I greeted the last quarter of the year at the Mandarin Oriental Manila with friends from local media celebrating the Mid-autumn festival. Aside from the scrumptious feast from the hotel's famous Tin Hau, we played pua tiong chiu (mooncake game, known to Philippine-based Chinese as the hopia game) that left the biggest winners stoked on hopia for, at least, the next couple of days.
I was fortunate to bag the zhuang yuan at my table. The yummiest hopia was also the biggest—the size of a salad plate! The thrill of winning along with the beautiful ceremony with lanterns, plus the company of friends from Chinese media and the ladies of the hotel's public relations department, made the event unforgettable. There was also a storm brewing outside that raised everyone's adrenaline, given that the ravages of Ketsana (“Ondoy”) were still a raw memory.
At events such as these where guests are exhorted to pray to sundry gods and goddesses (It was the Moon Goddess of Immortality at this one.), I take refuge in experiencing the rich Chinese culture instead. I am also constantly amused at how momentous events in Chinese history are so much intertwined with food.
The mooncake, for instance, was said to be used for espionage during the Yuan dynasty. Revolutionaries spread the rumor that a plague was sweeping across the region and the only way to avoid it was to eat mooncakes! They used the superstition to hide messages in mooncakes, communicating with other mutineers, thus starting the revolt of the Han Chinese.
Given that the Han Chinese are the single largest ethnic group on the planet today, mooncakes are now found and enjoyed in many nations, most especially in countries like the Philippines where the Chinese culture is still a growing influence.
But more than mooncakes and prayers to goddesses, what many Filipinos really hope will rub off on them is the work ethic and patriotism of the Chinese. They may wear charm bracelets for good luck, but the Chinese will still work hard. They may construct buildings next to mountains with quaint gaps in the center so as not to trap the dragon (said to make mountains its dwelling place), but the Chinese will design the building along color palettes and heights mandated by law.
Now, if only we can find a President who loves the country, works like there's a fiery dragon chasing him (or her), and will detest painting cities with nauseating color combinations, then maybe there's hope for a more beautiful and prosperous Philippines.
Print ed: 11/09