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Mooncakes and floating lanterns

By on Sep 25, 2010 in Travel | 8 comments

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A mooncake is a muffin-sized Chinese dessert that is traditionally eaten around this time. The occasion? A traditional Chinese festival called the ‘Mid-Autumn Festival‘, with its roots in moon worship and harvest celebrations. Legend has it that messages were hidden inside mooncakes – much like in fortune cookies, the idea being that the medium of communication could be eaten to destroy the evidence – exhorting the masses to rise in revolt that ultimately lead to the Ming revolution.

Although messages are no longer hidden in mooncakes, they are still an integral part of the festivities. My local Singaporean neighbour next room tells me that these days modern mooncakes come with a range of fillings – durian, chocolate, orange – even ice cream! I wanted to try out a traditional mooncake, one which has a filling of lotus seed paste.

Don’t let the variety of colours fool you! The mooncakes themselves are all the same flavour. It’s hard to describe the taste. With lotus seed paste filling, these mooncakes were slightly sweet and chewy but without any discernible taste that I could make out. I can’t imagine myself enjoying eating this during a normal meal as a dessert though, unless it’s one of the fancy-schamncy ‘new-style’ mooncakes that have more palatable fillings.

The NTU Chinese Society held a celebration on our campus at the Chinese Heritage Centre on the day of the festival (17th September). I regret not being able to attend that since I was simply so tired that day! Instead, I went to the nearby Chinese Garden in Singapore where celebrations were being held over a week.

Reaching Chinese Garden is easy – the entrance is right outside the exit of the namesake MRT station. Follow the path to reach the Red Bridge lighted with red lanterns – red being an auspicious colour in Chinese tradition. At the very end of the bridge, before you enter the gardens, you’ll come across two marble lions ‘guarding’ the entrance.

(Took me a long time to get this picture right. Couldn’t use flash as the range as the objects were out of range, and had to keep my hand rock steady as I was shooting in low light. Had a long exposure shutter for this one.)

I was blown away by the astonishing variety of lanterns that I saw there! The picture above was taken from the lakeshore, where there were lanterns floating in the water. These – and other lanterns – that people were carrying aren’t electrical lanterns but traditional fire-lit ones!

Ru Yun T'a Pagoda

The Mid-Autumn Festival is very much a family affair. All around the garden, there were families and friends gathered together having a picnic and lighting sparklers. Also, this festival might as well be the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Some of the more traditional (?) family groups were lighting candles instead. Unlike Diwali celebrations in India, usage of fireworks was subdued. None of the loud ‘bombs’ that I hate.

I was tired after a day of recording the first Spectrum TV episode, but I had one more stop before I headed back home. The Ru Yun T’a pagoda is a seven-storey structure at entrance station close to the MRT station. I doubled back to the entrance I came from.

The design is based on the Ling Ku Temple in Nanking. Not until I was right at the footstep of the pagoda staircase did I realize that climbing to the top might be a challenge when I was dog-tired! The architecture places a strong emphasis on symmetry – both the exterior and the interior.

I know that pagodas are supposed to be places of worship, so I found this place intriguing. There didn’t seem to be any sort of scripture, prayer room, inscription, idol or any religious paraphernalia to indicate this was a place a worship. Possibly because this was built as a tourist attraction?

Each storey of the pagoda has a viewing balcony. I climbed the spiral staircase to the top, where the height affords a view of the whole festival area. I was expected there would be hawker stalls to try out Chinese cuisine but I didn’t come across any. Anyway, my day ended on a high – with a climb to the top of a seven-storey tower. :)

More pictures from the festival in my photo gallery for Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival 2010 in Singapore.


  1. bun

    September 26, 2010

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    Would have been much tastier if you got premium lotus seed mooncakes instead. The one you bought are sadly, mass produced and inferior

    • Ankur Banerjee

      September 26, 2010

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      I bought these ones hastily at the university supermarket. If they’re still selling mooncakes at one of the malls here, I’ll try some other mooncake varieties out!

  2. AstraNyx

    September 28, 2010

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    Makes sense for the pagoda to be a tourist attraction. They’d have to get people in there before they could commence praying. Like various pagodas competing for the largest congregation. :P

    The photos look… surreal. O.O

    • Ankur Banerjee

      September 28, 2010

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      What I found surprising was that there was no indication in the architectural design that any space had been allocated for praying. Maybe some design element was missing compared to the Nanking pagoda it’s a copy of. I don’t think Confucius decreed that people should pray to the Good Lord while climbing stairs.

      (Confucius is very popular here – at the Chinese garden there’s a statue of him were people were queuing up to get a photo next to his statue.)

      The lanterns floating on the lake was truly a sight to behold. I wanted to…kick one so badly. And then see whether it could be turned into a game of pinball.

  3. Sanchari

    September 30, 2010

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    You wanted to kick a lantern? Seriously?

    They look so amazing and…delicate!

    And yeah…the pictures are really…wow

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