Dragon boat races are always fun to watch, and this one was even more exciting since we knew one of the competitors! Dragon boat races are traditionally held as part of the annual Duanwu Festival in Taiwan and China.
The date on which the dragon boat races are held is referred to as the “double fifth” since Duanwu is reckoned as the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. This usually falls in the Gregorian calendar month of June and occasionally in late May or early July. This year, it fell on the weekend of May 31-June 2. It was also a long weekend, with many people getting Monday June 2 off as a holiday.
You likely can’t tell from the photo above, but that is not a real temple. It was entirely made of cardboard! According to Harmony, there was a special blessing ceremony the day before the dragon races started, to guarantee that all would go well with the races.
The Tainan dragon boat races go on for three days. Every team that wins their race on Saturday advances to race again on Sunday, and the winners of Sunday’s races race again on Monday. Harmony’s NCKU student team had been practising, but Harmony did not think that they were going to advance. All of them were racing for the first time.
The atmosphere alongside of the river where the dragon boat races were being held reminded me of a fairground. There were lots of vendors selling delicious snacks, many teams hanging out waiting to compete, and lots of people watching the races. It was also very, very hot and sunny, so I had to keep looking for shade so I would not get sunburned.
Dragon boat races have been held for over 2000 years throughout southern China. Dragon boat racing became an international sport, beginning in Hong Kong in 1976. It has become more and more popular since then.
For competition events, dragon boats are generally rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails. At other times (such as during training), decorative regalia is usually removed, although the drum often remains aboard for drummers to practice. The drummer beats the drum to give the rowers their rowing rhythm.
Harmony’s NCKU team ended up in the dragon boat that was the furthest away from us, on the far side of the river from where we were watching the races. It made it much more challenging to get good photos of her team!
Harmony’s dragon boat was was very exciting! They did not win, but it was still fun to watch!
The photo below is a close up taken after the race.
In the photo below, Harmony is holding up her competitor card from the Tainan Dragon Boat Festival.
After the race, we went walking around the historic section of Tainan. Lobsters are not native to Taiwan, but I guess they ship them all the way from New England to this restaurant in Tainan!
The crustacean in the photo below is one of the native type.
We were not hungry, as we had been snacking on many things while watching the dragon races. But when we walked into a courtyard that had traditional Taiwan shaved ice desserts, we could not resist and ordered one. Taiwan shave ice dessert is just finely shaved ice, with molasses syrup poured over it, and many different toppings on top of the shaved ice. This one had the traditional sweet red beans and black chewy tapioca balls on top.
Jeff also had a bowl of noodles with some traditional toppings.
After we were finished eating, we walked to the famous historic Matsu Temple in Tainan. The goddess Matsu is one of the most important deities in Taiwan. As she is a Goddess of the Sea and Taiwan is an island, it is easy to understand why Matsu was so important to the Taiwanese people. It is estimated that there are 400 to 500 Matsu temples in Taiwan, but one of the oldest and most important is in downtown Tainan.
Tainan Grand Matsu Temple was a palace before it was a temple. Zheng Chenggong’s (Koxinga’s) son, Zheng Jing, had it built for The Prince of Ningjing (Zhu Shugui) after inviting the Ming prince to take up residency in Taiwan. The palace was where the prince was living when he decided to take his own life, because the Ming dynasty was overthrown. When the Qing took over Taiwan, General Shi Lang took up residency in the palace. Later, in a political move, he petitioned the emperor to have the building converted into a temple dedicated to Matsu.
The Grand Matsu Temple of Tainan was the first officially dedicated Matsu temple in Taiwan. I noticed that all of the stone lion statues guarding the temple entrance were wearing red bows. Maybe this was because of the the Duanwu Dragon Festival celebration?
Even the wooden crane statues inside the temple had been decorated with red bows!
We enjoyed touring the NCKU campus where Harmony was taking classes, and watching her compete in a dragon race with her fellow students. It was a fun trip to Tainan!