Our trip to Taiwan was just in time for the Dragon Boat Festival on June 20th and of course we set aside the morning to go and have a look at the scene.
The Festival is held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar and is said to date back to 278 BC and the famous poet and minister Qu Yuan. He was banished from the kings court when he opposed an alliance with the Qin state. During his long exile he wrote a lot of poetry and was admired by the people. When Qin finally captured the capital Qu Yuan was so desperate that he committed suicide in the Miulo River.
It is said that the local people rushed out in their boats to save him, but when they couldn’t even find his body, they dropped balls of sticky rice into the river to get the fish to eat these and not Qu Yuan. Though this isn’t a very pleasant tale (and not the only origin story) the Dragon Boat Festival is a national holiday and is celebrated by watching the Dragon Boats race and eating sticky rice dumplings.
When we arrived at the River it was already packed with people and was bustling with activities. The many Dragon Boat Teams were preparing and alongside the river where tents put up to give at least a bit of shade to sit in. Fortunately, because otherwise I might have turned back on the heel. The sun was scorching hot and I could practically feel my scalp sizzling.
Everyone around was excited, chatting away, eating and drinking the snacks from the food stalls, watching the teams and boats get ready for the races. I found myself a place in the shades while my husband and our friend went to get something to eat. Had I seen the lines in front of the stalls I wouldn’t have wondered if they had forgotten me.
As it was I sat there as alone as you ca be, surrounded by hundreds of people, and watched the first races take part. In the beginning there were two teams in each race, which then build up to four teams per race. The final races would actually taking place the next day, so we saw the preliminaries. It’s quite amazing how fast some of those boats were going and you could see the differences between the teams, with some winning way ahead of everyone else.
Another thing I found interesting were the many foreign teams that took part, I think they made up about half of the participating teams. The atmosphere was very cheery and each team, no matter of on the winning or losing side, was greeted with clapping and cheering.
When the food finally arrived (er… I mean, when I finally was reunited with my husband…) it was still hot enough to enjoy the deliciously iced pineapple juice, yet I was hungry enough to enjoy the hot pancake like savory snacks.
Have you ever been to a Dragon Boat Festival?