Yesterday it was the Duanwu Festival. Duanwu is a traditional holiday in which people eat zongzi (glutionous rice wrapped in a leaf) and watch the dragon boat races. Why do they do this? Because a long time ago, in the Warring States period, there was a poet who commited suicide jumping in the river. The villagers quickly went with their boats to save him or retrieve the body, but couldn’t find it, so they threw rice balls in the water for the fish to eat them instead of the poet’s body. Duanwu stopped being celebrated in China after 1949 when the People’s Republic was founded, but it was restored as a public holiday in 2008 (so tomorrow we don’t work. Yay!).
I have been in China for many years but I have to confess I had never been to the dragon boat races until yesterday. In Suzhou they are done in the Jinji Lake, very close to our apartment, so we made the great effort of getting up early on a Saturday and went to see what it was all about. Besides, some of C.’s colleagues were competing in the race!
Even though the place was quite close (maybe 30 minutes walking), we went by car. BAD IDEA. All the parking lots around the area were full and the police was everywhere trying to direct traffic. Finally C. flashed a pass from his company (who is a sponsor of the event) and we were allowed to park in the “vip” zone.
When we finally got closer to the lake, the usual happened: it was crowded. Very crowded.
C.’s colleagues were in the participants’ zone and we went to see them. Their company’s team had already been eliminated (we arrived when the quarter finals were taking place). I decided to walk a little bit around the lake, until the finish line.
The boats are very narrow and 10 rowers fit on them. Apart from the rowers, in each boat there is also a big drum and a drummer marking the rhythm. It gets noisy with all the drums banging at the same time!
It was very interesting to finally see the races, but it was too hot and crowded and we didn’t stay long. Anyway, I’m glad the government decided to restore the traditional holidays, even if that means we don’t get a week off for May 1 anymore! (They used those days to mark several traditional festivities as public holidays).
Which traditional festivities are celebrated in your country?