One of my best experiences in Taiwan so far. The Dragon Boat festival according to what I read is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and is a traditional Chinese holiday that includes eating traditional Chinese rice dumplings and racing boats with huge dragon heads at the front. This event, together with Chinese New Year and Mid-autumn Festival forms one of the three major holidays. To experience a dragon boat race, you either have to watch or participate. It is a thrill in itself and can be enjoyed by everyone. I have seen long, multicolored boats, with frightening dragons' heads, long tails, and scaly bodies, splash through the water. I have also seen men and women grunt and sweat as they push themselves harder and faster to be the first to the finish line. There were crowds screaming and cheering for their favorite team, while the drummers pound on their drums and yell at the paddlers.

The event according to a Taiwanese friend is not intended to be quiet and peaceful but loud and exciting as manifested on that joyous day. Dragon boat racing began more than 2000 years ago when a group of superstitious people believed that the boat racing would ensure prosperous and bountiful crops. 

http://www.dragonboatri.com/dragonhistory2.jpgThe race has come to symbolize both man's struggle against nature and his fight against dangerous enemies. The tragic tale of Ch'u Yuan further integrated the dragon boat races into the lives of the Chinese. From readings, fourth Century B.C. is known as the period of the "warring states" in Chinese history. It was a time when numerous supremacy wars between feudal lords erupted. Many kingdoms had already disappeared, except for Ch'u, which was one of the mightiest kingdoms remaining. Ch'u Yuan was a poet and a minister and councilor to the king of Ch'u - truly a great patriot. He feared for the future of his kingdom and to do the best for his country, he gave advice to the king. To his surprise, the advice was not accepted and he was exiled. At the devastation of the kingdom of Ch'u and his exile, Ch'u Yuan according to history, in desperation and sorrow, threw himself into the Mi Lo River. 

The people of Ch'u loved Ch'u Yuan. They grieved over his death and spent much time trying to scare the fish and water dragons away from Ch'u Yuan's body by rowing around the river in their fishing boats, splashing their oars, and beating their drums. And to ensure that Ch'u Yuan never went hungry, they wrapped rice in leaves and threw them into the river. I was told that Rice dumplings or Zong Zi are eaten to symbolize the rice offerings on behalf of Ch'u Yuan as part of the dragon boat festival celebration. Today the dragon boat races are primarily a form of amusement. It is no longer a necessary ceremony performed to scare away evil and call for a good year but entertainment that teaches people a little about Chinese history and culture.

To commemorate this day, National Tsing Hua University paraded three strong teams to participate in the racing events. The teams were named; International Students, Indians and Overseas Chinese Team. I started training with the international Students team, but I could not frequent myself in training as I was simultaneously training for the University futsal tournament to be held in Chiayi, so I could not participate in the race as the winning of the race is determined by how good the synchronization of the paddling is and this is achieved by constant training with the teams so as to get the team spirit in the paddling, but I went in to cheer up my teams. Our Fulbright teams had been practicing three times a week, from 6 PM to 9:30 PM and sometime 7:00AM to 9:00AM, since May 1. We had a really motivating coach who knew the sport in and out, and we also had a team makeup that was unique with two-thirds as girls. Our first race was against an experience team: 18 guys and 1 girl. In Dragon Boat, you have the paddlers, a drummer to ensure synchronization and energizing of the paddlers, and someone who leans out over the dragon boat head and stretch out to snatch the flag at the finish line. It was a heart-racing, a test of strength and a trial by fire.

We were winning our first race when the boat controller who was drunk left our boat in the hands of the waves and we went off tangent and as a result we were defeated. We complained and the race was taken again but we still lost to them as we used all our strengths in the first one.

Our second race was against our counterpart team, the Indians who were composed of strong men, but we won them even though we had majority of our team being girls but we had better synchronization than the Indians, thus manifesting the importance of synchronization in the whole issue. We all went crazy in jubilation after winning the Indian team. We faced a couple of teams, many composed entirely of grown and experienced men in dragon boat race, but we managed to finish with a respectable 4th place, the best record in National Tsing Hua University history. Below are pictures of the gallant team in action:


The race of our International team victory

The International team coming back after defeating their Indian counterparts

 

 

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