White lotus paste, two salted yolks. My favourite kind of mooncake. There are other flavours – red bean, taro, durian, mango. There are even snowskin mooncakes, ones you have to keep in the fridge otherwise they’ll melt and lose their consistency.
I’ve just bought myself four regular-sized mooncakes. They come in reusable tins, a yellow and crimson receptacle for the deliciousness inside. I crack one open. The knife hits some resistance as it catches onto the yolk, and after half a second, I hit the bottom. I’ve only cut myself a small slice, but I know I’m going to end up eating the whole thing in one sitting.
Mid-autumn festival is my favourite festival, not just because there are mooncakes involved, but also because of the stories. The moon has been a source of fascination for many cultures, and the Chinese are no different.
As a child, I collect these stories. They take me out of school, out of my own skin. My parents tell me these stories – I don’t find them in the library, or even buried among the shelves of books we have at home.
Did you know there are stories about the moon? Not the ones that say it’s made of blue cheese. Real stories. Ones that have been passed on from old Chinese poets and storytellers. Ones that my mother told me, when I was little.
Mum tells the story of 嫦娥, now more commonly known as the Moon Goddess. Her husband was a famed archer, who shot down nine of the ten suns that were ravaging the earth at the time. He was given an elixir of some kind (it was of immortality. Elixirs are always for immortality), which he kept locked away in his bedroom. While he was away, 嫦娥 snuck into his room and stole the elixir for herself – but in doing so, floated up to the moon, where she lives to this day.
If you look carefully – oh so carefully – at the right time, when the moon is just so, you can see her. Or at least her shadow, her outline.
Sometimes, 嫦娥 is accompanied by a rabbit. I don’t know who I heard this story from – maybe an auntie, a family friend. The Jade Rabbit is there because the Jade Emperor once turned himself into an old, old man, begging for food. The other animals, a jackal, an otter, and a monkey, fetched him food from the trees and the river, but the rabbit had nothing, so attempted to throw himself into the fire (he was fine). Touched by the rabbit’s sacrifice, the man then revealed himself to be the Emperor, and sent his likeness up to the moon, where he would be immortalised forever.
Look again. Do you see the rabbit? What’s he doing? Is he making more immortality elixir? Or is he just keeping 嫦娥 company?
Mum tells me that we have mooncakes because a long time ago, when two parts of China were at war, people used them to send messages. They baked pieces of paper into their mooncakes, and organised a revolution right under the soldiers’ noses. Even when I was little, I rather enjoyed the idea of food as a method of protest and organisation.
You know we’re not superstitious people. But there’s just something about the moon. Especially when it’s so round. Like it’s smiling at us. Encouraging us.
I have a soft spot for these stories. They are tales that I know are untrue, and yet a little part of me still hopes that there really is a woman living on the moon with a rabbit. I have a soft spot for these stories, and I will tell them to my children, while I eat a slice of white lotus paste mooncake with a chunk of salted egg yolk.