June 2 Dragon Boat Race in Bitan

Monday was officially Duan Wu, so Jeff had the day off. We decided to go to another Dragon Boat Festival. This one was in Bitan, in the southern Banqiao district of Taipei.

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Dragon boats racing on Bitan Lake, at the New Taipei City Dragon Boat Festival

But first, we went shopping in the Neihu day market for more zongzi. Jeff wanted to buy some more zongzi, as they freeze well, and will keep for awhile. They are great quick snacks, and great to take on a hike.And you can only easily find them at this time of the year.

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Jeff is checking out zongzi for sale from a vendor in the Neihu day market

We ended up with lots of different zongzi to try! We ate them for the rest of the week, and put many in the freezer!

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Jeff is sitting at our dining table with all of the zongzi that we purchased in front of him on the table

Many vendors were also selling an arrangement of green leaves. Jeff asked why one lady why she was selling these bunches of leaves, and she told him that you were supposed to put them next to or on your door for good luck. I guess this is another local Duan Wu tradition. So we bought a bunch, and I put the green leaves arrangement near our door for good luck.

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Ann is holding the green leave s arrangement that you are supposed to place near your door on Duan Wu for good luck

Since this is my third blog entry on dragon boat races, I should probably explain the legend behind them. Jeff has told me something about Qu Yuan and throwing zongzi into the water from boats to prevent the fishes from eating his body. As that was not enough of an explanation, I decided to look it up in Wikipedia. Here is the legend from Wikipedia.

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Ann is standing next to a flag proclaiming this as the New Taipei City Dragon Boat Festival

The main legend concerns the saga of a Chinese court official named Qu Yuan. It is said that he lived in the pre-imperial Warring States period of China (475-221 BC). During this time the area today known as central China was divided into seven main states or kingdoms battling among themselves for supremacy. This was at the conclusion of the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty, which is regarded as China’s classical age during which Confucius lived. Also, the author Sun Tzu is said to have written his famous classic on military strategy The Art of War during this era.

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Ann is standing on a pathway, overlooking Lake Bitan and the Dragon Boat Festival area

Qu Yuan was a minister in one of the Warring State governments, the southern state of Chu (present day Hunan and Hubei provinces). He was a champion of political loyalty and integrity, and eager to maintain the Chu state’s autonomy and hegemony. It is believed that the Chu monarch fell under the influence of other corrupt, jealous ministers who slandered Qu Yuan as ‘a sting in flesh’, and therefore the fooled king banished Qu, his most loyal counsellor.

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The staring dock in Lake Bitan for the dragon boat races

In Qu’s exile, he supposedly produced some of the greatest early poetry in Chinese literature, expressing his fervent love for his state and his deepest concern for its future. This collection of odes are known as the Chuci or “Songs of the South (Chu)”..

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Dragon boats lined up in the starting dock ready to race on Lake Bitan

In the year 278 B.C., upon learning of the devastation of his state from the invasion by the neighboring Warring State  of Qin, Qu is said to have waded into th Miluo River which drains into Dongting Hu Lake in today’s Hunan Province, holding a great rock in order to commit ritual suicide as a form of protest against the corruption of the era. The Qin or Chin kingdom eventually conquered all of the other states including Chu and unified them into the first Chinese empire. 

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Dragon boats racing on Lake Bitan

The common people, upon learning of his suicide, rushed out on the water in their fishing boats to the middle of the river and tried desperately to save Qu Yuan. They beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles in order to keep the fish and evil spirits from his body. Later on, they scattered rice into the water to prevent him from suffering hunger. Another belief is that the people scattered rice to feed the fish, in order to prevent them from devouring the poet’s body.

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A dragon boat “flag puller” reaches out to grab a flag at the end of the race

 However, late one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends and told them that the rice meant for him was being intercepted by a huge river dragon. He asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon. This has been a traditional food ever since known as zongzi, although they are wrapped in leaves instead of silk. In commemoration of Qu Yuan, it is said, people hold dragon boat races annually on the day of his death.

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The winning dragon boat paddles by the judges’ platform

One final note from Wikipedia;

A Song Dynasty (circa 1000 AD) silk painting depicts an imperial dragon boat competition that took place in the ancient Chinese capital of Kaifeng. It shows dragon boats, referee boats, marked racing lanes, spectators, streamers, flags and banners and race officials. Since there were no “photofinish cameras” at the time, close races were adjudicated by a panel of judges who observed which crew was the first to pull, grasp or grab a flag that rested on a buoy positioned at the finish line for each racing lane.  These historical Song illustrations inspired some dragon boat race organizers in Taiwan to replicate flag pulling finish line markers in their annual races.

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Pretty flowers along the path near Lake Bitan

This competition arrangement gives rise to an additional crew position, that of the flag puller. The flag puller rides aboard near the decorated dragon head, out of the way of the drummer. As the boat nears the finish line flag float, the flag puller extends his or her arm to grab the flag from the lane float to signal attainment of the finish line as the boat whizzes by. The steerer has to accurately steer the boat within arms reach of the flag mount. Electronic devices are sometimes used to accurately capture times. The flag puller must not miss pulling the flag, otherwise the boat’s finish is disqualified.

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Foot bridge over Lake Bitan, and canopy tents over food vendor stalls alongside of Lake Bitan

There were no flag pullers in Tainan, but both of the dragon boat races in Taipei used flag pullers. The races in Taipei in Dajia Park did use an electronic timer, but I did not see timers at either of the other two races.

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Jeff is enjoying a treat of fresh mangos over shaved ice at the New Taipei Lake Bitan Dragon Boat Festival

This was odd, to say the least! There was a place at the Bitan Dragon Boat Festival where you could get a massage from women holding large kitchen knives. Even if they were very dull, this just looks painful to me!

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A women giving another women a massage using large kitchen knives

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Close up photo of a woman getting a knife massage

At the conclusion of a long weekend of Dragon Boat Festivals, I am ready to hand out my “awards” to the winners.

Best Food at a festival award goes to the Tainan Dragon Boat Festival!

Best Shade at a festival award goes to the Taipei Dragon Boat Festival!

Prettiest Location for a festival award goes to the Bitan Dragon Boat Festival

Best (Novice) Competitors in a festival award goes to Harmony’s NCKU team in the  Tainan Dragon Boat Festival!

Most Exciting Race to Watch at a festival award goes to the final race in the Bitan Dragon Boat Festival! By the final race, when the winners of the earlier races compete against each other, they are very,very, very good!

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