Today Floyd and I traveled to the city of Lukang (pronounced “loo-gahng”), about an hour’s drive south of here, to attend their annual Dragon Boat Festival celebration.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I first heard of the holiday six years ago, but we’ve usually already been in the States for the summer by the time.  But since it’s based on the lunar calendar, the exact date of Dragon Boat Festival varies from year to year, and this year we’re staying in Taiwan a little later than usual.  As a result, this time we were able to be here for it!  

Some would say we were crazy to do something like this the day before flying out, but we purposely got ahead on our packing and cleaning, and it worked out just fine.

Click here to read more about Dragon Boat Festival, how it’s celebrated in the Chinese world, and how the holiday got its origin.

There was a lot more going on than just the boat races.  The whole area was set up like a night market, with games and activities and stands offering a variety of foods.  In the picture above, they’re selling cooked quail eggs on a stick.  (I bought a stickful – they were tasty with a little soy sauce!)

These are different kinds of fancy corn dogs.  To the very left, beyond the  multiple-scoop ice cream cones, were some interesting colorful drinks that must have contained dry ice, due to the “smoke” that came pouring out the straws.

 There were a lot of different drink options, too, which was a good thing since it was an extremely hot day.  I’m not sure what was in those cups – I asked the lady, and she told me, but I didn’t know the Chinese words she used.  In the glass bowl were what looked like stewed fruits that she was scooping into each cup.  I might have tried one if I hadn’t already been sipping something different – a green apple flavored milky drink that would have tasted a lot better if it had stayed cold longer.

This was another way to beat the heat!  Those teenagers were having a lot of fun in this bounce house/giant wading pool.  I was tempted to jump in with them!

More fun for kids!  (Notice the Oppa Gangnam Style balloons?!)  Below: more adults were interested in the gorgeous hand painted lanterns and dragon-themed art for sale at this booth.

While people browsed the booths and ordered food and gift items, dragon boat races were going on in the background the whole time.  Two boats would race each other and then get towed back to the starting point, and then two more, and so on.  The guys at the back were using rudders to steer, and there was always a drummer at the front beating the rhythm so all the rowers would stay in sync.

When they got near the finish line, the people you see at the very front would balance on their tummies on the dragon’s head and lean way out to reach for a little floating flag on a buoy.  They would grab the flag and toss it in the air to show that their boat had finished the race.

Click here to watch a short video I took of part of one of the races.

Well, I’ve experienced my first Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan.  That’s one more thing I can cross off my Bucket List!  Now to discover if any place around here is actually open for dinner, and then finish the last of the laundry and packing.  California, here we come!

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Last night we enjoyed celebrating Lantern Festival, the second-biggest holiday of the year, with the family of one of my students. A number of other teachers and their spouses were invited as well. The evening began with a delicious hot pot dinner at their house, which they had undoubtedly spent hours preparing beforehand (and hours cleaning up after!). There was a large pot of boiling water plugged in on the center of the table, with a few meatball-type things already in it. Around it were ranged a number of other foods waiting to be cooked, such as beef, pork, two kinds of fish, giant shrimp, mushrooms, noodles, etc. As the meal progressed, we each added whatever else we wanted to the pot, let it cook a few minutes, then fished it out and ate it with rice and sauce. Choices for the sauce included soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, thick barbecue sauce (no relation to the kind we use in the States), scallions, and hot chili peppers. At the beginning of the meal everyone made their own mixture according to their own tastes, then took it to their seat in a little bowl to dip their meats into. Wow, what a tasty way to do a meal!

After lingering over dinner and conversation, our hosts passed out colorful paper lanterns for all who wanted them. These are a traditional style that apparently are hard to find nowadays (not surprising, since they’re highly flammable, being made of paper with a real candle inside. Apparently the stores mostly sell plastic ones now). You fold down the sides, attach the candle to the bottom of the lantern, raise the sides again, then twist the wire handle around the end of a chopstick to carry it with. Watching the kids playing around with each other’s lanterns outside the apartment, I kept praying none of them would burn down the neighborhood. Surprisingly, only one boy caught his lantern on fire, and his older brother stamped it out before it became a problem.

Carefully carrying our lanterns, we strolled down the street to a large public park, which is one of the city’s major Lantern Festival celebration locations. It was basically a big fair, with colored lights and decorations all over, and a giant lit Mickey and Minnie welcoming us in (in honor of the Year of the Rat). There were booths selling colorful lanterns in various creative shapes (all with little bulbs inside, no real fire). The place was absolutely packed, and most of the people were either carrying or wearing or buying some sort of lantern or glowing object (picture the light-up plastic swords, necklaces, devil-horns, etc. that they sell in Disneyland at night). The park had a huge amphitheater where there was a colorful fountain show going on, but it was too crowded for us to get in, so we didn’t see much of it. I think there were to be fireworks at some point, but it was late and we didn’t want to stay all night, especially in crowds so thick we could hardly move. Finally Floyd and I wormed our way out of the throng in the park and found a taxi to take us home. What a memorable evening!