Saturday, January 17, 2009

So What Exactly Is Miao Hui?

Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of Miao Hui. Then I started asking some of the locals--taxi drivers, small merchants, teachers at BISS--what kinds of things we should anticipate doing come Spring Festival. (Spring Festival? That's what the holiday surrounding what the West calls "Chinese New Year" is known as here in the Middle Kingdom itself.) One answer kept rising to the top of the list, over and over again. "You should go to Miao Hui." "Miao Hui in Beijing is great fun."

As first, I simply nodded in agreement, having no idea what the speaker was actually talking about. I figured I had time to decode the mystery before the festival itself. What exactly is this Miao Hui? When is it held? Where does it go on? Slowly but surely, the answers have come into focus.

The "where" of Miao Hui. I guess the way to translate this phrase is "temple festival." So that helps out a bit. We need to be on the lookout for cool things going on at temples. Only problem? There are, like, how many temples in this monster metropolis known as Beijing? We could literally search for weeks and not find the right temple or temples.

Then, yesterday, we were in a cab and I struck up a conversation with the driver. Turns out, he's a Beijingren. So, I ask him, what about Miao Hui? He mentions that a really good one takes place at Ditan Gongyuan (The Temple of the Earth...Where emperors used to make animal sacrifices...Thankfully, not anymore...We saw enough of that in Harbin!) This response echoed what I had heard from at least one of my other sources (Z's Chinese teacher). As it happened, we were right in the vicinity of Ditan, so we decided to walk over and check things out. (Anyways, we had never been there, so it would be a new experience no matter what.)

The "what" of Miao Hui. This little excursion turned out to be a great "field trip." Before we even got inside the park, we could see all kinds of decorations...paper lanterns in trees, drums along the side of the path. As for the park itself, let's just say that preparations are in full swing. There are workers everywhere. It looks to us like there will be tons of food stands. We also saw the beginning stages of a "midway," complete with "shoot the ball in the hoop" contests. And there looked to be performance stands being erected. So our current thinking is that Miao Hui is kind of like the North Carolina State Fair with Chinese characteristics.

The "when" of Miao Hui. So when do we need to come back for the event itself? I decided to try out this new phrase that Yanke had just taught us. Xiang nin da ting yi xia. Essentially, this is a very polite way to approach a stranger and ask for information. Spying an unsuspecting nai nai (grandma) shuffling along, I broke this question out and then proceeded to ask when the Miao Hui is scheduled to begin. She told me the 25th, which is the day before New Year's Day. When I followed up by inquiring about the duration of Miao Hui, she was stumped and so brought another couple into the conversation. Eight days was the verdict on that consultation. Minutes later, though, another passerby suggested it was a 15-day event. So we're still not quite sure about that answer.

So, yes, we still have some gaps in our understanding of Miao Hui. But we have enough to go on. All that remains is for the big day to arrive and the party to really get started...

~Steve

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