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Devotion, Drums & Mangoes: Dragon Boat Festival

After a stagnation of time with no public holidays since Tomb-Sweeping Day back in April,  Dragon Boat Festival is finally upon us!

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The origins of the festival are rooted in ancient Chinese culture when the seven states of China were at war. Dragon Boat commemorates Cyu Yuan, a poet and scholar, who threw himself into the Miluo River to express his devotion to the Chu king. After his death, search parties rowed up and down the river in search of his body. Women threw rice wrapped inside into the river to stop fish and shrimps from eating the corpse. The triangular wrapped rice has now become a festive snack called Zongzi (粽子).

These days, the festival is celebrated by racing brightly coloured dragon boats across lakes and rivers all over Taiwan. Last week, we accompanied our language exchange to her son’s local high school to watch the untraditional dragon boat races.

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Yes, that’s right. It’s a dragon boat race with no water. Having attached wheels to the bottom of the boat, the participants whack the floor like crazy with their paddles, towels wrapped around their heads with the sun beating down on them. We saw a very impressive team of blind men who, despite their best efforts, didn’t manage to beat their non-blind opposition. A group aged 40+ did however, beat their 20-something rivals. Meanwhile, Luke and I stood at the road-side drinking mango ice.

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This weekend, we sailed over to Meihua Lake for the traditional version. In the aquamarine hues of the lakeside, we sat listening to the heavy beating of the drums to spur the rowers to victory – by capturing the flag! I had assumed that the winner was the boat that crossed the finish line first, but nu-uh. Turns out they race towards a coloured flag and as they approach, the designated flag-capturer leans his whole body off of the front of the boat to stretch for it. If it was me, I’d fall in before my hand got anywhere near the flag.

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Eat: Mango shaved ice. Bloggers rave about this cooling summer dessert non-stop. A mountain of shaved ice topped with fresh mango and drizzled with condensed milk. Sweet, refreshing and easy to find. NT$60 (£1.30) for a plate.

Drink: There are a host of top-notch cafes to one side of the lake. You can get iced coffees, teas and smoothies. Our friend, Liezl, had a delicious red tea for NT$100 (£2.15) for a tall glass.

Walk: Up through the trees is a large temple overlooking the lake. It’s an easy walk up a winding path, which takes about 10 minutes.

See: We spoke to one of the girls from our HESS training group earlier this week who was training in a Dragon Boat team; had to link this great image of a dragon boat rowing into the mist from her Tumblr.

The end of a beautiful day at Dragon Boat Festival…

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