Saturday, October 06, 2012

Mid-Autumn Festival, China National Day & the boat tragedy

The last week of September and the first week of October were two eventful weeks in this part of the region. What was supposed to be a time of festivities, exchange of moon cakes, celebration of the National Day and the subsequent holidays were suddenly turned into a time of tragedy,shock and sorrow. 

The Mid Autumn Festival

“May we live long and share the beauty of the moon together, even if we are hundreds of miles apart,” says the romantic Chinese poem. These ancient sentiments are still embodied in the way Chinese people celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival: together, and preferably under the glow of a full moon.
The Chinese have been celebrating this festival since at least the early Tang dynasty (618 – 907). In the past, people would make offerings of alcohol, fruit and other foods to the moon god, to express gratitude for a bumper harvest. 
 A lantern display during the Mid Autumn Festival in Hong Kong

The festival is now associated more with lanterns and the eating of moon cakes. Despite the rustic origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the highly-urbanised city like Hong Kong still celebrates this holiday.
In fact, the city celebrates it in style and with its characteristic penchant for fusing tradition with innovation.

Today, to be in Hong Kong or Macau during Mid-Autumn is to enjoy a metropolitan manifestation of an ancient harvest festival, complete with fiery dragons, shining lanterns and nouveau festival foods. 
All across the city, people will be gathering for family meals and enjoying lantern displays and a festival atmosphere in the light of the full moon. And of course with the exchange of Moon Cakes! 
What's the big deal about moon cakes?
This traditional pastry is everywhere during the Mid-Autumn Festival, but few actually get eaten.

                               Moon-cakes: can't avoid 'em, can't eat 'em!

The traditional pastry eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival can have up to 1,000 calories per piece and most Chinese people admit that they don't even like the flavor. According to statistics, each Hong Kong family bought three boxes of moon cakes on average last year, but they discarded a total of 2.5 million moon cakes.

So why is Hong Kong and mainland China caught up in moon cake madness every year during the Mid-Autumn Festival? Come the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, bakeries set up their special moon cake counters just to service customers seeking a box of the pastries.

The National Day Celebrations

The National Day of the People's Republic of China is celebrated every year on October 1. It is a public holiday in the People's Republic of China to celebrate their national day. The PRC was founded on October 1, 1949 with a ceremony at Tiananmen Square. 

The National Day marks the start of one of the two Golden Weeks in the PRC. Golden Week refers to the week-long public holidays. China Golden Week is when 1.3 billion people are given eight days off from work -- at the same time.
And what happens?

Here are some incredible stats that came out of China Golden Week, which started on September 30

Day 1: The government decides that highways will go toll-free for Golden Week. Very generous. But the result is vehicular paralysis as 86 million people take to the roads, a 13 percent increase on last year. 

Drivers were seen walking their dogs and playing tennis as they wait for the traffic to move.

October 2: The Forbidden City in Beijing has its highest attendance day ever -- 182,000 visitors go to the historical imperial palace.

October 3: The number of travelers to 119 destinations in China in the first four days total 18.2 million people, an increase of 23 percent from last year's Golden Week. 

October 4: The Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen in Nanjing is visited by 215,000 people. This is 10 times the number of visitors on a regular busy day at the site.  The government decides to take measures to ease gridlock across China. Vehicles with fewer than seven seats can pass through toll gates without stopping.

The National Day is celebrated throughout mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau with a variety of government-organised festivities, including fireworks and concerts.
Chinese attendees dressed in ethnic minority traditional costumes walk toward the Monument to the People's Heroes during a ceremony marking National Day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Oct. 1, 2012.
National Day Fireworks held at Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong 

 These are a few more visuals from the National Day Celebrations in Hong Kong

The boat tragedy that marred the festivities

The festivities in Hong Kong had an abrupt halt as the news media began to carry the news and visuals of a collision of two passenger boats near Lamma Island of Hong Kong, resulting in 39 people dead [as on 6th October] and over a hundred injured. 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (4th L), Chief Secretary Carrie Lam (5th L) and other government officials take part in a three-minute silence outside the government headquarters, October 4, 2012, as part of the three-day city-wide mourning for those who died in a ferry collision disaster on Monday.

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