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Travel, Teach, Live in China

Lantern Festival - Celebration for Some, Torture for Some
By:Rajesh Kanoi

My university, here in Huainan, that has looked so deserted for the past few weeks has started showing some signs of life. The odd student has started returning and there is certainly more activity here than in the last few weeks. The early birds here are the ones looking for their worms of love. Apparently, unable to bear the long Spring Festival-induced separation, they have come back to school sooner than necessary - sooner than necessary as per the school's diktats but perhaps, less sooner than the necessity imposed by nature. Which means, they have borne the festivities with some sort of stoicism. Spring Festival is the time when reunions are de rigeur for families. But lovers do not qualify as family and so they must make do with a period of segregation. They walk now, hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, smiles on their faces, homes and hearths forgotten in the fire of love.

Lantern Festival! Today, the fifteenth day of the Spring Festival, a full moon day, is the Lantern Festival when people remember their ancestors, if I recall rightly. After today, this year's Spring Festival will be consigned to the caves in the minds of the people and the hearts of lovers. Some will remember it with fondness and others, perhaps, with a little less, depending on what the festival gave or took from them. The streets this morning are deserted. The morning was noisy though, with firecrackers rousing me from my tossing-turning sleep well before fingers of light could brighten the horizon.

Xia Wu Fandian (Afternoon Restaurant, if my translation skills are any good), my head-office as I refer to it since most of my meals and drinking are 'accomplished' there, was crowded. I walked on to see more of the festivities. All I saw was unenforced curfew - or, perhaps, a curfew enforced by tradition. I imagined people sitting to a lavish spread with their ones at home, leaving the streets to be trawled by the homeless and the foreigners, perhaps, equally homeless in some sense. I returned an hour later and the restaurant was as deserted as the streets and I sat down to my small measure of baijiu (white wine) appetizer and cabbage with fried and diced pieces of doufu (tofu, beancurd) and a bowl of rice to go with it. It tasted good, as usual. It's a dish created by a student's (Chris's) pretty girl firend, Peace. She directed the restaurant's owner-cum-chef on how to prepare it and it has become a hit with me and a few others I have taken with me to sample the dish.

While I waited, I asked the owner's mother, who helps clean and wash the dishes there, where the lao ban niang (mistress of the establishment) was. 'Mama', a genial old lady, with an ever smiling face and busy hands, signalled that she was at home in bed. Why, I asked. She indicated that he, her son the lao ban, (the boss) had beaten her. I am about to call him and ask why he did that, forgetting for a moment, that men have been beatiing their wives for thousands of years, not only in China, India or Asia but all over the world. Thankfully, most women don't cower in the face of domestic violence anymore. Instead, they are more than willing to desert their violent husbands/mates. Unfortunately, in parts of Asia, women still allow that and don't raise a hand against their partners, nor their voice against the 'practice'. I wonder when this violence will end, when men will return their women the dignity they not only deserve but have earned over centuries. I believe, it's men with a huge sense of inferiority that do this, not men who are real men.

Festival times are not times to rejoice for all...for some they are times of torture!

Rajesh Kanoi

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