We didn’t celebrate Columbus Day this year, nor can we drink pumpkin spiced lattes, nor can we jump in a pile of orange, crimson and golden leaves…we did however, get a week to celebrate the season (in sunny, 80 degree heat) during China’s National Day and Golden Week, a.k.a. the Mid-Autumn festival. After Chinese New Year, I think this is the biggest holiday of the year. And like a turkey on Thanksgiving, you celebrate mid-Autumn with moon cakes. The festival is all about the moon – “lunar worship” according to Wikipedia. And what better way to worship the moon than with special cakes. But don’t be too jealous, the word “cake” here is a bit of a misnomer. While a moon cake can be sweet, I think they are mostly savory, consisting of a thick red bean paste in a pastry-like shell. We tasted one that was sweet but it was way too sweet, slightly conconutty and a little oily. Delish! The act of giving and receiving moon cakes is kind of a big deal. You give them to friends, relatives, acquaintances and I think, you give them to the host of a party, or if you are going to a party, you give them to the host. Everyone seems to give and get moon cakes. But I also think it’s kind of like fruit cake at Christmas – not in the significance but in the consumption. No one actually eats fruit cake, do they? This is a moon cake:
As you can see, they are quite small but weigh approximately as much as a bowling ball.
Besides giving and receiving moon cakes, the other thing to do during Golden Week is to travel to Shanghai. Everyone. All of China. All 1.3 billion people.
Ok, I may be exaggerating a little. They go to Beijing too.
Excited to learn that George had the week off, we thought this would be a great week to start really exploring our new city. This lasted approximately 4 minutes into our first touristy destination, Old City in Puxi on the other side of the lovely Huangpu River separating Pudong from the rest of Shanghai. The 10 minute ferry ride gave us no indication of the chaos that would greet us on the other side. Strange hands pawing at my children, a screaming 7 month old, terrified 2 year old, flustered mama…all I remember is a blur of red and yellow, stalls of seemingly beautiful items clogged by too many people, the smell of mystery meat on sticks and cigarettes…until we emerged safely back in Pudong.
There is a saying about Shanghai that if you’re not in Puxi, you’re not really in China. Pudong (now that financial hub of the city) was all rice paddies until the early 1990s. And even though now it is, and continues to be built up, it is lacking in some of the old world charm one might expect to find in China. Now, I hate (HATE) to be one of those, “but with the kids people…” but with the kids, Pudong is seemingly a little less overwhelming – wide, quieter streets, modern conveniences, and space to play. According to our “Rough Guide” guidebook, “Pudong is the one place in Shanghai that does not reward aimless wandering.” But neither do an infant and toddler.
I give Shanghai credit though, they were ready for the onslaught of tourists. In a matter of days (days, not weeks) entire blocks of lawn were ripped up and replaced with beautiful red and yellow flowers. Shrubs normally neatly cut and trimmed into the usual boxy shapes were transformed into dragons, stars and other elaborate designs, every lamppost was adorned with the Chinese flag. It really was quite impressive. The pictures below will give you an idea but probably not truly express the scale and speed with which they employed to class the place up. The Chairman would be proud.
Note the flags and if you look really hard (but hard to see here) the crowds.
Better view of the flags.
Note the pose.