Sun, Jun 10, 2001 - Page 17 News List

Dragon boats open their eyes

With the eye dotting ceremony this afternoon, the dragon boats taking part in the Taipei International Dragon Boat Race Championships will be ready for the big race

By Lynn Lee  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

A bird's-eye view of the CCLC women's dragon boat team.

PHOTO: LYNN LEE

There are few sports that are more essentially Chinese than dragon boat racing, and with the Tuanwu Festival (端午節, commonly called the Dragon Boat Festival in English) falling on June 25, teams are getting ready for races all over Taiwan. While most of the competition will be local, the Taipei International Dragon Boat Race Championships (台北國際龍舟錦標賽) includes an international division which attracts teams from around the world to battle it out for the presidential cup.

The eye-dotting ceremony for the boats taking part in this race will be held this afternoon between 1pm and 3 pm, at the Tachia section of the Keelung River beneath the Tachih Bridge.

Chang Chin-jen (張進仁), a member of the Hsintien City Administrative Office (新店市公所) team that captured the presidential cup in 2000, spoke with confidence of his team's ability to take the title again this year: "We've been practicing every day at the crack of dawn, and we begin training long before any of the other teams."

The Hsintien team has an advantage over other local teams, for as the managing body for a dragon boat racing area at Bitan (碧潭) in Taipei County, they can start training long before the Taipei City race organizers allow teams to train on the Keelung River (基隆河), where the Taipei City races are held.

Bitan is the venue of the Taipei County Congressional Cup Dragon Boat Races (台北縣議長盃龍舟錦標賽), which are held a week before the Taipei City event. The boats used in the Taipei County races are much more modern, being made of fiberglass. The Taipei City race uses traditional wooden boats that are heavier and wider.

Joining the lineup

The Taipei International Dragon Boat Race Championships have only been held on the Keelung River -- specifically, the Tachia section (大佳段) beneath the Tachih Bridge (大直橋) -- since 1995, when the Taipei City Government began co-sponsoring the races with the Taipei Municipal Sports Federation. That year, the city government completed a major reconstruction project to straighten out the Keelung River and establish a park on its banks.

So far, the international division in the 2001 competition has nine registered men's teams and three women's teams, including teams from Hawaii, the Philippines, Canada, Thailand, and Japan. A few teams, however, are guaranteed participants in the event.

One such team is the Aqua Fortis Dragon Boat Rowing Team from the Philippines. "We have been participating in the Taipei dragon boat races since 1993," states Earnest S. Versoza, the drummer and over-all leader of the Philippine delegation. "We were overwhelmed by the warm acceptance of the Taiwanese when we came the first time, and we have participated ever since."

Two other teams with assured positions in the lineup are locally-based teams consisting of foreign students studying at Chinese language schools: the Taipei Language Institute (TLI) and the Center for Chinese Language and Culture (CCLC), formerly the Mandarin Training Center. Both schools have fielded teams in the Taipei City races for at least twenty years.

Janie Moor from England, who is serving as captain of the TLI team for her second year and participating for her third, attributes her continued participation to the wonderful feeling that she gets when building up the team.

"It's a great feeling when you have a group of people who do not really know each other that well, but who must work together to get the boat moving; and once everyone begins to fall in sync with one another, it's especially exciting, because the boat surges forward almost like a rollercoaster ride. It's very exhilarating!"

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