red moon omens + lunar new year + a visit to the dentist

red moon omens + lunar new year + a visit to the dentist

Photo by Cheung Yin / Unsplash

towards the end of my last facetime session with my mom, she cleared her throat uncomfortably and told me that she thought i should reconsider my pseudonym (yuelian hong).

my mom is the only real-life person i've spoken to about my pseudonym; i had consulted her for advice before finally settling on it a few weeks back. at the time, she thought the image of a 紅月亮 (hóng yuèliàng, or red moon) was a bit weird, but after i convinced her that such a thing does, in fact, exist (thinking back to the much-hyped blood moon lunar eclipse of 2018), she finally conceded and said it was a nice sounding name, both in mandarin and in english. we had spent hours going back and forth on names - my original favorite, "moonlit green", didn't sound quite right when translated to mandarin, and then we rattled through various flower names, each of which sounded awkward when transliterated back from mandarin to english. one thing i particularly liked about yuelian was that i could tell people to pronounce it like julian which is more familiar to the english-speaking world - so in the end, yuelian/"red moon" it was! shortly after that i bought the domain and started putting together this site on ghost.

but my mom has recently come across some news reports that taiwan will encounter its first blood moon in over 1,000 years in november of this year. apparently, the taiwanese media are telling people to "watch out" for bad omens - including: could november be the month when china finally invades taiwan? my mom sent me still photos from a couple of youtube videos featuring ominous looking red moons - i can't read mandarin, but i must admit that they do look pretty scary:

so she asked me to consider changing my pseudonym, in case any taiwanese readers stumble across it and become disturbed by the unlucky imagery behind my pen name. i told her maybe it was rather an opportunity for me to explain why a red moon is unique and auspicious rather than scary. my mom nodded but still looked a bit worried: "it's like telling someone in california that earthquakes aren't bad, you know?"

touché, i guess. but i'm too lazy to change my pseudonym!

today marks the 10th day of the lunar new year celebrations in taiwan and much of the asian world - year of the tiger, woohoo! it felt especially important for me to celebrate as i was born in a tiger year (1986). unfortunately, although there are large asian populations in some german cities, ulrich and i live about ~30 minutes away from the nearest good asian supermarket - meaning one that stocks a large variety of produce, rice flours, noodles (including instant ramen!), dried goods, asian tofu, etc.

as an aside: much like its cousin, german dark bread ("shwarzbrot"), the german interpretation of tofu is very efficient and dense, basically just a heavy lump of protein. i have gotten used to it by now and don't mind cooking with it for the most part, but it is an absolute no-go for certain dishes like mapo tofu!

to celebrate lunar new year's eve, ulrich and i planned to make oily rice, radish cakes, and a new recipe that i had never tried before: savory tang yuan, a soup composed of glutinous rice balls which is commonly eaten during the winter solstice & at larger family gatherings, as the stickiness of the rice balls symbolizes togetherness. the oily rice and radish cakes were time consuming recipes, but i was well-prepared: i had already cooked both dishes with my mom before, and documented each step with photos and saved them to my notes so that i could easily reference them for clues about what the texture of the rice should look like just before steaming, how much water to pour into the water bath for the radish cakes, etc.

but since i had never made the tang yuan before, i asked my mom for a recipe during one of our bi-weekly facetime calls. she talked me through the instructions and afterwards sent photos from various stages of the process; i diligently took notes, and thought i would be able to nail down the recipe easily. just one small mistake: i accidentally wrote down the proportions of water to flour as 3 cups water to 1 cup flour, when she had actually meant 3 cups water to 1 whole bag (~4 cups) of flour! as a result, the dough stuck to my fingers like superglue and splattered everywhere when i tried to knead it. i had to throw it out in the end, and i felt like a miserable, fail-y mess.

luckily ulrich and i were able to find a last-minute substitute - a simple, brothy noodle bowl recipe from the new york times - but the whole experience left me feeling helplessly homesick and missing my mother. if i had only made the recipe with her in person just once, there is no question that i would've gotten the proportions down correctly in my notes!

aaaaand lastly: today marked a memorable moment for me - i went to the dentist for my first professionelle zahnreinigung (professional teeth cleaning)! mind you, this wasn't my first time at the dentist since moving to germany in 2018 - i've previously had 2 check-ups - but germany does dentistry a bit differently from the u.s. in that the standard insurance only covers a limited cleaning (tartar removal) as part of the check-up.  i had to schedule a separate appointment and pay 50 euros out-of-pocket for a more thorough cleaning, which included multiple iterations of poking and prodding in the gums followed by a round of polishing with some powder which made my teeth feel cold and numb. but the most worthwhile thing about today was not my squeaky clean teeth but rather the lovely conversation i had with the hygienist - a genuinely warm, caring woman who truly made me feel at home - perhaps one of the first times i've felt this way with a stranger in germany. she took care to explain every step of the process and checked often to see how i was doing, and once i relaxed a bit she told me about her aunt who lives in florida and asked what i did for a living, and whether i was married - a pretty risque question for most germans, i think! i only realized in retrospect that i had just made small talk in german - something i never thought i would be comfortable doing! and i certainly never expected it to happen at a dentist's office, of all places.