Hopefully you enjoy the read! Let me know.
Lanterns hang above our heads covering the sky like a blazing roof gleaming red and gold, floating like a magical carpet entrapping us all. My hand grips my mum’s tightly, scared of getting lost in the expanding crowd. Looking side to side other children are the same, clinging on to a parent and making their way through to the front of the parade where most of the children sit crossed legged, absorbing the setting. From where I am the stage is illuminated with more lights, leading our town in one direction only, closer.
It is September 19th and for this event the whole town has been preparing it for months, creating the decorations, arranging the games, perfecting the perfect recipe for the moon cakes, even inscribing riddles on each lantern to challenge each other after the finale. From the neighbouring hills bigger lanterns are being lit and released into the autumn breeze carrying them high above the parade causing heads to look up and follow their lit journey. The beat of the drum echoes all around, signalling the start of the mid-autumn Chinese festival.
This Festival is my favourite, it always has been. It is my mum’s too. This is where my Dad proposed to her. When she tells me the story it always sounds so magical, so perfect. When she was my age she got crowned the princess of the Festival in front of all these people too. Secretly I want that title. Every girl my age does. Each year a boy and a girl are chosen at random from a bowl full of names to be crowned the prince and princess of the festival. I can see the bowl sitting on the long table that is on the stage being occupied by the festival organisers, I glare at it willing my name to be chosen.
Eventually we make it to the front where I see my friends watching the surroundings, mirroring the same excitement I can feel bubbling inside of me. I let go of my mum’s hand after spotting my friend Lee who gestures for me to sit with her.
“I shall be just over there Hallie” My mum points to the right where I can see my grandparent’s waving at me, I wave back. I have not seen them for a while. I receive the occasional phone call but they have travelled to be here today, after all it is known as the Festival of Reunion.
“I have got the mooncakes for later”
“I know mum” she eventually leaves me too it.
The beat of the drum gets louder and hovering handmade dragons soar through the air with their flame like tongues leading the way, synchronising their motions to the rhythm. My eyes stretch wide trying to absorb every sight and every event but there is just so much happening. My closest friend, Lee, never lets her gaze waver from the sky. More lanterns are being released into the air, lodging themselves into the remaining spaces of the sky but leaving just enough room to see the full moon swelling in a soft yellow glow, appearing down on us all like a crystal ball.
The parade starts to break off which means Hong Kong’s most prised fundraiser is about to tell the story, the story of how it all began. My dad reads it to me some times, but nothing beats the atmosphere of actually being a part of the ceremony. He steps up to the microphone which stands centre stage. The beating stops and silence spans the whole audience, submerging us all.
“Thank you all for coming, it is lovely to see so many of you once again to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Chinese Festival. Now it is time to tell the story of its origin.
“Many years ago there were ten suns and each sun took it in turns to occupy the sky and shine down on our planet. However one year the ten suns rose into the sky together, blazing down in unison, heating up the planet to an unbearable heat. The Plants, animals and the people started to die. Hou Yi a skilled bowman decided to use his talent to shoot down nine of the ten suns out of the sky, saving the people and restoring hope…
From the corner of my eye I can see some of the young boys pretending to fire arrows into the air, imitating Hou Yi heroic actions, the older men on the hills shoot fire finches into the air, the whoosing perforates the silence.
“From that day on the people saw Hou Yi as a hero and as a token of their appreciation an immortal gave him the elixir of immortality, a powerful drink that would allow Hou Yi to live forever. However Hou Yi didn’t want to drink it as he didn’t want to live without his wife Chang’e whom he loved very much, so he asked her to keep the elixir safe and hidden.
Whilst Hou Yi was out shooting, Feng Meng one of his apprentices knew of the powerful elixir and broke into Yi’s house and tried forcing Chang’e to give it to him. Chang’e refused to do so. Knowing that she could not fight him off she swallowed the liquid herself which gave her immortality causing her to float into the sky until she finally rested on the moon, a place where she could watch over her husband.
When Yi returned home and realised what had happened, he was overcome with sadness. He displayed all Chang’e’s favourite fruits and cakes in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. The people soon heard about these activities and participated in them with him to express their sympathies.
“and this is why we celebrate each year, we honour Hou Yi’s bravery and Chang’e’s sacrifice. So everyone please enjoy the festival, the food and each other’s company!”
Everyone applauds with an eruption of appreciation. The music then blares out causing dancers to appear and begin their routine underneath the coasting dragons once more, their dresses floating with each sway with each twirl. I watch enviously.
“Let’s dance” Lee grabs my hands and we start circling together, spinning like a carousel that consists of only me and her. Then she lets go and spins on her own “look at me” with a big grin on her face. But as I admire her solo, the scene behind her makes my eyes widen. The music has halted and one of the dragons has been swallowed by flames, hurtling towards the crowd, hurtling towards the ground I stand on.
Lee looks behind to see what I am looking at and stands motionless.
“Lee we got to go!” I turn to run but her body doesn’t follow, only the swarm of anonymous faces entrap me, pulling me away from her. She is frozen.
Out of sheer instinct I attempt to push through the crowd, trying to keep my eyes on Lee’s little frame, trying to reach her but the smoke from the dragon starts to conceal her and handicaps my vision. The crowd keeps pushing me back, making me lose progress. The dragon has landed dispersing hot ash to scatter and latch onto me, singeing my dress and my exposed skin.
As the herd of people starts to evacuate, the greyness becomes my entrapper. The fire-fighters have managed to put out the fire but the smoke still remains. My heart hammers against my chest, wailing in my ears. The choice I have made begins to panic me, for all I know Lee could have been carried out by a passer-by, she could be safe now. I crouch low, trying to get my breath when I see a young body lying on the floor. I beckon towards the shape, keeping my head down. When I get close enough I realise it is Lee. First I feel relief than worry overcomes me, she is not moving. I shake her body that is huddled on the ground, trying to raise her. She looks up at me with tear stained eyes and nods when I ask if she can walk.
I put her arm around me and hurl her up, grateful for her lightness and steer in the direction I came from. We eventually make it out into the clear air. I inhale deeply, glad for the fresh air then my mother runs frantically towards me, squeezing me into her arms.
“What were you doing, why has it taken you so long to get to me?”
“Lee got consumed by the fumes mum, I couldn’t leave her.”
“She saved me Mrs Cheng!” Lee runs towards us and hugs me tightly, her face smeared with dust. “I just froze and then when I tried to run I got knocked over by someone else.”
“Is this true, did you save this young girl?” Everyone turns around to see the owner of the voice. It is Hong Kong’s more prised fundraiser, Mr Cho.
“I couldn’t leave her sir” I respond.
“You are a very brave young girl, it seems no major damage has been caused, and no causalities as far as I am aware, just everyone a bit shaken as can be expected. What is your name miss?”
“Err Hallie Chang”
“Hallie Chang, the festival is to be continued.”
Then he walks off, leaving me questioning the meaning of his words. My mum hugs me again, and I sink into her embrace, relieved that everyone is safe. One of the paramedics checks me and Lee over, but we are soon given the all clear and given an early moon cake to nibble on. I have missed the taste.
As we continue tucking in, the microphone is switched back on causing everyone to stop what they are doing and once again look at the stage.
“I have been informed that no-one has been hurt and everyone is safe and out of harm’s way. I would like to thank the emergency services who were quick at reacting to the accident that took place tonight, and very quick at maintaining the situation.
He pauses causing the crowd to applaud once more.
“Also it has been brought to my knowledge that a Hallie Cheng put all fear aside tonight and entered the smoke to save a dear friend of hers, I know this part of the ceremony is left until the end but I would like Hallie to join me on stage now so she can be crowned the princess of festival. Tonight Hallie Cheng is our very own Chang’e due to her courage and determination”
A prodding in my back snaps me back, Lee is pushing me forward, pushing me through the cluster of faces staring at me, parting the way to the stage. I edge forward, down the path that has been made for me. My face fills the big screen that is situated behind the important people.
Me? I am the princess of the festival? An overwhelming feeling multiplies inside of me causing me to smile. This is a title I have always wanted, but to actually earn it was not something I ever anticipated. My feet find the stage and I face my town, feeling all their eyes watching me. The crown is placed on top of my head, and even though my dress is dirty and my hair is a mess, I earned this title without being chosen at random.