Wednesday, June 15, 2011

week 37_Dragon Boat Races!

Aside from the lengthy Chinese New Year celebration, Taiwan has two other holidays that seem to be most significant - the Dragon Boat festival and the Mid-Autumn festival. All holidays are based on the Chinese lunar calendar, so they fall on slightly different dates of the western calendar each year. The Dragon Boat holiday happens to occur very near to the US's Memorial Day, and has a familiar feeling, a three day weekend filled with picnics and family get togethers, just in time to welcome the hot summer season.

The many, many onlookers cheering for the racing teams!
I've been told by folks here that the Dragon Boat festival marks the beginning of summer (there are really only two seasons here anyways...), and it must be true because the heat has not lifted since the day we went to watch the Dragon Boat races! The day of the races was hot and sticky too, but it was fun to be out and about, getting a taste of the local culture.

Go team, go! Row, man, row!!!

The "dragon boats" are similar to crew boats, with teams of twenty or so rowers and a strong one at the back to help with direction. A drummer keeps time at the front of the boat, indicating to the team when to row (in unison of course). They are painted and carved to look like a dragon gliding through the water. Some at a moderate pace... but some speeding along sooo fast!

Dragons Boats lined up, Waiting

The individual races are quick. We watched many races within the span of about 40 minutes - typically 4 boats competing against each other, then the winners moving on to additional rounds. I was surprised at the number of foreigners competing on the teams, but it seemed that many of the crews were multi-national. I learned from my co-workers that although the Dragon Boat Festival is widely celebrated, the percentage of people who attend the races is quite low compared to the population of the city... This was fairly evident. It was clearly a popular spot for athletes, families with children, and foreigners looking for a bit of local holiday celebration!

The scoreboard
We attended the races on Saturday, although they continue on all three days. Winners of each bracket move on to the next days race ~ and the team spirit in this crowd was great to watch. :) We saw some pretty fun displays, but weren't able to get the video camera rolling fast enough to catch one teams dancing, chanting circle, on film! Oh well. I guess you had to be there! Here's the last few seconds... trust me the full dance and carrying on was much more entertaining!

Dragon Boat team, welcoming back teammates after a race
Other than the actual races, there are carnival-like activities near the river for this occasion ~ so we spent some time meandering through the tents. There wasn't much there that we couldn't live without... except some ice cold drinks on a hot day! ... and the chance to take my picture with a retired dragon boat.

Happy Dragon Boat Festival! 

And sometimes, I just don't convey the full picture unless there is a video... To remind you of the Chinese/English announcers in the background. The sound of the dragon boat drums... the thrill of the race, etc!

Of course, there is a lot more background to this holiday than just the dragon boat races. You can check out a little more info here:

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