Dragon boating as a ‘sport’ began officiually in Hong Kong in 1976 – but it has been celebrated as a festival for centuries. In Cantonese it’s known as Tuen Ng (‘ng’ being a common sound in Cantonese and best pronounced as if you have forgotten something important), and it has a number of fantastical theories as to its origin.
The most common involves the poet/politician Qu Yuan, who lived 2200 years ago. He disagreed with the King of Chu’s policy of allying with a rival state and was exiled. During this exile he wrote a lot of poetry and sat contemplatively by river edges, with weeping willows tickling the water, and that sort of thing. Then, upon hearing that Chu had been conquered by the supposed ‘ally’, thus realising his fears, he drowned himself. Local people tried to save him on longboats, banging drums to scare the fish away, and throwing parcels of rice in so the fish would leave Qu Yuan’s body alone.
And so dragon-boating began, nowadays minus the throwing of rice-parcels, as it’s hard to row and throw simultaneously. This is the second year I’ve done it, both times on a work-team. Last year we took part in the race at Stanley, on Hong Kong Island, which is the daddy of HK races and features teams of investment bankers and accountants. This year we entered the race at Sai Kung, which turned out to be more local – the prize for placing in the top three each race, for example, was a roasted pig.
The most important thing in dragon-boat racing is timing. If the twenty or so people in the boat can hit the water a the same time then you have a chance. Easier than it sounds… We came last, due to a terrible start, but we didn’t expect to do much better. Even our coach, an impossibly fit woman in her 50s, saw after our first training session that we weren’t roasted pig material. Still, a good day was had by all, as losers always say, and do enjoy the photos below…
Nobody forgets the first time they experienced humidity. The moment the airport doors opened and there was this BAM and for a second or two you were stunned. Humidity isn’t “like someone’s opened the oven doors”, as some people would have it. That’s a dry, desert heat. Humidity is never being able to leave the bathroom after a long, hot shower. It’s when even the breeze is like a giant hairdryer blasting from afar. It’s an invisible cloud that slowly permeates between windows and through walls and, once settled, can only be removed by that most glorious of human inventions: the air conditioning unit.
Yet even air-con offers only temporary respite. Leave it on for an hour, two hours, all day, and you may think you’ve blown the humidity out for good. Turn it off, though, and silently, instantaneously, the humidity creeps out from the corners and ten minutes later you’re back to where you started.
Even at night, at 2 or 3 am, when the sun is away toasting the other side of the world, humidity hangs like a damp, heavy blanket. It’s like an old, smelly dog that stubbornly refuses to move from the fireplace. Humidity just doesn’t go away.
Now it’s June, and the big sweat has begun. For the past week the temperature has been well in to the 30s and the humidity at 80-90%. This will last until, oooh…. October. This is Hong Kong.