June is the time of dragon boat races, an event whose origins lie
deep in Chinese mythology. During the course of the month,
dragon boats will take to waters all over Asia, from Nagasaki to
Singapore to Macau.|
Macau's dragon boat racers compete on the Pearl River, keen
competition between crews representing local clubs, schools and
work places. Be sure to sit close enough to the water's edge to watch
the rowers pulling on their oars, propelling their slender boats towards
the finish line. Both ends of the craft are ornately carved and painted to
resemble the head of a dragon or another mythological beast.
Hidden beneath the spectacle of the regatta is an interesting fable from
ancient Chinese mythology. There are many versions of the legend of the
dragon boat races, but the one most frequently heard is the tale of Chu
Yuan, a faithful and honest servant of a Chinese emperor who reigned
four centuries before Christ.
Chu Yuan had many fine qualities, but foremost among them
was a desire to be a poet, which made him an example of rectitude
in an epoch troubled by widespread corruption that extended even as far
as the king. Because he was incapable of persuading the king to
mend his ways. Chu Yuan tied an enormous rock around himself and
threw himself into the waters of Tung Tin Lake in Hunan Province.
Although many attempts were made, his body was never found.
Much later, his ghost was seen in the spot where he drowned, moaning
that Chu Yuan had been devoured by monstrous water creatures.
Today, the dragon boats competition honors the distant memory of an
upright and honest statesman.
The Macau races are watched by great crowds of spectators who cheer
their local racing teams as they compete against oarsmen from
Europe and North America. They are applauding not only the rowers, but
the spirit the day, when everyone must eat a delicacy called zhongzi-- glutinous rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves.
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