Chu Leu: Goodbye to the Ghost of Poverty.

Nicholas Quirke was pleased to be sending away the ‘ghost of poverty’ on 17 February 2021, the birthday of the Horse. Banishing the spectre of poverty, 送穷鬼 / sòng qióng guǐ, a supposedly frail-looking man who liked to drink thin porridge and purposely turned his clothing into rags, by burning scraps and further offerings of cakes which as it was also a time when Ludagun  “fried chop rice cake”is to be eaten was convenient. Legend has it that the fearsome Qing dynasty Empress Dowager Cixi, tired of imperial food at the new year asked the royal chef to cook something new. The chef decided to make a dish using sticky rice and bean paste. When the chef finished cooking, a eunuch, named Lu ( “lyu”, the same pronunciation as donkey in Chinese), carelessly dropped the dish into soya bean flour, but there was no time to re-make the dish. The chef had to serve it to Cixi. However, Cixi praised the taste and wondered what was the name of that dish. The chef never thought about this question, but he named it as “Lu Da Gun” (rolling donkey) to credit eunuch Lu’s carelessness. The yellow flour sprinkled over the pastry makes it look like a donkey rolling on the loess. It is also believed that the god of bathrooms (厕所神 / cè suǒ shén) will visit to check the sanitary conditions, so every household will use this day to clean and clear out, heralding further decluttering. This gave Nicholas cause for concern over what Peng might have in store for the already diminished contents of the home. The day also marked the time for temple visits and the day began for them with an early trip to a temple of the moving image, known now to him as ‘the fighting cinema’ to see ‘Endgame’. It was with some disappointment as the opening credits rolled that he discovered there were no English subtitles and meant he was going to have to work harder to follow and understand the story. The plot though it was complicated referenced Samual Beckets absurdist masterpiece of existential angst and despair was easy to follow, though once again the subtleties of the dialogue were lost to him and once it was over he bombarded Peng with questions about what a couple of the conversations were. It was two hours long and even without knowing what was being said he enjoyed it. They were fortunate that there was a window bakery on Niu Jie Street he had been to before very close to the cinema where Ludagun could be purchased though when they reached the shop there was an excessively long queue and they ended up waiting for nearly 30 minutes in the cold to get the ‘must have’ cake. They decided to have a Vege Tiger take away lunch rather than cook. Over the devouring of the cake with the phantom of poverty overseeing every morsel Peng announced that it was time to dispose of another wardrobe to slim down further his possessions. Nicholas agreed to help but would first visit a temple to fulfil the festival demands. He cycled swiftly to the closet fane, only to discover it was shut. Undeterred he made his way back to Niu Jie Street and the ancient Muslim Stupa which was also shut, but with a few photographs and pause for thought at the very long Spirit wall he felt his mission was accomplished. This left him free once he was back at the apartment to dispose of a couple of items of his own, one a beloved fair isle jumper which to his horror he discovered had a couple of suspicious moth eaten holes, and help dismantle and dispose of yet another repository. The day had been a success and though they had already seen a movie that day settling down to watch ‘Monster Hunter’ , a film they had tried to see but had been banned from Chinese cinemas following the discovery of a racist slur, was an entertaining end to their undertakings. Whether it was the oily, spicy lunch, or the greed with which they dispatched the impoverished wraith his sleep was disturbed throughout the night.

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