There are 17 public holidays a year in Hong Kong that fall on regular work days, which is the most in the world (apparently Sri Lanka has 25, but most of them fall on weekends). Still, whoo the Lank! Obviously that’s where we’re moving next if things don’t work out here!
Today’s holiday was one of the best: Tuen Ng Festival, or the Dragonboat Festival. The origins of this holiday date back to about 200BC and centre on a famous poet and courtier (and possible lover of the emperor), Qu Yuan. He wrote a number of epic lamentations on the corruption of the political state. In protest, he eventually committed ritual suicide by walking into the sea carrying a large rock. Apparently the villagers took to their boats and raced unsuccessfully to save him. Then they dumped rice and dumplings into the sea for the fish to eat, rather than Qu Yuan’s body. And they smacked the water with their paddles to scare away evil spirits.
Now, on the anniversary of his death – the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar – people re-enact the villagers’ desperate rescue mission by competing in dragonboat races. But these events aren’t like the re-enactments of the “passion plays” of my childhood, with a guy wearing a tunic made out of a potato sack, covered in tomato sauce blood and being whipped by a Roman legionnaire wearing a viking helmet and wielding a plastic cutlass from the $2 Shop. These dragonboat racers are serious athletes. And they yielded a huge contingent of Hong Kong Hotties:
Is this hot? Hong Kong lycra bums shown to best effect:
These are the boats they race:
Unfortunately, though the historical cornerstone of this festival is the people’s great communal effort, and the modern races are billed as community events, it wasn’t possible to see much of the actual racing. This is because, just like at the footy at home, nearly all the prime viewing areas were partitioned off for VIPs (or, as they’re called here, “Honorable Guests”):
All these marquees remained empty for the first three hours of the event, but jack-booted policemen ensured no-one dishonourable dared step past the rope. NOT HOT. Frustrated, I eventually used my gweilo exclusion zone to my advantage to get close to the front of the packed public spectator area. It was crucial to be near the front because I’m only reasonably adept at taking photos (“reasonably adept” used in the sense of “almost completely unable to do so, even under ideal circumstances”). Joel had affixed a zoom lens to the camera but when he was explaining how to use it, I was too busy thinking about what tinned fruit I was going to put on my Special K. So my plan (apart from PEACHES IN HEAVY SYRUP, obviously!) was to get as close as I could to the action, lean far over the railing, and reach the camera out while snapping randomly, while looking like I was executing a legitimate photography technique, and not dropping the extremely front-weighted camera into the drink. Surely by this method I thought I would have to get a few good shots.
But I was stymied by this lady who insisted on raising her umbrella in the front row. CURSES! I got about 300 photos that look just like this:
If I had have been able to see anything, this is the team I would have been barracking for – “The Fat Dragons”:
A team with less athletic physiques, but probably a far nimbler grasp of prepositions and conjunctions, the “Sai Kung Dragon Boat English Ambassadors”.
Some of the hotties dunking themselves after their heat. Pun intended.
On festival days, you see this everywhere – roasted whole pigs decorated with flowers and wrapped in red cellophane. I’ve seen a guy loading two whole roasted pigs into the boot of a taxi one time. This morning I happened to walk past this open van and get an eyeful of pig arseholes.
Poor piggies 😦
The pig courier. I don’t think anyone thinks it’s hot to be pushing dead pigs around on a trolley, but he did have some impressive dragon tattoos. Which means he’s triad. That’s hot? Under duress?
Dad, Zadie and I. You can’t tell, but it was about 35 degrees and 200% humidity. That’s why dad’s wearing a sweat-wicking bike shirt and I’m attempting Arab linen covering styles. That’s definitely hot. Only in terms of ambient temperature.
The kids displaying their usual respect for Goong Goong:
Denouement – a Hong Kong Nottie: