More than a year ago, I joined a lively group on WeChat, members are from many different countries, from France to Japan, from Germany to USA, etc. The topics of conversations are so amazingly interesting and stimulating. I feel like siping a bowl of rich and thick chicken soup everyday, which benefits my soul a lot. The other day we talked about the subject of love between men and women.
Today is Chinese traditional Qixi Festival, I’m making a very traditional dinner.
Summer is my favorite season, because southern California has no mosquito ravages, no suffocating humidity, and we can enjoy romantic meals in the garden with carefreeness. Eating and drinking, looking at the stars, my wings of imagination fly freely. The Qixi Festival coincides with the midsummer, and I have no reason to neglect this beautiful occasion.
Shakespeare celebrated Midsummer Night with a play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream “consists of five interconnecting plots, connected by a celebration of the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazon queen, Hippolyta, which are set simultaneously in the woodland and in the realm of Fairyland, under the light of the moon. (quoted from “Wikipedia”)
Midsummer definitely needs to be celebrated: when the best food of the year, the most beautiful weather and the colorful flowers combine, love comes naturally.
Similarly, there are also summer romantic legends in the East ❤️❤️❤️
“With pairs of birds singing on the tree,
So green rivers and mounts look great,
With pairs of birds singing on the tree,
Picking a flower off conveniently,
I put it in my dear’s chignon affectionately,
From now on being of enslaving-free,
My wife and I are on the way home free,
You may plough and I will make some textile,
I shoulder water you do some watering while,
Being so humble, our house can keep out wind,
A loving couple regards poverty as honey to drink,
Couple of us is just like that of mandarin ducks,
Flying wing to wing in the people’s world with good luck.”
This well-known love tune “BIRDS ON THE TREES ARE PAIRS” is selected from Huangmei Opera (a Chinese regional opera) Heavenly Marriage.
The actor in this video clip is my cousin Xia Chengping. When I was a child, my maternal grandmother (who came to Shanghai from Anqing, Anhui) chatted with me endlessly about how she worshipped her idol Yan Fengying who made this regional opera popular all over in China. Unfortunately Yan tragically took her own life after unbearable political persecutions and physical tortures during the Cultural Revolution. My sweet memory is that my grandmother often sat on a small bamboo chair in the corridor shared by the two families on Fenyang Road in Shanghai. The simple, smooth, and soft Huangmei opera tunes were played on the small radio. The grandmother listened to the melodious Huangmei opera while shelling the edamame. Her body moved slightly with the music, and the creaking bamboo chair sound added a unique accompaniment, she was nostalgic about southern Anhui.
The seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar in 2021 is August 14th. Comparing with last year, our social life is much more active. The weekly garden parties allow us to share friendship with our fully vaccinated old and new friends. Although the Delta variant is still spreading wildly, people have gradually learned how to protect themselves and adapt to the reality of coexisting with the virus.
In Southern California, there is almost no rains throughout the summer, the moon is always shining accompanied by the twinkling stars every night. Many traditional festivals in China use the moon, stars, and the Milky Way as a fantasy and romantic background stage, providing people with boundless imaginations. On this gorgeous summer night, the vast Milky Way passes through the deep sky, like a big waterfall flying down, the stars blinking like water splashing everywhere. I’m looking up at the starry sky, sipping lemon mint iced tea, pouring a glass of “rose dew” wine bought from “Chinatown”, and thinking of the well known love story between the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.
Today is the day when the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl meet. This romantic mythology can be traced back 3000 years ago. “The general tale is a love story between Zhinü (the weaver girl, symbolizing Vega) and Niulang (the cowherd, symbolizing Altair). Their love was not allowed, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River (symbolizing the Milky Way). Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a flock of magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for one day. There are many variations of the story.”(from Wikipedia) [3As one of the four great love stories in ancient China, the story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl appeared in the Shijing (The Classic of Poetry) 3000 years ago in ancient China. It is said that this day the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl can meet on the magpie bridge to have their once-a-year meeting:
(The general meaning: Looking into the sky, the Milky Way is wide, and the water is shining like a mirror. The Weaver Girl (Vega) constellation supports supports herself, and very busy with weaving back and forth all day long. Although she is busy it is difficult to weave gorgeous patterns. Seeing that the Cowherd constellation (Altair) shines, but he can’t maneuver the vehicle.)The Story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl
According to the legend, a long long time ago, there was a smart and honest young man who was forced to live with his brother-in-law due to the death of his parents. The young man’s sister-in-law was vicious bullying and forcing him to do heavy farm work. One day, the your man’s sister-in-law forced him to take 9 cows out to mountains and ordered him not coming home until he got 10 cows. The Cowherd reluctantly took the cows into the mountain. In the remote mountains and the forest, he was desperate and did not know when he would get another cow. At this time, an elderly man came to the Cowherd and asked him why he was so sad? After learning of what happened to the Cowherd, the elderly man told him: “There is a sick old cow in Funiu Mountain, go there to feed and nurture it. When the old cow gets better, you can take it with you to home.” After the elderly man’s advice, the Cowherd traveled long distance over the mountains and gone through hardships, he finally found the seriously ill old cow. After a month of tender, love and care by the Cowherd, the old cow finally recovered from the illness. Since then, the old cow and the Cowherd depended on each other. One day, just as the Weaver Girl and the Seven Fairies from the Heaven descended down to the Earth to take baths, through the guidance of the old cow, the Cowherd met the Weaver Girl and they fell in love at first sight. Since then the Weaver Girl in the Heaven often went down to the Earth and became the wife of the Cowherd. The Weaver Girl distributed the silkworms brought from the Heaven to the people on the Earth, and taught them to raise silkworms, peel off the cocoons, draw silk, and weave silk brocade. After the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl got married, the men farmed and the women weave, and they had children and were happy. However their happy time didn’t last long. The news reached to Wang Mu Niang Niang (Queen Mother)’s ears, she forcibly brought the Weaver Girl back to the Heaven, and the good marriage ended up with sorrows, and the mandarin ducks broke up. The Cowherd cried his heart out about the separation. At this moment, the Old Cow told the Cowherd: “If I die, you can use my skin to make leather shoes and fly to the Heaven.” After the Old Cow died, the Cowherd did just that: wearing shoes made of cowhide left by the old cow and carrying a pair of sons and daughters flying into the Heaven to meet the Weaver Girl. When Queen Mother saw that the Coward was about to meet the Weaver Girl, she took off the golden hairpin on her head to to cut an insurmountable “Galaxy” which blocked the 2 lovers. The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl were separated from each other by Heaven and Earth permanently. But their unwavering love deeply touched the magpies hearts, and thousands of magpies gathered together to built a “Magpie Fairy Bridge” for the Cowherd and Weaver Girl to meet on the bridge. The Queen Mother had no choice but to allow this couple to meet on July 7th each year.
Qixi Festival is also known as the “Qi Qiao Festival”. This day is a festival for beautiful girls who pray to the Heaven for happiness. It is said that on this traditional and romantic evening, the girls gathered under melon and fruit covered shed, drinking the sweet-scented osmanthus wine and snacking with melon seeds, longans, red dates, peanuts, and hazelnuts. They took out their own handcrafted work, such as tiger head hat, pomegranate skirt, fragrant purse, embroidered shoes, mandarin duck pillow and so on.
The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl
Last summer, during the staying home period, I wrote a duet for flute and piano, entitled Episodes During the Plagued Summer, here’s the 5th Episodes, named “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”: “Is it romantic that in the middle of the summer looking at the starry sky in the garden, to fantasize this Chinese Valentine’s Story? The dialogue between the flute (the Weaver Girl) and the piano (the Cowherd) is based on the famous tune “Birds on the Trees are Pairs” selected from Huangmei Opera (a Chinese regional opera) Heavenly Marriage. The piano produced the celestial atmosphere.”
During the more than 5 months period of epidemic isolation at our home, cooking is one of the happy moments. My friends kept sending me the articles and blogs about the country cooking sensation – a Chinese girl named Li Ziqi. She is from a rural area in China. She has become an American internet celebrity and has appeared in New York Times and YouTube. Here is a video about a recipe of Qixi Festival. Li Ziqi is demonstrating how to make the traditional Chinese food “Qiaoshu”. The crispy layer on the outer skin melts in your mouth, and the filling of the purple potato is sweet and chewy, which is both beautiful and delicious.
Historically there have many Chinese poems written on the theme of Qixi Festival there are two are real classics.
The first one is entitled 迢迢牽牛星-佚名（東漢） Far, Far Away, the Cowherd-Anonymous（Han Dynasty）
“迢迢牽牛星， Far, far away, the Cowherd,
皎皎河漢女。 Fair, fair, the Weaving Maid,
纖纖擢素手， Nimbly move her slender white finger,
札札弄機杼。 Click-clack goes her weaving-loom.
終日不成章， All day she weaves, yet her web is still not done.
泣涕零如雨。 And her tears fall like rain.
河漢清且淺， Clear and shallow the Milky Way,
相去復幾許？ They are not far apart!
盈盈一水間， But the stream brims always between.
脈脈不得語。 And, gazing at each other,they cannot speak.
銀燭秋光冷畫屏， A candle flame flickers against a dull painted screen on an cool autumn night,
輕羅小扇撲流螢。 She holds a small silk fan to flap away dashing fireflies.
天階夜色涼如水， Above her hang celestial bodies as frigid as deep water,
坐看牽牛織女星。 She sat there watching Altair of Aquila and Vega of Lyra pining for each other in the sky.
(Translated by Betty Tseng)
These two ancient poems are metaphorical, euphemistic and intriguing. The poets’ deep love is vividly expressed through descriptions, such as ”Far, far away, the Cowherd”, “Fair, fair, the Weaving Maid”, “a dull painted screen”, “flap away dashing fireflies” and so on.
I found a modern version of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl pop song on the internet sung by the Chinese singer Bai Xue. It is like a new Maotai (a famous Chinese rice liquor) bottled in a vintage carafe. Qixi Festival is the ageless.
Cowherd and Weaver Girl
“The word of Love is divided into two,
The Heaven breaks two people,
In the past,
There was a heartbroken couple.
See through, suffering from love,
Dance just for the breeze,
Once Qixi, counting on the cold winter.
The river is divided into two,
It separates two lovers,
Don’t hear or ask,
Only blame the Heaven.
The birds attract each other,
Rebuild the human relationship,
All the way with same sound and shadow,
The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl meet the Magpie Bridge,
Even if the wind and rain cannot stop their love.
Despite it is difficult for a thousand miles meeting,
For the one you love, you follow forever.”
Since I came to the United States 35 years ago, despite that I have melted into the multicultural environment I still cherish customs from my ancestors. All Chinese traditional festivals are always celebrated at our home. Tonight, the bright moon was shining and the stars were twinkling. I picked some fresh vegetables from my organic garden and made some romantic home-cooked dishes to enjoy myself:
- Husband and Wife Beef Tablets： (It was given the American name as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”): this is a well-known Chinese appetizer I could think of off the top of my head. . In mid-summer, I have all kinds of colorful chili peppers in my vegetable garden blooming, and you can pick a handful of them.
“Mr and Mrs Smith is a famous dish in Chengdu, Sichuan, created by Guo Chaohua and Zhang Tianzheng. It is usually made of beef scalp, beef heart, beef tongue and tripe. Beef is the main ingredient, marinated before stewing. Then slicing them. Next pouring the sliced beef with red chili oil made from peppers and other auxiliary materials It is beautiful in color, tender in texture, spicy and fragrant, very tasty. In May 2017, the “GQ Magazine” released the “2017 American Dining Rankings” written by Brett Martin (who is a Correspondent and Chief Food Critic for GQ Magazine), the signature cold dish “Husband and Wife Beef Tablets” at Pepper Twins Sichuan Restaurant in Houston topped the list and was voted “Appetizer of the Year”.
- Concubine Sea Cucumbers and Chicken Wings: This dish I cook frequently. Some people compare sea cucumber to the soft and sleek concubine. She is inseparable from her lover “chicken wing”. Braised them with shiitake mushrooms and winter bamboo shoots. Add thick brown sauce made from soy sauce and brown sugar, cloves, green onions, gingers and rice wine. It’s really a delicacy.
- Cold Cucumber and Celery: My vegetable garden has several varieties of cucumbers this year. The most fragrant ones are green Chinese prickly cucumber, yellow lemon cucumber and white Armenian cucumber. Mixed them with scalded celery, chopped garlic, sesame oil, rice vinegar, salt and pepper and a little sugar. It is a really cool and tasty summer dish.
- Scramble Eggs with Double-colored Tomatoes: This everyday home cooking dish is special, because the red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and green scallions all came from my own produces. Eggs are “matchmakers”, combining red tomatoes and yellow tomatoes together.
- Mandarin Duck Rice Cake: Osmanthus Sweet-scented Red and White Rice Cakes：I found 2 pieces sugared rice cakes in the freezer, one red, one white. I fried them in peanut oil, then put them in a decorated pattern on a plate and sprinkle them with sweet-scented osmanthus. It is a sticky and inseparable dish, symbolizing a pair mandarin ducks who are “glued” together.
Qixi Festival was the birthday of Li Yu (李煜, 937-978), the emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty in 978 AD. On the day of Qixi, after drinking a few cups of wine, he wrote the famous poem entitled “Yu Meiren (虞美人, Lady Yu, the Royal Beauty/Concubine): Spring Flowers and Autumn Moon”:
“Spring flowers and autumn moon, O when will all these end?
How much of my past I comprehend?
Last night, to my loft once more, the vernal east wind came;
In moonlight, I could not bear to look back towards my homeland rid of my name.
Jade steps and carved railings may still as ever be there,
Though changed are the faces fair.
O how great, how grave, I ask, can my woe and sorrow be?
Just like the River’s swelling spring-tide waters rolling east to the sea.”
Taiwanese Singer Teresa Teng Sang Sang “Yu Meiren (虞美人, Lady Yu, the Royal Beauty/Concubine): Spring Flowers and Autumn Moon”
There are 80 million baby boomers in the United States, and the youngest is over 50 now. We are a generation of sandwiches with great responsibility. Although we are gaining weight, with salt and pepper hair, and wrinkles on our faces, we still consider ourselves as immortal young people psychologically, the flame of love is still burning in our hearts, and our eyes are still full of starry love. Baby boomers look at the world with open curiosity but profoundly and embrace love with our arms. We are nostalgic for the sweet memories in our youth and optimistically welcoming the future. We pursue a vibrant marriage: being together is enjoyment and love, and it is worth cherishing forever.
As the Delta virus continues to spread all over the world, vaccination is still the most effective measure. We must face the reality of co-existence between viruses and our daily lives, stick to all measures of self protection.
The love story between the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl teaches us being faithful.
When I was about to finish this blog, I suddenly saw a new painting entitled Love in Qixi posted by Wu Man, a world-renowned pipa master, in “WeChat” . The painting was painted by her father Wu Guoting （吴国亭）on the occasion of “Qixi Festival”. With Wu Man’s permission, I’m ending this blog with this brand new work by Master Wu Guoting （吴国亭） :
Master Wu’s painting says:
“I am willing to be a lovebird in the heaven, and I am willing to be a branch in the earth.”