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. “Co-operation, 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.