During Hong Kong's annual Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on 23 June this year, the city is split into two camps: the competitors and the spectators.
The former wield paddles and propel elaborately-decorated vessels through churning water toward the finish line -- all to the beat of a drum at the boat’s bow. The latter, meanwhile, simply crack open a few beers, eat glutinous rice dumplings and rowdily cheer on those racing in the oppressive summer heat.
The modern-day tradition of racing dragon boats during
the Tuen Ng Festival (as it is known in Chinese) revolves around the myth of
ancient poet Qu Yuan, who was on the outs with the royals in the 4th Century.
After being banished from the kingdom, he committed suicide in a nearby river.
Devotees are said to have rowed boats along that river, banging drums to keep
spirits and fish from defiling his body. They also dropped packets of rice
tightly wrapped in leaves for nourishment in the afterlife (or, some versions
claim, to distract the fish), which is why Hongkongers' consumption of these rice
dumplings, called zong, peaks this
time of year.
Festivities take place in waterways across the
territory, with each taking on its own distinct character. The ones
in Stanley, on the south side of Hong Kong Island, are where corporate
teams chock-full of expats scull against a backdrop of yachts and junk boats
loaded with onlookers. Just to the west, in Aberdeen's small harbour, 65 local teams compete. Out in the
far-flung seaside town of Tai
O, fishermen engage in an elaborate religious ritual
before the races even begin. They manoeuvre their boats to four village temples
to pick up statues of deities, which are paraded through the area to placate
the spirits that inhabit the waters.
Though many consider the Tuen
Ng Festival the pinnacle of dragon boat competitions, there are other events throughout the
year. Notably, the annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival in
July in iconic Victoria Harbour, combines races of professional international
teams and local paddlers with a San Miguel beer festival and other
Alberts is the Hong Kong Localite for BBC Travel