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The Daily Plant : Friday, July 25, 2003

IN THE EYE OF THE DRAGON: ANCIENT CHINESE SPORT PADDLES INTO RIVERSIDE PARK


The dragon is awake and ready to dance in the waters of the Hudson. For the first time the Liberty International Dragon Boat Race Festival has come to Riverside Park. On Monday, July 21, the thunderstorms were held at bay as Taiko drummers and a traditional lion dance announced next weekend’s festival. Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe joined Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, and President of Liberty International Dragon Boat Race Festival Edward Lau on the recently opened A-dock at the 79th Street Boat Basin to welcome the dragon boats to New York City.

"Under Mayor Bloomberg's leadership the City continues to reclaim Manhattan’s waterfronts, and we encourage all New Yorkers to come experience the beauty of the Hudson at the Liberty International Dragon Boat Festival," said Commissioner Benepe.

The Liberty International Dragon Boat Race Festival is considered the most competitive annual dragon boat race in the country. Over 1,000 competitors from all over the world will compete on Saturday, August 2nd and Sunday, August 3rd from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The event is expected to draw thousands of spectators.

"Dragon Boat racing is an important part of Asian history and culture, and it’s easy to see why its popularity has spread to hundreds of countries around the world," Borough President Fields said.

The ancient Chinese sport of Dragon Boat Racing commemorates the life and death of Qu Yuan. According to event organizers, Qu Yuan lived thousands of years ago in the 3rd century B.C. and was a minister who advocated for reforms in his home state of Chu. The King refused to listen to Qu Yuan's advice and banished him from the state. In exile, Qu Yuan wrote poetry expressing his concern for his country and people.

In 278, when Qu Yuan heard that his home had been invaded, he drowned himself in the Mi Lo River. Local fishermen rushed out in boats attempting to save Qu Yuan and prevent his body from being eaten by fish. The fishermen beat drums, thrashed the water with paddles and threw rice dumplings known as zung-ze in the river to lure the fish away from the minister's body and to appease the water dragons. Since that time, dragon boats are raced on rivers in China and people throw zung-ze into the river to honor the memory of Qu Yuan.

At the festival launch ceremony, a colorful dragon's head and tail were attached to the slender racing boat. Commissioner Benepe and Borough President Fields each took a turn painting a black mark in the center of eye of the dragon. According to legend, dotting the eye awakens the dragon, wishing the boat and its racers good-luck on the upcoming competition. Commissioner Benepe experienced the incredible speed of the mythological creature firsthand as he joined the experienced rowers for a practice run along the Hudson.

In August, top teams from all over Canada and Great Britain will travel to New York City to match oars against the USA National Team. The Philadelphia Police Department, the Ottawa Police Department and others will test their endurance in the law enforcement division. Along with these teams, the race will also have the largest contingent of Breast Cancer Survivors of any Dragon Boat Race in the country. Over 150 Survivors are expected to participate in the event to raise awareness for breast cancer.

The Liberty International Dragon Boat Race Festival promises to be a fun-filled day for the whole family. In addition to the races along the water, martial arts demonstrations, children's activities, traditional dragon and lion dances, musical and Taiko Drum performances, folk dances and a feast of international foods will take place on dry land. Visit www.nyc.gov/parks or www.libertydragonboat.org for more information.

Written by Jocelyn Aframe

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

"Wit is the only wall

Between us and the dark."

Mark Van Doren

(1894-1972)

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