The Dragon Boat Fighting Festival

Today is the Dragon Boat Festival. Even after five years it’s about as coherent to me as Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead and the Easter Bunny hopped about handing out chocolate eggs to in recognition of this momentous occasion. I think a similar melding of two distinct storylines must have also occurred here, since on this day we are commemorating the poet Qu Yuan, who so loved his country he killed himself by tying a large stone about himself before jumping into a deep lake. Jesus came back, Qu Yuan didn’t.

But in place of an Easter Bunny distributing eggs to the general populous, the population instead lobs sticky rice wrapped in leaves into the water so the fishes don’t gobble up Qu’s body, that or the rice made him float up to heaven depending on which version of the story you heard. Oh yes, and everyone races Dragon boats too, because supposedly everyone went tooling out on to the lake when they saw Qu topple overboard. So, it appears that these Dragon boat races are to celebrate a failed rescue event because no one paddled hard enough.

You’ve probably seen little snippets of Dragon Boat racing on the news. While they seem to be quite the rage in the west, I’ve don’t think I’ve ever seen a dragon boat race in China. I once saw some people in training in Hong Kong, although the effect of the majestically carved boat gliding across Hong Kong harbour was diminished somewhat by the crew of heavily sweating and overweight blokes wearing lycra and fluorescent orange life vests.

It seems that Mainlanders prefer to recognize Qu’s sacrifice in a more traditional sense; he topped himself for the love of his country, so we’ll all go shopping. Actually, it’s not just Dragon Boat Festival, they do the same for Christmas or any other holiday.

Wuhanese at least manage to add a bit of colour to the proceedings by getting into arguments or full blown fights during these shopping trips. Of course, fights in Wuhan are not exactly a rare occurrence, but they seemed to be in abundance this holiday.

Wuhan fights in particular are not pretty, you wouldn’t be mistaken into thinking you were watching a scene from the Matrix with black clade combatants skipping across tables or performing elegant back flips while leaping 15 ft into the air. For one thing no one is wearing sunglasses and it’s usually young or middle aged couples who are scrapping, I suppose the elderly have learned to adjust or killed one another. Some of the scraps I’ve witnessed make cage fighting look like a pillow fight between first graders, it might have something to do with the way the victor will keep beating his defeated opponent even when he is laying motionless on the ground.

But more often the scrap involves man and woman locked together and clumsily trying to pull each in opposite directions while mouthing off at one another. Their task is usually made more complicated by the large number of shopping bags dangling from their arms. I dunno, but if I found myself in such a situation, a bag nicely weighted down with a new pair of shoes swung in a high velocity arc could be just what is needed to gain the upper hand.

The prize fighters in the incident that erupted in the circle in the centre of the New World Shopping Center in Optical Valley seemed better able to recognize the possibilities afforded by the props. The circle is a place for weary shoppers to rest their feet for a while before embarking on another round of reckless purchasing. I was leaning against a lamppost with a cup of tea, minding my own and watching the world going by.

I became aware of raised voices, or rather voices ratcheted a couple of notches up from the standard deafening levels adopted by most locals. It wasn’t hard to locate the source of the commotion because they were scuffling directly in front of me. An elegantly dressed woman in high heels, a well built man more comfortably attired, not wearing high heels. The man pushed his wife, the wife pushed him back. Don’t you push me he said, pushing her back. You push me, I’ll push you she countered. I think everyone’s money was on the man until he aimed a swing at him but she was too fast, easily ducking his fist and moving in to dispense a well placed shove that sent him reeling backwards.

One thing about Wuhanese is that they will intervene in an altercation if they see it getting out of hand. I was on a bus when a car suddenly pulled across in front of us and started accusing the bus driver of scratching his already shitty little car. It was all shouting until the much bigger car driver started shoving the bus driver. I was sitting at the front and was about to get out and attempt to defuse the situation with some bad Chinese (please not to kill the driver, for who then is to drive the bus?) but someone beat me to it, calming the bullying car driver with a friendly pat on the shoulder to smooth his ruffled feathers.

Any thoughts that the woman in yesterday star billing might require assistance were rapidly dispelled when after effortlessly dodging another poorly aimed blow she threw, with astonishing accuracy, the pair of chopsticks from her bowl of noodles, narrowly missing his left eye. While he was still reeling from this she quickly followed it up with the bowl of noodles, catching him on the side of the head with a solid thud. He seemed stunned, and unable to parry her volley of blows. I know it’s depressing to see couples at each other’s throats like this, but nevertheless, I have to say I was impressed. I’m sure Qu Yuan would have been proud too.

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One Response to “The Dragon Boat Fighting Festival”

  1. janh1 Says:

    “or rather voices ratcheted a couple of notches up from the standard deafening levels adopted by most locals”

    They could almost be Welsh, then? 🙂

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