Sun, May 28, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Paddling into the Dragon Boat Festival

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

Dragon boat qualifying rounds kick of Lugang Dragon Boat Festival on Friday

PHOTO: LIU HSIAO-HSIN, TAIPEI TIMES

An ancient festival that can be traced back over 2,000 years to the death of the poet bureaucrat Qu Yuan (屈原), the Duanwu Festival (端午節) is still an integral part of the childhood memories of many Taiwanese over 30, for as children they would have participated in the folk customs of hanging cattail and Chinese mugwort on the door to ward off evil spirits. Children would be given sachets of fragrant herbs and have Hsiung Huang wine (雄黃酒) daubed on their foreheads to ward off disease.

While some traditions persist, the Duanwu Festival, also known as Dragon Boat Festival, has developed into a backdrop for a variety of new and innovated activities, centered on the hugely popular dragon boat races that are held in cities and townships all over Taiwan.

Falling on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, this year's Duanwu Festival will be celebrated next Wednesday. In preparation, hundreds of dragon boat teams have been participating in huge events in Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taipei, as well as small-scale races in Ilan, Taoyuan, Hualien and Chiayi counties, and Hsinchu and Keelung cities.

In Kaohsiung, a staggering 141 teams are competing on the Ai River (愛河), while a total of 122 teams are competing on Tainan's Anping Canal (安平運河). The five-day races in both cities started yesterday. In Kaohsiung, teams will be vying for a purse of NT$2.5 million and the competition is expected to be fierce.

However, the 2006 Taipei City International Dragon Boat Championship (2006年台北國際龍舟錦標賽) organized by Taipei Sports Office (台北市體育處) is expected to draw the largest crowds to visit the six-days of events taking place along the Dachia section (大佳段) of the Keelung River (基隆河) adjacent to Dachia Riverside Park (大佳河濱公園).

This weekend a total of 136 teams began competing in a three day race that will run until late this afternoon.

And on Wednesday, a new marathon race will be held that will severely test contestants' physical strength and endurance. Dragon boat races are usually just 500m, but this new marathon item will be 6km and will take racers around 50 minutes to complete. For those who don't want to miss this first edition of the marathon competition, the race will start at the Dachia section of the river around 1pm and finish around 2pm at the Zhoumei Wharf (洲美碼頭).

In the competition, broadly divided into competitive and social, the Men's Open is the most competitive, with many semi-professional teams from Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Africa and Philippines, as well as local top seeded local competitors and teams of foreign residents.

Not all the teams have their eye on victory. Many race just for the fun of it. For the Hello Taipei team made up of foreign workers from Southeast Asian countries, the race is more of a holiday escape from their construction jobs. "It's the second time we have organized a dragon boat team for these races. We have been practicing for one month now, but since most companies are reluctant to let their workers take a break from work, we can just work with the people who show up. It's really just a way to let foreign workers enjoy some time off and join local activities," Ding Hao-sen (丁浩森) of the Migrant Worker Culture Center (外勞文化中心) said.

As for the other teams made up of foreign residents such as the Taipei European School team, the annual race has become a much anticipated event to show off their athletic prowess. "We've been participating in the race for five years now. Parents of our students, teachers and school directors all look forward to this time of the year for a good race," Chan Li-wen (詹麗玟) of the Taipei European School said.

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