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Dragon Boat Races

June is the time of dragon boat races, an event whose origins lie deep in Chinese mythology. During the course of the month, dragon boats will take to waters all over Asia, from Nagasaki to Singapore to Macau.

Macau's dragon boat racers compete on the Pearl River, keen competition between crews representing local clubs, schools and work places. Be sure to sit close enough to the water's edge to watch the rowers pulling on their oars, propelling their slender boats towards the finish line. Both ends of the craft are ornately carved and painted to resemble the head of a dragon or another mythological beast.

Hidden beneath the spectacle of the regatta is an interesting fable from ancient Chinese mythology. There are many versions of the legend of the dragon boat races, but the one most frequently heard is the tale of Qu Yuan, a faithful and honest servant of a Chinese emperor who reigned four centuries before Christ.

Qu Yuan had many fine qualities, but foremost among them was a desire to be a poet, which made him an example of rectitude in an epoch troubled by widespread corruption that extended even as far as the king. Because he was incapable of persuading the king to mend his ways. Qu Yuan tied an enormous rock around himself and threw himself into the waters of Dong Tin Lake in Hunan Province.

Although many attempts were made, his body was never found. Much later, his ghost was seen in the spot where he drowned, moaning that Qu Yuan had been devoured by monstrous water creatures. Today, the dragon boats competition honors the distant memory of an upright and honest statesman.

The Macau races are watched by great crowds of spectators who cheer their local racing teams as they compete against oarsmen from Europe and North America. They are applauding not only the rowers, but the spirit the day, when everyone must eat a delicacy called zhongzi-- glutinous rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves.

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