The Lantern, the Moon Cake, and the Book


The moon was big and round and bright, just as it should be on the night of the Moon Festival. I held my glowing paper lantern higher, hoping that the Old Man in the Moon would see me amid the other children. The whole park gleamed with brilliant Chinese lanterns.

I dashed up the hill to where my parents and sisters sat on a blanket, nibbling moon cakes. My eldest sister, Mei Lai, was gazing at the moon. I knew that she was probably dreaming about that boy who took her to the dance last Saturday. That’s a girl for you! I thought. I’m glad that I’m not a girl.

Not that Mei Lai didn’t have a right to think about love tonight. Everyone thought about love during the Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, the proper name that my sister preferred to call it. On this night the Old Man in the Moon supposedly wove an invisible red thread around couples who would one day get married.

Even I was thinking about love. But not that kind. I was thinking about how I could love my neighbors. My Primary teacher had told us last Sunday that we should, and ever since then, I had been wondering how I could ever do it. I couldn’t think of any neighbors in our apartment building that I even liked—especially not that new boy down the hall! Why, he didn’t even speak Chinese! The first time I saw him, I just kept looking at his eyes. I had never seen such blue eyes, except maybe on TV.

Once I had tried talking to him in the English that I was learning in school. “Where are you from?” I asked.

Looking at me oddly, he lifted up his nose and declared, “I’m an Aussie.”

Whatever an Aussie was, I certainly didn’t know. I went home and asked Mei Lai, who knew English well.

“An Aussie is someone from Australia,” she told me.

My mother’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Sun Ling, it will soon be time to go home.”

“Oh, let me run once more through the park.”

“Well, you be careful with that lantern. Remember that you have a lighted candle in it.”

“I will.” As I sprinted down the hill, I looked up at the Old Man in the Moon to see if he was still watching me and my glistening paper lantern. I ran and ran, with my eyes turned upward toward the beautiful full moon.

Suddenly—CRASH! Was it a wall? No, it was a body. Another person and I tumbled over and over each other. It was the Aussie. When we finally stopped, we raised our tousled heads and looked at each other. I blurted out, “What are you doing here? This is a Chinese holiday!”

It was a good thing that he couldn’t understand my Chinese. I indignantly grabbed my lantern, which miraculously lay unharmed on the grass. In my mind I grumbled, Even if I wasn’t looking where I was going, it wasn’t really my fault. After all, he’s the one who doesn’t belong here.

A sizzle and a flare made us both jump up. His colorful paper lantern was in flames. My mother’s words flashed through my mind, “Be careful with that lantern.”

I looked at him. Then I cocked my head in amazement. Out of those blue, blue eyes tears were dribbling! It had never occurred to me that an Aussie could cry too.

The boy’s lips began to quiver, and he said, “My dad gave me that lantern.”

I didn’t understand all his words, but I understood what he meant. And I felt awful! I tried to remember how to say I’m sorry in English, but all my words came out in Chinese.

Suddenly, in Chinese, he said, “I’m sorry too.”

I blinked with surprise. Why he knew some Chinese words after all. He smiled at me. I smiled back.

The next day I strode into the house, banging the door happily behind me.

“What’s that huge grin for?” Mei Lai asked as she stirred vegetables and pork together in the wok.

“Oh, I’ve been learning to love my neighbor. Jim’s my friend now.”

“Who’s Jim?” she asked

“He’s the Aussie I told you about,” I replied, peering over the sizzling wok. I perched on a tall stool. “Do you know what? Before he came here, Jim had never even heard of moon cakes. So I gave him one with an egg-yolk center. When he bit into it, he sort of shriveled up his nose and tried to smile. I could tell that he didn’t like it.”

“So, do you think he’s still your friend?” Mei Lai laughed.

“Well, I did let him try a lotus-seed moon cake after that, and he ate every bit of it and smacked his lips.”

“I’m glad that you gave him something he likes,” said Mei Lai.

“I did give him one other thing that I hope he likes. I gave him my Book of Mormon.”

“Your Book of Mormon!” exclaimed my sister. “Whyever did you do that?”

“Well, because it’s the most special thing that I could share with a friend,” I answered.

“But how do you expect him to read it?” she said. “He doesn’t even read Chinese.”

“Joseph Smith translated the characters of the Book of Mormon from another language. Maybe God will give Jim the gift to translate too.”

“Look,” Mei Lai explained, “Joseph Smith was a prophet. Not everyone receives the gift to translate another language.”

I looked at my sister intently. “Mei Lai, I’m still glad that I gave the Book of Mormon to him.”

It was the week before Christmas. Someone knocked at our door, and Mei Lai opened it to blond-haired Jim. My friend didn’t see me sitting in the corner, so he spoke in English to my sister. “I read your book,” he said, holding up a blue book with Chinese characters of the Book of Mormon engraved on it.

“You read it!” she gasped. “But—but you don’t know Chinese, do you?”

“No. What I meant to say,” Jim explained, “was that my tutor read it to me. He comes every day to teach me Chinese, and so we have been reading it together. In fact, my tutor was wondering if he could get a copy of his own. Also, would it be possible to get a copy in English for my father?”

My sister finally closed her mouth from her astonishment. She smiled, motioning to me.

Jim turned and saw me. “Oh, Sun Ling,” he said in halting Chinese, “this book you gave me is very interesting. I am curious to find out more about it. Can you help me?”

“I’ll be happy to help you,” I replied slowly to make sure that he understood my words. “I can think of no better way to love my neighbor from Australia.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Pat Hoggan