Dragon boat race upbeat despite shark alarm

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am


Not even the reported sighting of a shark earlier last week could spoil the fun for the thousands attending the Stanley Dragon Boat Championships yesterday.

More than 250 local and overseas teams of more than 5,000 paddlers took part in this year's event, with the Hong Kong Friendship Dragon Boat Club winning the day's big race.

Thousands of spectators watched from the shore as the competitors took to the sea in a blaze of colour and pageantry, which overshadowed any worries about last week's shark sighting in Tai Tam Bay.

The shark was spotted about kilometre off Stanley Main Beach at around 11.30am on Wednesday, prompting the marine police and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to step up patrols.

This could not have been further from everyone's minds yesterday, with the mood staying upbeat.

This was especially true for 27-year-old management consultant Wendy Wong, who relished her role as drummer on the PricewaterhouseCoopers team.

'There were partners, senior managers and directors in our boat, so it was great to be able to give them orders for a change and tell them what to do,' she said.

But for Kenny Chan, his Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors team had a more pressing issue in mind during the race.

'In previous years there had been complaints that the distance the boats were covering was not correct,' the 31-year-old said. 'But in 2004 we got involved with the organisers and used our specialist equipment to ensure that it was the right distance of 270 metres.'

Meanwhile, one of the event's announcers had his own take on what the event, known as the Tuen Ng Festival, stood for.

'Today is about a bloke who lived a long time ago and drowned himself to protest against the government,' the announcer said over the public address system. 'The people then went out in their boats to stop the fish from eating his dead body.'

The authentic version, however, is that the race commemorates the death of Qu Yuan , a well-loved statesman and poet who lived in the Chinese kingdom of Chu more than 2,000 years ago.

Jealous rivals falsely accused him of treason and Yuan was banished. In despair, and as a final gesture against the corrupt government, Yuan threw himself into the Mi Lo River.

The festival's distinctive dragon boat races are a re-enactment of the frantic, vain attempts of the fishermen who rowed out to save him.

Little did the statesman know that his tragic act would for decades be honoured with races where competitors are urged on to the finish line by the pounding of drums and roar of the crowd.

Other races took place across the city in Tuen Mun, Sai Kung, Sha Tin, Aberdeen, Tai Po, Cheung Chau and Discovery Bay.