Saturday, 23 June 2012

Here Be Dragons ...

Well, dragon boats, anyway!  Today, Hong Kong celebrated the annual Tuen Ng festival. It commemorates the death of a poet-statesman who killed himself in the third century BC by jumping into the river – protest against a corrupt government. There are races in a couple of spots in Hong Kong, and mainland China and Macau also celebrate.
I took a city bus to Stanley, a town on the south side of the island that holds the biggest races. It was amazing just lining up for the bus. The city had cleverly anticipated the crowds and assigned loads of double-decker buses to the route, and the line just snaked around, but kept moving. As soon as a bus was full – and I mean PACKED! – it took off and the next one loaded.

The route to Stanley – named after the British secretary of state for the colonies at the time Hong Kong was ceded to the British in the 1800s -- took us along the coastline and I was gifted with some amazing vistas of blue water, sandy beaches and green hills rising above them.  The entire interior of the island is hilly and covered with vegetation, except where high rises have sprung up. Although the commute to downtown would be a bit long, I can see why people want to live along the coast road: the views are amazing!

Once the bus arrived in Stanley, I joined the crowds heading to the main beach, site of the races. It was crowded, but not insanely so, and I managed to find a spot on the seawall to watch the races. I ended up sitting next to a woman vacationing here from Switzerland. It’s one of the things I love best about being in Hong Kong: it’s a real crossroads and you meet people from all over the world.
Soon, I realized that I could actually walk down onto the beach near to where the boats were launching. It was such fun to see all the teams assembling. Many were corporate teams or club teams – there was even a team of U of T/UBC alumni! Teams wore matching shirts, and some wore crazy costumes (warriors, angels, etc.) or funky headdresses.

Dragon boats, as many of you know, are long, skinny boats whose paddlers sit in pairs and paddle to the rhythm set by a drummer at the bow. What a treat to be standing ankle deep in the warm water of the bay as the drums pounded and the paddlers stroked their fastest! It was a lively event and a wonderful one, because it brought together the expatriate community and the Hong Kong natives for one purpose.

Afterwards, I wandered the town market, walked to the pier and listened to the open air music in the town square. There were groups of all kinds: African drummers, pop cover bands, folksingers. It really added to the festive atmosphere.

And now that I’ve been to the beach, felt the yellow sand under my feet (shades of the Jersey Shore!) and the warm water (unlike the Jersey Shore!), I can’t wait to spend a day swimming. Once the festival ends, no fear of dragons!

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