Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival 9-11

As I start to write about this year's Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, I can't help but reflect on how different my mood and circumstance were a year ago.

This year's Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Day fell on September 11. In Taiwan, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is celebrated by snacking on mooncakes and pomelos. The gifting of and mooncake pastries and pomelo fruit begins days or even weeks before the actual day of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. On the evening of Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Day, families and friends gather for home-cooked barbecue under the open sky with a view of the full moon.

Last year, I was fortunate to be in the company of a good friend and her family and friends. I had just returned from visiting my terminally ill A-ma (maternal grandmother) in Canada, but sadly, less than a week after I had returned to Taiwan, she passed away. I was without my family because they had returned to Canada for A-ma's funeral. Due to the unfortunate timing and teaching committments, I wasn't able to attend the funeral.

One year ago, I was dressed in somber black, sitting on the roof of my friend's house, surrounded by the comforting chatter of her friends and family. I looked at the full moon, alone in my thoughts and paused for a private moment of silence thinking about my A-ma and all of my relatives who were gathering at about this same time in the morning on the other side of the globe.

So the coming of this year's Mid-Autumn Moon Festival was met with mixed feelings for me as I realized it was almost a year ago that A-ma had passed away and another year had passed since 9-11.

For the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival this year, my family and I went to Tai Chung, (central Taiwan) for the day. There we were met by old family friends (who we knew in Canada)- they now live in Tai Chung. We stopped by Natou, the site that was hit hardest by the 9-21 earthquake of 1999 and visited a wall with hand imprinted bricks; it was a commemoration of the victims of 9-21.

It was a humid, cloudy day with patches of sun, sprinkles of rain and a breeze that just came later in the afternoon, just in time for our visit to the beautiful, serene Sun Moon Lake. We lunched at a beautifully modern hotel (designed by an Australian architect). The open space, clean lines, natural light from the glass windows, with a view of the lake harmoniously exuded an atmosphere of tranquility.

There are quite a few Spa hotels located around Sun Moon Lake and I quickly learned that Taiwan has quite a few luxurious, ultra modern and EXPENSIVE (to the tune of around US$300-500 a night- that's a month's rent for most people in Taiwan!) resort spa hotels like the one we dined in. It's unfortunate that these Spas are priced at such a premium- it's certainly not appealing to local or foreign travelers who could get same type of treatments at a fraction of the cost in a nearby South-East Asian country.

As so often the case, much of our time and socializing centered around eating.

We also had a unique dinner dining experience- we ate at Taiwan Banana New Paradise , a restaurant themed on colonial 1900 Taiwan (the period of Japanese occupation). There's a train waiting at the platform for you right outside of the restaurant... step in onto the cobblestone streets and you will be transported back in time. Everything looks as though it's been frozen in time- there's a corner store selling chewing gum and cigarettes, the local barber, neighborhood coffee shop, a movie theater at the end of the street, a dentist's office across the street and the herbalist/pharmacist next door. Peak into the glass enclosed shop interiors- there's an old barber shop chair and clippers, the dentist's office and equipment, old movie projectors and reels, what's behind the movie ticket counter?, what's on the menu at the local coffee shop? The signage was authentic (one of the signs was in fact for a pharmacy that one of my uncle's families ran!)

I was very impressed with Tai Chung since I saw such a range of impressive things- natural beauty, historical artifacts and interesting modern spaces.

After dinner we stopped by another restaurant, which was basically a cavernous stone structure about 3-4 stories high. The interior reminded me somewhat of the rave dance scene in the Matrix Reloaded, but with more style. It was a sexy, sensual space with abstract, surreal looking stone sculptures fashioned into various representations of the female form. There were female torso wall hangings and oversized female forms arching up into the 3+ story high ceilings. My descriptions couldn't do that place justice. It was truly unique.

Of course this day, 9-11 was a date significant for other reasons that did not go unnoticed. 9-11 did not go unmentioned nor did it escape mention in many of our conversations in Taiwan.


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