Someone asked me recently if I'm still learning Cantonese. The answer is "yes, but..." I have registered for Practical Cantonese (4 lessons) that begins next week and I just found a website, www.CantoneseClassroom101.com that has free lessons and some cool features if I upgrade. So! Between my face-to-face class and my online class, we'll see how I do. I have learned "tau fan" - fried rice. My vocabulary is now, "Good morning! Fried Rice! Thank you!"
Last week was Mid-Autumn Festival. We did not see the Fire Dragon Dance or go out for lantern viewing - mostly because the crowds are like those in Times Square on New Year's Eve and it was raining. Mark and I agreed we HAVE to do it at least once! I did buy laterns for our apartment (purple, natch) and we tried a Moon cake (almost like Christmas Fruit Cake, but with an cooked egg yolk in the middle). They are a real treat but not for every palate, so we passed the rest of ours onto Elsie the housekeeper and her kids.
Mid-Autumn festival is just one night - everybody celebrates what we in the States would call the Harvest Moon. The next day is a national holiday and people visit their families and have family outings. We noticed an increase in activity at the temples and more make-shift alters with offerings. People not only make offerings of fruit and incense, but there are actual incinerators that people burn things in, such as fake money, clothes, books - anything they think their ancestors would enjoy in the next life. So! If you had always wanted to give your parents a nice house but they died before you could do so, you might build a small replica and then burn it so the smoke would carry the house to your parents in heaven.
Knowing that bit of information, it was with great interest that Mark and I observed the following. Last Thursday, the national holiday, we went to Agave, a fantastic Mexican restaurant here in Wan Chai. One of the great features of many restaurants is they open right onto the street. You can sit in the window with a/c blowing on you, but enjoy the sights/sounds out on the street. So, we sat at the window taking in the scene across the street. Wan Chai, at one time, was considered the Red Light District. In fact, prostitution is legal in HK. Across the street from Agave's front window is an "Aussie" bar flanked by two strip clubs and an upstairs "disco." The Aussie bar is open to the street as well - and on street level. Both strip clubs have a madam working outside, encouraging men to stop in for a bit. And of course, some men stop in and others don't. At one point, a woman shows up and enters the strip club. Mark and I are rather fascinated by this and wonder at her choice. A moment later, she emerges in her madam clothes (actually, very conservative) - she is the night shift! There is some back and forth - she goes in, comes out (the doorway is actually just a set of heavy dark red velvet curtains pulled closed) and then she brings out a tray of food. Chicken (cooked), fruit, vegetables, and sets it down on a small wooden bench near the street. Then she lights some incense and begins making an offering at a make-shift alter! In front of the strip club. While her "girls" are hanging around the door enticing would-be customers. She completes her labor of love, packs up her tray and alter, and takes it all back inside. When she comes out, she takes up her post on a stool in the doorway of the strip club, and starts her evening.