Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kaohsiung Dragon Boat Festival (高雄市龍舟賽)

From June 3rd to the 6th Kaohsiung has been holding its annual “International Dragon Boat Invitational Race”. The races take place on the Love River between Zhongzhen Bridge and Kaohsiung Bridge. The last day of the festival is a Monday and is a public holiday for the Taiwanese.

Amanda and I took a gander on the first and last day of the races and enjoyed some of the beautiful weather we’ve been having.

From what we observed, the Dragon Boat races seem to be fairly open to a diverse array of athletic abilities. There were teams where crewmen appeared to be no older than 20 years of age and also teams where the youngest person on the boat couldn’t have been below 40. It did seem that teams were grouped into like-demographics. Some of the teams bore corporate flags which suggested that they were comprised of company employees as a sort of team building event. A great idea as it certainly required some practice runs to get the team out together for more than just the race and everybody was having a great time.

The Dragon Boat festival is celebrated throughout Taiwan on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and is one of the three major Chinese holidays (along with Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival). Apparently the festival is held this time of year because summer is when diseases are most easily spread and the festival marks “an occasion for driving off evil spirits and pestilence and for finding peace in one's life”.

There are a number of traditions that accompany the Dragon Boat Festival, one of which is the belief that if you can successfully stand an egg on its end exactly at noon, then the coming year will be a lucky one. Alas I can’t say the coming year for me will be a lucky one, but hopefully it won’t be too unlucky either.

If you want to read a little more about the origins and customs of the Dragon Boat Festival then take a look at the Kaohsiung City’s blurb online.

“A fitted sheet, a fitted sheet, my kingdom for a fitted sheet!”

Amanda had mentioned in a previous post that we had some difficulty finding bed sheets for the mattress in the apartment we’ve just moved into. Returning from the department store the other day we found upon getting home that once again we had bought the wrong thing yet again. We then had TWO duvet covers and in this climate I assure you that there is absolutely NO need for a duvet. Not during summer at least.

Our third and final attempt saw us back at the department store meticulously comparing the Chinese characters from one package to another to another. Amanda’s game of charades with the department store clerk didn’t quite work out last time so we decided that we were going to push ahead and figure this out on our own.

We were pretty confident that we found the characters for a fitted sheet but upon further investigation we found evidence that seemed to contradict us.

IN THE END... we bought a set! Fitted sheet, pillow covers, and a duvet cover. This we decided was the only way to be absolutely sure that we would get what we needed... and we did! Unfortunately now we have duplicates of every kind of bed linen... except the fitted sheet.

Acquiring Internet

The apartment Amanda and I moved into was without Internet and from what we had been told by the owner, in order for him to arrange Internet he would have to sign a one year contract which of course made no sense given that we would be staying for only two months.

Instead, the owner put us in touch with an English-speaking Taiwanese woman who was available to help us. We communicated with her via email prior to the move in order to arrange a meeting so we could get an Internet USB stick or some other wireless Internet device.

It was 7:15pm, just after dark, on Saturday night that we went to meet with our English speaking friend who would be helping us. We agreed to meet at an MRT station in the south of the city. How would we recognize each other? I had jokingly let her know not to worry, Amanda and I would be there together and we would be very easy to spot. So as we rose up out of the underground MRT station and into the stifling evening heat, we both looked around hoping to find someone that would be staring at us a little differently than usual. Our lives were made pleasantly easy as she called out to us beckoned us to come over.

We were expecting another individual, a small business owner, to meet us just fifteen minutes later at the same location. He would be bringing with him the device and had requested that we bring one of our laptops so that he could be sure it worked correctly.

After about twenty minutes of acquainting ourselves with our new friend, the small business owner arrived with his wife accompanying him on his scooter. At the back of the MRT exit we set up Amanda’s laptop and “the guy” got to work on trying to install some software that would enable the device. This man spoke absolutely no English, so everything went through our new friend and interpreter.

The entire encounter lasted over a half an hour and I would say that 80% of that time was the small business owner saying something that would go on for an extremely long time and then our friend and interpreter translating what worked out to be just a few sentences. It made me think of a skit I imagine to star John Cleese where a characters reels off an extended diatribe, only to be interpreted into a monosyllabic word or brief sentence.

There were a number of technical issues throughout the exchange and in the end we were provided with a different device that would be more compatible with Macs. Without our friend we would have been absolutely lost and the exchange would not have been a successful one. We are very grateful for her help!

Lastly, just as we were finishing up and the Internet was shown to be working on Amanda’s laptop, our interpreter told us that the man wanted to show us his other business on our laptop. He took us to a website of his and showed us how to find it in a google search and our friend told us that this website was for a restaurant he owns where you can also bring your pet with you. This man owned 11 cats and we soon discovered that our friend owned 8 cats herself!

It will be one week tomorrow from when we moved into the apartment and we’ve been very busy getting set up and learning our way around the neighbourhood. We’ve been tracking down grocery stores and have taken a great deal of pleasure in cooking for ourselves these past few days. We’re planning on doing some sightseeing for the rest of the week and continuing to take advantage of the excellent weather!

End transmission.

Outside the Kaohsiung Film Archives
Competing teams in a Dragon Boat Race
A glance to the crowd
There are races with various types of Dragon Boat and crew size
The person banging the drum keeps time for the rowers. The person sitting on the dragons head watches out for obstacles and tries not to fall in.
We think this person might be a big deal here. She seemed to be the main act.
The team on the left is using psychological tactics to phase the team on the right before the race begins.
I love the expressions on their faces. Taking this very seriously.
Here I imagine the guy at the back to be yelling at the drummer girl... "Nooooo! You're drumming too fast! Slow down!!!!!"
This man does not like his photo being taken.

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