It’s the second week of my return to Chengdu as I wait out the start of my school year in Longzhou on October 9.
As always, my evenings have been spent with the Yang family, my former neighbors when I studied Chinese here for 1 year at Sichuan University. Jalin, the daughter, just turned 16 and is likewise in her second week of starting high school. I was so looking forward to spending more time with her but, alas, her junior high years of carefree studies have come to an end.
Jalin leaves for high school at 7:10 a.m. and doesn’t return until 8:30 p.m., her last class of the day ending at 8 in the evening. This is the life of a high schooler in China, Monday to Saturday. Already, Jalin has signed up for Sunday courses in the morning at a cram school to improve her chemistry and math skills. We are meeting up but usually at 10:30 p.m., after she’s finally finished the last of her homework for the night.
In the earlier part of the evening, her mom, dad and I sit down to dinner where Jalin’s mom has always prepared great homecooked meals which I’m invited to. Then it’s an hour of watching the Channel 5 Chengdu news where I catch up on what’s going on in the city.
Auspicious Weddings: Triple 9 Day is Here! Good Luck . . .
This evening, Jalin’s father introduced me to the big news which seems to be filling not only the TV channels but the newspapers as well.
Wedding banquets and celebrations are a big deal in China, usually taking place during national holidays or weekends so lots of guests can attend. Choosing the right date is likewise important. Eights, for example, are considered lucky numbers because they sound similar to the Chinese word which means treasure or riches. So unless the dates are really special, it’s unusual to have weddings in the middle of a week but tomorrow seems to be an exception for some.
September 9, 2009 (9-9-9) has been touted as being a good day for marriage. The number 9 sounds like and is symbolic of "a long time" and "forever" in Mandarin Chinese, naturally meaning your marriage, and love, will last into eternity.
On the news, various couples in Chengdu were getting their licenses at the city’s government marriage office. Jalin’s dad likewise told me tomorrow would be a good day for snapping wedding pictures. Western style white satin gowned brides with their grooms standing outside restaurant doors will begin greeting guests for noontime banquets. Cars bedecked with roses in the shape of huge hearts and huge white bows will also be parading throughout the city, the lead vehicle holding the happy couple within as they are whisked about to and from their celebrations.
. . . Or Bad Luck?
But other young couples are more hesitant about celebrating their special day on the triple 9 date.
August 20 to September 16 is regarded as the Hungry Ghost Festival among many Chinese communities in China, Singapore and Taiwan.
According to folklore, the gates of hell are opened during this month to free the hungry ghosts who wander the earth in search of food. The Chinese remember their dead family members during this time and pay tribute to them in various ways. One of these is to offer food to the dead to ward off bad luck. Fruit, cakes and canned drinks (coke, sprite, beer) are often seen during this time presented at the altars of temples or at the gravesites of relatives. Fake paper money is also burned and joss sticks as well outside of the house, in the yard or along the sidewalk in front of apartment buildings or home owners’ doorways. The paper money is to be used by deceased relatives in heaven so they can buy whatever they want in the after-life.
(Well-stocked department stores and shops manned by angelic sellers? One does wonder if the phrase "I’m in shoppers’ heaven!" actually comes from the Chinese.)
Also by the superstitious, it’s not a wise idea to go swimming during these hungry ghost days. An evil spirit might very well drag you under water and cause you to drowned.
But from my daily jaunts to the swimming pool here in Chengdu, I find city folk might take their supersitions a little less seriously than those in other parts of China. In our 90-degree heat and steamy atmosphere, I noticed Sunday had our crowds just as busy splashing about in the cool waters of the Meng Zhui Wan Swimming Complex as during the summer months when school wasn’t in session.
Wait and See!
I guess the only way to find out if tomorrow’s Triple 9 will hold in Chengdu as a great day for a wedding celebration is to wait and find out.
I’m already juicing up my rechargeable batteries for my digital camera as we speak. I’m not about to miss out on a great photo opportunity when it comes to weddings in China. The brides go all-out in their poofy, glitterly, princess-like garments and look gorgeous having such slim and slender figures.
Very few crash bridal diets in China for our Sichuan gals. They’re already quite fit and trim, which is a far cry from Americans and other Westerners, that’s for sure.
Diet Camp for One Chinese Gal
Not all Sichuan girls are in such great shape, I must admit.
After 6 weeks with her babysitter, Mrs. He, Little Flower’s pretty little figure has gone to the dogs. Hotdog pieces, meaty bones, and heaping bowls of rice gruel topped with leftover dinner scraps have taken their toll. Although my strict instructions on food portions for LF (1/4 cup of dry food only 2 times daily) are fully understood, Mrs. He can’t help but spoil my dog by feeding her the same as she does her own overweight poodle.
Both dogs end up getting 3 meals a day (Chinese are very particular about their hearty 3 meals a day and insist pets should get the same). Both dogs end up getting tidbits of extra goodies. And both dogs also receive their dry food on top of everything else.
All this and no exercise made for a very fat Flower when I returned to pick her up 2 weeks ago.
Her 8.8 pound figure had ballooned up to 10.1 pounds. Not a lot on a person but definitely noticable on a little Chihuahua.
Thus for the past 2 weeks, Little Flower has been participating in Connie’s Diet Camp. No snacks and a lot of walks around the city streets and the nearby Sichuan University campus are trimming her slowly back down to her normal size. Yesterday’s weigh-in had her at 9.8 on the scales, which is a great achievement in my books.
When we land at our new home in Longzhou a month from now, I want her looking her best to greet neighbors, students and faculty.
Same goes for me so that’s why I swim every day, Hungry Ghost Festival or not.
And on that last note, I close off for now wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day!