Today is Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival.
Whether one likes them or not, the fact remains that moon cakes are the main symbol of the Moon Festival. This year, to celebrate this first traditional Chinese festival since the SARS outbreak, people are busy purchasing these and many other delicacies.
The essence of a moon cake lies in the filling, and there have been hundreds of varieties of moon cakes on sale months in advance of the Moon Festival. In downtown Beijing's Wangfujing Street, moon cake salesman Jia Huan says he's been really busy over the past three weeks.
"So far, compared with last year's moon cake sales, our company has sold 100 tons more. But there are still a lot of customers waiting outside every day, even many foreign visitors. We've hired extra hands to help produce more moon cakes. But to maintain quality is always our top priority, especially after this year's SARS outbreak. We've attached great importance to sanitation and hygiene."
The salesman says his company has over 70 different styles and flavors of moon cakes on offer this year. Last year, they had only 40 something.
Taking a look at these moon cakes, one can find not only different flavors, but also that some of them come in exquisite packaging, often with gifts. The price of these packs of cakes bothers some.
Liu Jin is a taxi driver who was in a supermarket to buy moderately priced cakes for himself and his family.
"They're just too expensive. I've read in the newspaper that as much as 30 per cent of the cost of a gift box of moon cakes goes into the packaging. I prefer those old brands --- several Yuan per cake, they taste good and are very reasonably priced."
Despite this, high-priced moon cakes easily find a market, and many have sold out. Here's moon cake salesman Jia Huan again.
"Our moon cakes are priced, in general, from 5 to 10 Yuan apiece. But the best sellers are various 'Gift Packages'. The cheapest one is 260 Yuan, around 30 US dollars. Besides four moon cakes, you also get a set of tea wear, some jasmine tea and a delicate lighter. We also have special offers such as cigarettes, wine, jewellry, and even movie tickets and toys."
Zhang Wei bought one such gift pack for her boss.
"Nobody can eat that much cake. It's used mostly as a gift."
Meanwhile, many employers customarily give moon cakes to their employees as a display of the holiday spirit. Some companies simply give out coupons for the cakes, so that their employees can select flavors to their own liking.
(CRI September 11, 2003)