Sun, Jun 08, 2008 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Dragon Boats have ‘green’ message

ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESSIn Hualien County, a centuries-old tradition is being used to help address the very modern problem of conserving resources

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chen Yi-nan poses as a thousand-year-old fairy on his winning aluminum-can boat at the Green Dragon Boat Festival competition in Hualien last week.

PHOTO: MEGGIE LU, TAIPEI TIMES

The word “disposable” is often overused when applied to everyday items.

A large percentage of the public fails to “reuse, reduce and recycle,” the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said, and it wants to foster a public spirit of resource conservation. To promote that goal, it is trying a number of creative approaches, including taking a traditional festival and giving it an environmental twist.

The “Green Dragon Boat Festival” competition in Hualien last week might be described as a Taiwanese version of Junkyard Wars — a US reality TV show where teams battle with machines made out of material found in the junkyard — The Green Dragon Boat Festival includes a race with dragon boats made entirely of recycled materials.

An annual occurrence in Hualien for 11 years running — except at the height of the SARS scare — was inspired by a team of tourist hotel employees, who on a beautiful spring afternoon in 1997 noticed a surfeit of used toothbrushes produced by the hotel’s guests in just one night, Hualien’s Parkview Hotel sales and marketing manager Rebecca Jan (詹雅真) said.

“We had a full-house that night,” she said. “And with two to four guests in each of our 345 guestrooms, we collected a small mountain of toothbrushes afterwards.”

The brushes were not the only pile that stunned the Parkview staff — shower caps, razors, miniature shampoo bottles and other items were discarded in equal abundance.

As it was close to Dragon Boat Festival, someone on the staff suggested that employees divide into teams and race miniature Dragon Boats made out of the junk in the Parkview swimming pool.

“After roaring success and popularity, the competition soon snowballed from an employee activity into a public extravagana. Soon enough, we attracted the attention of Hualien’s Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB), which started to sponsor us from the second year on,” Jan said.

The competition went national three years ago after the EPA came into the picture and the festival expanded into a day-long event.

This year, 22 finalist teams from all over the country submitted boats made out rubbish — from soda cans and colored plastic straws, to imaginative pompom threads and billboard figurine cutouts — competed for the NT$50,000 grand prize and the glory of earning the title “Junk Alchemists.”

Third-place winner, 10-year-old Cindy Chen (陳心), who donned a green dress on competition day made out of weaved strips of real estate advertisement flyers, told the Taipei Times that in the past three years she and her family had participated in the competition, thousands of flyers had been given second life.

“My parents would collect drink bottles and flyers for months before they assemble the papers into a full-sized boat,” she said.

The fair also drew thousands of fairgoers — many of them children — who came for the energy-saving workshops, white-elephant sale, cotton candy and live rock music.

“This is the first year we come to the fair, but I am quite impressed — the government should host such activities more frequently to promote public awareness of environmental protection,” said Lee Chuan-li (李傳禮), an Ilan resident who came with his wife and grandchildren.

Although Lee said he did not learn anything new from the energy-saving workshop, he acknowledged that it was a good first step for “new recyclers.”

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