This was fun, and colourful – our first dragon boat festival. It’s like a big fair, there’s carnival games and food and in the middle of it all, dragon boat races all day long. But in Taiwan the winner has to do more than just cross the finish line first: someone has to climb up on the dragon’s head and snag a flag with their team’s colour at full speed right at the finish line. The guy in the back has to steer the really long dragon boat to make sure the flag is within reach. We didn’t see anyone fall in, but we had the camera ready just in case. Each team has a drummer to keep time and a guy in the back who steers. The flag-catcher rides the whole way waiting for his or her one second of glory (or shame) at the end.
Some background info from NTNU:
Rowing dragon boats began as a ceremony for supplicating the God of Water to prevent disaster and bring fortune and later attached the rural custom of punting on the Milo River in search for Chu Yuan’s body. With the melding of these traditions, dragon boat racing has today become the highlight of all the festivities held on Dragon Boat Festival.
Before a dragon boat may enter competition, it must first undergo a ceremony to “bring” it “to life.” Local leaders officiate over the ceremony, held on the first day of the fifth lunar month, offering prayer to the Daffodil Noble King and the eyes of the dragon painted on the boat, to bring him. On the fifth day of the month, the boats are carried to the shore amidst the clamor of gongs and drums and a ceremony is held involving incense, prayers, and the lighting of fireworks. Finally, after thorough inspection, the boats enter the water for the competition.
Pretty much anyone can enter – schools and businesses send teams, other countries send teams – it’s a public, community-oriented thing. If PEI got big enough we could enter a team, but for now we resigned ourselves to taking goofy pictures with the dragons, eating lots of food, and taking it easy. We attempted stinky dofu again, on a stick this time. It’s an acquired taste (which we have yet to acquire). It was gross, and juicy. The lady cooking it was wearing a mask, and we don’t blame her! You’ll see little bird eggs on a stick, spirit money stuffed in the dragon’s mouths on most of the boats, the teams approaching the finish line and their teammate stretching for the flag, and lots of other stuff, including a whole dragon boat team walking and singing on their way to their waiting area, entirely naked save for some (not enough!) spandex.
You can read more about our trip to the Dragon Boat Festival here:
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