An­cient Chi­nese sport mak­ing a splash around the world

Many ex­pats are fall­ing in love with dragon boat rac­ing to learn about China and build team­work

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By XUJINGXI xujingxi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Dragon boat rac­ing, an im­por­tant folk cul­ture ac­tiv­ity es­pe­cially dur­ing Duanwu Jie — the tra­di­tional Chi­nese Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val — is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar among non-Chi­nese people be­cause of the way it in­spires team­work and the pro­found his­tory and cul­ture behind the ac­tiv­ity.

David But­ler, a Bri­tish busi­ness­man based in Guangzhou in Guang­dong prov­ince joined an international dragon boat team in the city in 2009 after con­sid­er­ing it to be a “good win­dow into South Chi­nese cul­ture”.

“I wanted to find out more about the city I live in and get to know more about the lo­cal people,” said the 50-year-old team leader. “I have built a strong bond with my team­mates when we train to­gether for two hours ev­ery week, syn­chro­nize our row­ing. It is a strong com­mu­nity in the boat. We’ve be­come friends and en­joy go­ing out drink­ing and eat­ing in our spare time.”

He says there were few for­eign pad­dlers in the club when he joined the Guangzhou International Dragon Boat Team, which was founded in 1999. To­day, among the 40 or so ac­tive mem­bers, a dozen are for­eign­ers hail­ing from 13 coun­tries.

In ad­di­tion to com­pe­ti­tions inChina, the team has raced in Malaysia, Thai­land, the Philip­pines and Aus­tralia.

Ouyang Hui, the team’s man­ager, joined in 2003 and has wit­nessed the way in which dragon boat rac­ing has be­come pop­u­lar around the world dur­ing the past 10 years.

She­and­her hus­band helped with train­ing at dragon boat clubs in­Ham­burg in­Ger­many andAm­s­ter­damin theNether­lands when they toured Europe in 2013.

A friend of hers in­NewYork has also sent her pho­tos of dragon boat races on theHud­son River.

“Dragon boat rac­ing is quite pop­u­lar around the world now,” Ouyang said. “And in the West, it’s mostly Western­ers, rather than Chi­nese people, who are par­tic­i­pat­ing.”

Jon Han­lon, an Amer­i­canAus­tralian pad­dler with the international dragon boat team in Guangzhou, went to Ade­laide in Aus­tralia for a race in April along with two of his team­mates. They joined a team from Bei­jing for the event and com­peted in the 10th IDBF Club Crew World Cham­pi­onships.

He said it was in­ter­est­ing to see the many non-Chi­nese people walking through the streets of Ade­laide with dragon boat pad­dles on their backs.

Han­lon joined the Guangzhou dragon boat team in April 2015 after a friend urged him to get in­volved.

“I wanted to try it be­cause dragon boat rac­ing is be­com­ing a pop­u­lar sport over­seas andI thought it would be great to learn it in its na­tive coun­try of China,” he said, adding that there are more than 15 dragon boat teams in Syd­ney alone.

For Han­lon, dragon boat rac­ing is “unique” be­cause it in­volves such large teams pad­dling to­gether. Usu­ally, there are 25 people in a dragon boat in international races.

He said the drum­ming is also a spe­cial fea­ture that adds a feel­ing of the­atre to the sport, and the boat it­self looks quite spe­cial with the shape of the dragon’s head and tail at the front and back.

“Most sports in the West orig­i­nated for the pur­pose of leisure, rather than cer­e­mony as this has in China,” said the 39-year-old acupunc­tur­ist who is study­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine in Guangzhou.

“The his­tory behind dragon add in­ter­est­ing sport.”

Main Had­dad, an in­dus­trial and boat color cul­ture rac­ing to the en­gi­neer work­ing in Guangzhou, joined the international dragon boat team in April 2015, also after be­ing in­vited to join by a friend. Had­dad was es­pe­cially ex­cited be­cause he comes from Jor­dan, a coun­try where water re­sources are lim­ited and people rarely par­tic­i­pate in water sports.

Hav­ing been in China for 14 years, he had heard about Duanwu Jie and had watched dragon boat races of­ten, but had never taken part.

“I have grad­u­ally dis­cov­ered that it is a fas­ci­nat­ing sport that has a long his­tory and cul­ture em­bed­ded into it,” said the 43-year-old.

Had­dad said club mem­bers of­ten talk about where, when and how dragon boat rac­ing started. And he got a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence other as­pects of Chi­nese cul­ture, thanks to the sport, when he got to paint the dots on the eyes of the dragon when the club bought a new boat, sym­bol­iz­ing the be­gin­ning of its life.

“It is a trend for more and more for­eign­ers to take part in dragon boat rac­ing,” he said. “The big­gest charm of it is the amount of team­work re­quired. It is a team of 20 or more pad­dlers try­ing to be syn­chro­nized and united as one. Once you do it cor­rectly, you feel amaz­ing.”

Huang Youbin, the Chi­nese coach of the international dragon boat team in Guangzhou, said he is not sur­prised about the pop­u­lar­ity of dragon boat rac­ing among for­eign­ers.

Huang’s birth­place is in the Gaoyao district of Zhao­qing city in Guang­dong prov­ince, which is at the heart of the dragon boat rac­ing cul­ture. The 35-year-old busi­ness­man, who now works in Foshan, has been par­tic­i­pat­ing in dragon boat races for at least 15 years, un­der the in­flu­ence of his father who used to take him to races when he was a child.

“For me, what’s most at­trac­tive about dragon boat rac­ing is the spirit of team­work and striv­ing for the best, and I guess that’s also why it has at­tracted a lot of for­eign­ers,” Huang said. “A team can’t win with one or two strong pad­dlers; the whole team must be united and syn­chro­nize their row­ing. Once you take up the sport, you will dis­cover that it is not play­ful but chal­leng­ing, both phys­i­cally and men­tally.”

Tra­di­tional dragon boat rac­ing uses wooden boats and en­gages 50 pad­dlers, but in most races held nowa­days, boats are made of fiber­glass and take around 20 pad­dlers.

And tra­di­tional dragon boat rac­ing in­volves many rit­u­als, which fewyoung Chi­nese people are fa­mil­iar with, let alone the for­eign­ers who take part, saidHuang.

To help non-Chi­nese team mem­bers learn more about th­ese tra­di­tional cus­toms, Huang has been shar­ing his in­sights with team­mates, such as telling them about some of the rit­u­als, in­clud­ing the eye­dot­ting cer­e­mony they held when the club bought its new boat in­March.

“I feel it’s my duty to spread the knowl­edge and en­cour­age more people, whether they are Chi­nese or for­eign­ers, to par­tic­i­pate in dragon boat rac­ing,” Huang said.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Pad­dlers with the Guangzhou International Dragon Boat Team sweat in the scorch­ing May sun dur­ing a weekly train­ing ses­sion.

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