Today was Dragon Boat Festival (or, more accurately, 端午, which has nothing to do with dragons or boats, but rather the lunar calendar). It’s a holiday for everyone, which is nice in that I get a holiday, especially from my junior high class, but a bummer since I don’t get paid for today. The holiday is celebrated with dragon boat races and eating tamales (no, really, an official website called them glutinous rice Chinese tamales), but since that all happened over the weekend, today was mild in terms of noise and commotion on the streets. Since I subbed on Monday and Tuesday, I had absolutely no down time for two days, and I decided there was nothing wrong with a day of minor errands and hard-drive-TV time.
But let’s talk about the weekend. All the weeks of practicing and waking up distressingly early on Sunday ran up to this, and it was not a disappointment. It was gray all weekend, but still pleasant, even when the rain was coming down. The races were held under the same bridge where we had practiced for the last 4 weeks, but instead of empty concrete and locked up huts, there were crowds of people and rows of vendors. Along the river, teams lounged under awnings and waited for their turn in the races.
At our last practice the Sunday before, I had been chosen to be the flag catcher, a position unique to Taiwan’s dragon boat races. Since I was nervous about it and there were 2 hours to kill before our race time, I watched a race to gauge how high the flags were and when I should jump up on the nose. I relaxed once I saw that I wouldn’t be risking falling into the Keelung River, holding onto the boat with one toe and reaching desperately down at a dangerous angle. There’s actually a video on facebook, and I’m tagged in it so it shouldn’t be too hard to find (I think it’s the only video I’m in!).
In our first race, we took second place with 2:32 (500 meters in that time, everybody!), which was good enough to qualify us for Saturday’s heats. Saturday’s call time was similar to Friday’s, late enough that I could sleep in a bit, but early enough that everything would happen in daylight, and the weather was similarly gray but not bucketing down.
On Friday after the race, I asked to paddle for the second race–after all, I had not practiced for 2 months to just lay on the dragon’s snout and grab a flag: I wanted to get involved like I’d practiced! I got my wish, but it was a little bit of a letdown since we placed last even though our time was 6 seconds faster! Our start was very weak, and that’s really where the race is decided. Nonetheless, it was really fun, and after the race since we had three hours until the opening ceremonies, I wandered the mini-bazaar with some teammates.
Of course, there were 粽子, and since this is Taiwan, there was also stinky tofu and fried meats of all sorts, but I also found some new delicacies like fried huge white mushroom. Okay, it has a name, but that’s really the best way to think of it. In English, it’s called king trumpet mushroom, and in Chinese it’s almond abalone mushroom, or 杏鮑菇. Whatever you call it, it’s amazing.
The opening ceremonies were underwhelming, mostly because I couldn’t see much, although there was a dragon dance that seemed cool from what I saw. When I was starting to get really bored, someone tagged me to help them get our complimentary Cokes, zòngzi, and …cakes. By that time, teams were slinking away, and our started to as well. At that point, however, the Philippine National Team did a performance which culminated with dudes whipping off their shirts, and some of us felt compelled to stay a little longer. The performance after that was a guy dancer with a strobe light style, who was then joined by some girls who did more standard hip-hop kind of dance, like you might see in a high school or college dance troupe. We bailed after that, and took the MRT over to dinner, which was very enjoyable.
I’ll cover Saturday night and Sunday later, since this is getting long and your eyes and I both want to take a break!