Opinion / Blog

Dragon Boat Festival

By DaqingDevil ( Updated: 2015-06-10 11:17

The Dragon Boat Festival is almost upon us and here's an adventure from last year's celebration.

On June12 we celebrated the festival (Duanwu) which last year gave us three public holidays in China. The usual rule applies though, you get Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off but had to work the Saturday and the Sunday to make up for the days off! The youngsters at our school get it even worse because on the days off, Monday and Tuesday, they attend English Classes that they missed on the Saturday and the Sunday because they were at normal school.

Anyway, our annual plan is to rise at dawn, get on bicycles and meet at a predetermined place and time and ride to some scenic spot, partake of traditional food, play a few games then ride back home. Sounds adventurous and exciting but let me tell you that dawn in northern China is at 3.30am. That’s the first challenge – waking to an alarm set for 3.15am, especially if you have been up a little late the night before. On this day the forecast was for rain and sure enough that’s what we got. The possibility of steady rain and discussion of a contingency plan a couple of days before was met with the usual inscrutability of the Chinese which, since living here, I now knew to mean “Huh?”

It was decided that riding a bike in wet weather might be detrimental to our health so we eventually changed arrangements so that our group was picked up by car and that happened at 5am so we had been sitting around for more than an hour at that stage. We met up with the group from Xincun, who were on bikes I might add, making me feel like a wuss because this group had pedaled over 7 kilometers to get to this point already and here I was sitting in a car nice and dry. At this time the rain had stopped but skies were still pretty dark and threatening.

From this meeting point it was not all that long a drive to the end of the road where there was an entrance way and a sign saying we were going to Goufu Manor, part of the Longfeng Wetlands area. It’s hard to describe this place because apart from the manor house, which was just an ordinary holiday style home with rooms converted to make it a restaurant, all the buildings looked the same. Although the fact they were just single-story houses was a nice change from the normal packs of apartment blocks we were more used to. Road construction, the usual Chinese pathetic drainage system, and rain provided us with another challenge as we negotiated bikes and cars through this ungodly mess of lake-like puddles and piles of mud. Oh for a dragon boat right now!

The restaurant was obviously expecting us and we sat down to the traditional meal of zongzi (bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice with a sweet date inside), dried fish, Chinese porridge, garlic covered kelp, cooked seaweed, a bowl of sugar (to dip the zongzi) and boiled eggs. Hardly a breakfast we were used to but by this time one is hungry enough to eat almost anything….almost I said.

At this point let me fill you in on the traditions surrounding Dragon Boat Festival because there are quite a few – three ancient ones that I have heard. The one I like best is the Qu Yuan tale in which this famous poet committed suicide by throwing himself into the river in despair at the alliance of two royal houses, the Chu and the Qin. It is said that people who loved this poet wrapped sticky rice in tied bamboo leaves, triangular in shape, and dropped them into the water near where Qu Yuan drowned himself to feed the fish so they would not dine on the poet’s body. This is the zongzi. The locals also paddled out on their boats to scare the fish away or maybe retrieve the body. This is the Dragon Boat racing origin. Pretty neat story don’t you think?

After eating I was given the bike of one of the Chinese teachers and from the restaurant we rode to the actual Longfeng Wetlands entrance where there was a huge building, seemingly empty, an equally huge and imposing statue and a set of cages that held a peacock, a gaggle of geese and two impressive white cranes. There was a set of stairs to a jetty and a reasonable walk to a viewing platform where we could look out over the vast wetlands. We didn’t go there because we had games organized like piggy-back races and the three-legged race during both of which some injuries were sustained by participants. By this time it was raining steadily again and while it’s true that Chinese planning can be a little hit and miss at times, mine was damn good as I unpacked my recently purchased wet weather gear. The fact that I had not ridden my bike was now looking like a good idea as we all clambered into vehicles or climbed onto bikes to head to the local fruit farm for a look-see.

Out there, in the middle of nowhere, we visited the most unbelievable fruit growing place I have ever seen. We only got to see the strawberry growing houses but to see these enormous buildings that were able to grow strawberries all year round in a province that experiences sub zero temperatures for six months of the year was amazing. Gigantic green houses with central heating systems, like a fan forced oven, lighting, water sprinkling systems, 50 meter long trays that held the plants which grew out of holes punched in plastic that covered the soil, wheels that rolled the trays to one side so you could walk down each side and pick the fruit, security cameras, sun reflectors for when the weather was too hot and of course a sale area. You could pick your own strawberries and the charge was 20 yuan per punnet, expensive but after tasting some of the strawberries well worth it. They were divine! I couldn’t see more than 15 buildings like this but they stretched for quite a distance and watermelons were grown there too. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. Did they copy this or was this Chinese ingenuity resulting from necessity?

Time came to head back home, but our driver forgot the way we came in so we took 45 minutes to get home and had to drive through an enormous construction area where they are building what is supposed to be the biggest theme park in South East Asia. I was dropped back at my apartment at about 8am and was in bed asleep by 8.20am. Another Dragon Boat Festival outing in China had passed but I didn’t dream about zongzi and dragons or dead poets.

The priginal blog is at:

Most Viewed Today's Top News