Fierce Com­pe­ti­tion at Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val in Tai­wan

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Kayra Wil­liams

From a van­tage over­look­ing the Love River I took in the Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val races for the very first time. I was in the south of Tai­wan, and my pres­ence there had to do with a press trip gra­ciously ar­ranged by the Tai­wanese Em­bassy of Saint Lu­cia. As spec­tac­u­lar as was the view from above, it wasn’t nearly close enough to take in all the ac­tion that was hap­pen­ing down on the street front. We had come to the city of Kaoh­si­ung from Taipei just for the oc­ca­sion, and shortly af­ter the event be­gan on Tues­day, May 30, our group lined up with other in­ter­na­tional broad­cast­ers on the main stage. Our mis­sion: wit­ness and share with the world team spirit at its finest in the form of one of Tai­wan’s rich­est tra­di­tions.

The day’s event would en­tail boat races pow­ered by hu­man ef­fort in two cat­e­gories: Tra­di­tional, and Mod­ern Dragon Boat. The teams com­prised crews of 22, in­clud­ing a drum­mer - the ‘heart­beat’ of the dragon boat - and a steerer at the rear of the boat.

Kevin Huang, Di­rec­tor in the De­part­ment of Sports, who was on hand at the event shared with me the ori­gins of the event’s name. With a strong con­nec­tion to Chi­nese tra­di­tions, Huang noted that the dragon was also a very im­por­tant sym­bol of iden­tity for Tai­wan, just as it was in China.

“Nor­mally, in all the sto­ries, the dragon is found in the skies. How­ever, we changed for a lit­tle bit, and used the dragon boat,” he said, adding that dragon boat rac­ing was also a part of tra­di­tional cul­ture for main­land China.

“This com­pe­ti­tion at Love River has been on­go­ing for the last 40 years,” he said. “A lot of stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly from high school and univer­sity, par­tic­i­pate. This year we had more than 17 del­e­ga­tions from the dif­fer­ent schools, in­ter­na­tional stu­dents as well, which means this event be­comes more of a cul­tural ex­change. The in­ter­na­tional stu­dents get a very good un­der­stand­ing of the cul­ture in Tai­wan, and also our lo­cal cit­i­zens can en­joy the at­mos­phere.”

As Huang spoke, a team called Ground Hogs rowed past the judg­ing sta­tion along the river bank and raised their pad­dles in sol­i­dar­ity. It hap­pened re­peat­edly, as each team made its way back to the start­ing point, past the judges. He ex­plained that it was a sign of re­spect, and it was re­cip­ro­cated ev­ery time by spec­ta­tors and the judges them­selves.

“Co­he­sion is very im­por­tant,” he said. “Co­op­er­a­tion, show­ing your iden­tity. This is the stage for the schools and also ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions.”

This year the Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val hap­pened on a four-day week­end, and the Sports Di­rec­tor said it had been trans­formed in re­cent times into a more fes­ti­val-ori­ented en­gage­ment.

“We de­cided to do the Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val with dif­fer­ent types of per­form­ers,” he said. “We have dragon boat per­form­ers who come on one hour in the very begin­ning of the com­pe­ti­tion. We have an en­vi­ron­men­tal type of com­pe­ti­tion, where high school stu­dents use re­cy­cled prod­ucts to do the dragon boat com­pe­ti­tion, and also at this kind of event you can see a lot of ven­dors along the Love River, so cit­i­zens can en­joy the com­pe­ti­tion.”

When the races were fin­ished the ex­cite­ment shifted to a side stage event fea­tur­ing stu­dents from the Drum Art Union. Af­ter three ex­pertly ex­e­cuted pre­sen­ta­tions that left the au­di­ence on its feet, the re­sults of the dragon boat rac­ing chal­lenge were an­nounced. Notable per­for­mances came from the R.O.C. Naval Acad­emy (first place), Kaoshong City Po­lice De­part­ment (se­cond place), Ground Hog Team (third), and the Shu-te Home Eco­nom­ics and Com­mer­cial High School.

Stu­dents were part of the ac­tion at this week’s Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val, with spir­ited per­for­mances.

Dragon boat rac­ers pow­er­ing through the Love River.

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