Taiwan Dragon Boat Festival

This weekend was the Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan. This is a Chinese holiday that is attached to three different legends, all of which involve a dead body in a river and of which dragon boat racing came from.

The most popular legend surrounds the suicide of a famous poet in China, Qu Yuan. When people found out about his death, they got in boats to search the river for his body, feeding rice to the fish to keep them from feeding on his body. Now we have dragon boat racing and zhonzi (sticky rice dumplings) to commemorate the day.

I didn’t go last year so I made sure to visit Dajia Riverside Park today for the last day of races to see what it’s all about.

I walked there from my house which took almost an hour and wound up being more of an adventure than I anticipated as I was propositioned on the way by a man. This is the first time in the almost two years that I’ve lived here that I was treated this way by a man so I was rather shocked. I guess it happens everywhere. *sigh*

Anyway, I moved quickly away from him once I realized what he wanted, made it to the park, and got absorbed into the festivities and festive atmosphere.

The park had rides for the children, food and drink vendors, games for adults, music, and, of course, the main attraction with the races on the river. The teams wore matching shirts and many of them were warming up in the fields and open concrete spaces to get ready to row. As the teams would walk in front of the spectators, they would cheer them on.

The boats all look the same, but each team carries a flag with their team name and logo. They have a person in front with the flag, a drummer who drums the timing of the strokes, and a person at the back who uses an oar to directionally steer. When the gun would go off to start a race, the beat of the drums and the chants accompanied the rowers’ efforts. They were drowned out a bit by the music and announcements going on, but I could imagine what they were like when they first began.

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It was a hot, hot, hot day. The races were short and fast. I couldn’t imagine preparing for the race only to have it over so quickly, but it still looked fun!

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Today, all of the races were local teams, a few races with high school teams, but, on Sunday, there were expat races where everyone entered had to have a foreign passport. The races ran all day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Someone told me that the later the day and the later the time, the better the racers. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but the racers I saw Sunday morning looked pretty good!

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While I took pictures, this guy drew the races and looked so absorbed in his work. It was a pleasure watching him.

I can’t wait to compare the races here to the ones in China. From what I’ve read, the dragon boats vary greatly in appearance from region to region and country to country in addition to the way they celebrate. I look forward to seeing the races in another place next year.

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