沓饼节: the second annual pounded biscuit festival

Yesterday, Bao’an District organized the second annual pounded biscuit festival (沓饼节). Pounded biscuits are a traditional local sweet that are especially popular at Chinese New Year’s. It so happens that a Shenzhen brand, 合成号 has been making said biscuits since 1901. The company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011, and to kick off its next century, in 2012, it became the sponsor of Shenzhen’s latest festival.

Local historian, Mr. Liao Honglei (廖虹雷) invited me to join the celebration. Mr. Liao curated the event and has been active promoting local Chinese culture. He is particularly attentive to cultural differences between Cantonese, Hakka, and Chaozhou settlements. Shenzhen inhabitants from outside Guangdong, refer to Cantonese as “baihua (白话)”, or local language. In contrast, Mr. Liao makes a point of calling each of these cultural strands by their official names, Guangfu (广府 literally provincial capital of Guangdong), Hakka, and Chaozhou in order to draw attention to Bao’an’s heterogeneous roots.

Also present was special guest, Professor Wu Bing’an (乌丙安), an 86-year old specialist in Chinese folklore. Professor Wu began his discussion by explaining why he opposes calling Chinese New Year “Spring Festival”. On his analysis, festival (节 jie) refers to a date on the calendar. In contrast, year (年 nian) refers to a period of time. Thus, jie mark the passage of time within a given nian. Professor Wu said that in order to leave one year and enter the next, Chinese people need sound and color. After praising the reintroduction of noisy, pounding to make New Year’s biscuits, he mentioned that firecrackers were the traditional “sound” for sending off and greeting the new year. Professor Wu also complained that too many safety restrictions had made Chinese New Year too quiet.

Impressions of the pounded biscuit festival, below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Good food — Love!

I have 口福 (kǒu fú), which might literally be translated as “mouth happiness” and means something like “the destiny to eat delicious food” – and what good fate this is.

I didn’t realize the blessed state of my culinary fate until I moved to Shenzhen, where I have truly enjoyed eating. Apparently, my joy at the table and mad chopstick skills have convinced many Chinese people that I am good friend material. Early on, when friends invited me to eat larvae or dog hotpot, I said, “Sure!” When Yang Qian and I started dating, we made a point of trying a different restaurant several times a week. Moreover, when I had a cold or minor physical discomfort, I went to the local market, bought herbs from a former barefoot doctor, and on her instructions, concocted delicious and healthy Cantonese soups in an ordinary clay pot. The unadulterated pleasure I felt when eating and the joy of sharing good food were critical to how I settled into an ex-patriot life in Shenzhen. Continue reading