Written for the February theme, "Chinese Customs", at the tensquared LJ community.
Tenten could remember the festivals.
The festive, cheerful nature of the feasts, days more special than any other in the year so that it seemed that every day that was not a festival was just time to prepare for them: Lunar New Year - Lantern Festival - the Festival of Pure Brightness – the Double Seventh Festival and the Double Ninth Festival – the Dragon Boat Festival - the Winter Solstice – she could rattle off the dates for each year as fast as she could throw a brace of shuriken, mouthing the old names of the old calendar.
She remembered red lanterns, with fanciful dragons in gold ink climbing up the paper sides. When she was very young she had wanted to play with the bright lanterns, and cried when her mother would not let her, for fear of burning her pudgy little fingers. Great-Uncle Ling would distract her with sesame-seed dumplings, bouncing her on his lap while herolder cousins sat round,and telling stories of real dragons, of Emperors and Empresses who were the Sons and Daughters of Heaven, of great armies hidden in stone and of rivers that carved the world.
Each feast was held in a different house, but the whole clan would show up to each so it seemed very similar after all – what matter did the shape and color of the walls make? The hosts, Uncle Syaoran or Uncle Xin or Uncle Yun or her own father, would show the guests into the banqueting hall, the clan entering two by two, each pair arguing that the other was more worthy to enter first. Sometimes the whole line would be held up as the argument descended into playful shoving, laughter and encouraging shouts ringing in her ears. Then when everyone was inside the feast would begin, the host first prefacing it by an elaborate and humble apology for the scarcity and plainness of the food.
Then the food would be served, in successive courses rather than all at once as was usual, and prove the host's apology unnecessary in spectacular fashion. Tenten could remember sticky rice dumplings in bamboo leaves – chicken and duck gleaming shiny brown, cooked so tender the skin was almost falling off – snow-white crab crackers that crackled in her mouth - steamed vegetables in spicy red sauce – golden corn-and-crab soup with the white egg streamers she liked so much – fish carefully served whole with its head towards the guest of honor – egg rolls and bean curd and lobster and crab and shark's fin.
She would stuff herself until her mother scolded, and then be rescued by some indulgent elder who would place some further treat on her plate. Sticky-mouthed, she would beam up at her adoring relatives while her mother huffed fondly and gently wiped her daughter's face with the hot towels provided at the start of the meal.
She remembered it all so well.
She remembered it too well.
Tenten stared at the rice-bowl in front of her, her dinner in her dim-lit, lonely little apartment, and tried not to cry.
They are purged of pride because they died, they know the worth of their bays,
They sit at wine with the Maidens Nine and the Gods of the Elder Days
AN: I begin to think that the best time for me to write is when I have other things to be doing.