Pomelos, people, and practices

posted in: Bonnie in Taipei | 0

As we turn the corner from this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival, I spent some time reminiscing about the last year’s celebration at Amherst. I briefly retold the legend behind the important celebration in Asia, and ate mooncakes while moon-gazing with Dorit Song, one of my closest friends and Her Campus contributor/Instagram Social Media Manager. With Dorit in Switzerland and Amherst so far away from me, I would have lost more time to nostalgia without this year’s opportunity to prepare for and celebrate it authentically here in Taiwan.

One of the greatest things about the CIEE study abroad program definitely comes from the local students that volunteer their time to serve as cultural ambassadors. (If you’re one of these amazing people reading this, 真的非常感謝你! ❤ ) Some of them have organized or are currently planning workshops to introduce us to their countless talents, from Chinese traditional calligraphy to modern forms of dancing. The day before the Festival, they transformed the CIEE office into a bakery, and we spent the afternoon making moon cakes. Moon cakes are iconic of the Mid Autumn Festival, or the Moon Festival, another name it goes by. We learned to make two types of moon cakes: one with red bean paste and egg yolk filling and the other with taro and mochi filling.

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Doing some ratios math before measuring and mixing ingredients (Haha, hi Griff!)
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After baking the cakes for 20 minutes, I had to take them out to brush on egg wash.
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First batch of red bean paste/egg yolk filled moon cakes. The picture doesn’t do justice to these delectable pockets of goodness.

The Moon Festival calls for more practices, other than munching on moon cakes. Amidst a discussion with the CIEE ambassadors about well-accepted traditions, I began questioning why certain traditions existed. In particular, I was curious about the origin of the practice of eating pomelos, large citrus fruits. Having taken part in this tradition for two decades, the local students stunned as they realized that they had taken a piece of the culture for granted and could not procure an answer. Soon, we discovered that the Mandarin words for pomelo are 柚子 or yòuzi, which is a homophone to the words 有子 meaning “having children”.

A less popular fact about Taiwan is that it has one of the world’s lowest birth rates (1.12 births per woman, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency 2016 estimate), only above two other Asian countries: Macau (0.94) and Singapore (0.82). In a recent discussion in one of my classes, Economics of Human Capital, we discussed potential factors of this statistic. Among the suggestions for explaining the low birth rate were stagnant incomes despite growing costs of living, increasing tuition costs and competition for education, while one student posited that, with the rise of Netflix and the Internet, children were the less preferable form of entertainment. Even as the low birth rate continues to plague the country, older generations pressure younger couples to bring grandchildren into their lives. No reliable statistics back me up, but I still wonder if superstitions and the desire to increase the island’s population have driven up pomelo sales.

Another reason the pomelo-eating tradition lives on is the Chinese belief that the fruit is auspicious, perfection, oneness, and unity. The night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the moon is supposedly at its fullest state. As such, in order to imbibe the moon’s power on this day, family members, young and old, will get together to celebrate over a feast and barbecue meat. Furthermore, among the festivities, the pomelo rinds are cut in a specific way to ward off evil spirits, and children will wear the rinds as hats to attract the attention of Chang E, the moon goddess. Supposedly, because Chang E’s favorite fruit is the pomelo, she will find the pomelo rind wearers on the night of the Festival and bless and protect them throughout the year.

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CIEE ambassadors and I shamelessly dive into the first batch of moon cakes.
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Flour-covered outfits are the fruits of our labor.
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Some families cut the pomelo rind and hang them outside their house to ask for Chang E’s blessings. This reminds me…Was anyone else told by their elementary school teachers to lay glitter in their backyard for the reindeer and Santa Claus, or was that just me?

Taiwan celebrates National Day on October 10 (or double ten) to remember the start of the Wuchang Uprising in 1911 and the eventual demolition of the Qing Dynasty in China. To celebrate the long weekend, a couple of friends and I are going on a trip way down south to KaohSiung (高雄; Gāoxióng) and KenTing (墾丁; Kěndīng).

To follow my trip and moments beyond, please check out my Instagram @onceabonnatime for updates on my story and gallery.

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