This post was last updated on October 14th, 2013
Dragon Boat Festival fell on June 23rd this year. I can easily say that before coming to Taiwan, I had never ever heard of dragon boats. What’s a little bit more embarrassing is that even after living in Taiwan for nearly a year, I still had no idea what constituted Dragon Boat Festival until a couple weeks ago. People kept talking about zongzi and a suicidal poet, and I was in the dark. So I donned by detective hat to do a little wiki searching and a little quizzing of my local friends. Here is what I found out:
Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday in honor of the poet Qu Yuan. Apparently Qu Yuan got on the bad side of the Chinese king in or around 300 BC. After being accused of treason, Qu Yuan was exiled, during which time he wrote a great deal of poetry. (What better thing to do with all that free time?) Some time later he was captured, leading him to commit suicide by means of drowning in a river. Understandably, Qu Yuan’s followers were quite upset about his death. In an effort to save his body they dropped sticky rice triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves (zongzi) into the river so that the fish would eat the rice instead. Additionally, the people took their boats out on the river to look for his body (from which Dragon Boat Racing was born).
Today, little is really mentioned about the poet; however, most people do celebrate the holiday by making and eating zongzi and participating in the dragon boat races. So let’s first talk about zongzi, because it is freaking delicious. Essentially, zongzi is sticky rice cooked with various fillings such as pork, mushrooms, and scallops. The whole thing is then wrapped up in bamboo leaves in the shape of a triangle. I can’t tell you too much more about what’s involved in their preparation, but I can encourage you to eat as many as possible should the occasion arise. We talked about these sticky rice dumplings to an extent that was probably socially unacceptable, but they were just so mouthwateringly delicious and addictive it was hard not to. I’m definitely excited for Dragon Boat Festival again next year if only for the abundance of zongzi that it will bring.
The other main component of Dragon Boat Festival is obviously the dragon boats. We set off to Yilan on the east coast to spend a day relaxing in the sun while watching the physical exertion of others. It’s definitely a sight to see, and the dragon boat racers do not mess around. There is a drum-beater to keep the pace, a stand up and use your momentum to push the boat forward guy in the front (and yes, that is his technical name), and the actual team that makes sure to row as diligently as possible. If you have seen one race you have basically seen them all, but it is still a pretty cool way to experience Taiwanese culture—especially since we were the only foreigners there.
While the races are what brought us to Yilan, we thoroughly enjoyed hanging about the area itself. We stayed at an awesome bed and breakfast called the Riverbank Inn, which boasted a great location, quaint rooms, and an exceptional staff. The owners are extremely friendly, speak pretty good English, and will go above and beyond to make sure you are comfortable during your stay. They won our hearts when they overheard us talking about zongzi and brought us some from their home free of charge. Yep. They are awesome.
We also got a bit of surfing in at a beach called Toucheng, right outside of Yilan. Dan spent most of the day out in the water catching waves, but even I managed to get in a bit and do my own variation of ‘surfing’. My waves were mostly whitewater and Dan had to push me into them, but I still stood up on the board for multiple seconds. I count it as my first successful surfing experience.