the only family to produce and sell mooncakes in the town and a cash prize of a thousand taels. All the families were extremely enthusiastic and began making their version of mooncakes.

The next night was the deadline and the results night. Duan Er was the judge and she went around the long tables set up to display each family's mooncake. Many were quite hideous and many more tasted pretty awful. Finally she came to the last mooncake and saw that it was really beautifully-made. She took a bite of it and it was absolutely delicious. She immediately declared the Ling family as the winner and said to them," I want you to make 1000 of this mooncake by tomorrow night and you'll be handsomely rewarded. I will sponsor the cost of the ingredients."

The Ling mother said, shocked," I am honored to win this competition but it is impossible to make 1000 mooncakes in such a short time!"

Duan Er's parents were shocked too and pulled Duan Er aside and said,"Why do you need so many mooncakes? Why do you need them by tomorrow night?"

Duan Er quickly cooked up something," Ma, pa, Chang Er's wedding is coming. Hou Yi is coming back tomorrow. I want to give something special for my sister as her wedding gift. What is more special than giving the one-of-a-kind mooncakes to her?"

Her parents were fully convinced by her lie and agreed to her request. To help lighten the Ling's family workload, they assigned a hundred kitchen staffs to help them and even offered their luxurious kitchen to make the mooncakes.

Meanwhile, her parents thought that Chang Er had went to stay at Hour Yi's parents' house, as Duan Er had falsely conveyed to them.

The next night, Duan Er forged a letter in Chang Er's name and sent it to Hou Yi's parents, telling them to pass the letter to Hou Yi upon his return. Duan Er arranged for the 1000 mooncakes to be transported to the pavilion. She then sent them away saying that she wants to give Hou Yi and her sister Chang Er a surprise when they come to the pavilion that night. When no one was around, she grabbed an apple and hit her head hard with it. She then found herself on Mount Pra.

"I have completed the task. The cakes are beside the apple tree now. But I don't know how to transport them over." Duan Er said to Immortal SSW.

Immortal SSW muttered a chant ("lala lama lama I love Lama lala hom mani mani hom") and the next moment, the 1000 mooncakes materialized before them.

He looked at them and grinned delightedly and said," Well done. What are these called?"

"Mooncakes. Representing the full moon. Now you have to fulfill your promise." Duan Er said impatiently as Hou Yi will be arriving any minute.

He then proceeded to rub his body all over and a small brown pill appeared. "Think of the person whom you want to change into and swallow it."

Duan Er thanklessly took the pill and bit the apple which the immortal next conjured up and she found herself beside the apple tree again. She imagined Chang Er's face in her mind and then swallowed the pill. A few moments later, she felt her weight decreasing but not in the correct sense. Moments later her feet started to lift from the ground and she felt a strong force pulling her upwards.

"There must be a mistake! I don't want to go to the moon! NOOOOOOO!!!!!" She yelled as the force increased and she accelerated upwards. She struggled furiously but to no avail.

On her way up, she saw Chang Er floating downwards. They looked at each other, wide-eyed and shocked.

"That damn Immortal SSW tricked me! ARGHHHH!!!" She began cursing Immortal SSW.

Chang Er finally landed on the ground softly, beside the pavilion. The next moment, Hou Yi arrived and they hugged each other tightly. Tears of happiness rolled down Chang Er's cheeks.

Meanwhile, Immortal SSW was enjoying his 1000 mooncakes and thought to himself," This is your karma."

So, as you can see, it was Duan Er who ended up on the moon. The numerous moon craters are actually caused by Duan Er digging the ground for rocks to hurl at the earth but due to her terrible aiming skills, they ended up as what people would call shooting stars as they bypass the earth but never hitting earth.

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