This weekend was another Chinese public holiday – the one of The Dragon Boat Festival.
The King had many advisors but one was his favourite; Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan gave sound but difficult advice, and so lots of people spoke ill of him behind his back. Because of this, the King was not able to take his advice and eventually wound up dead after a feud with a neighbouring kingdom. The new King was scared and did not like Qu Yuan so exiled him.
Qu Yuan went to live in a small fishing village to write poetry and fables, as many of the well-moneyed Chinese did many years ago. However, as he spent more time in the sad fishing village he became more and more depressed. He finally got so upset about the state of the country that he tied a rock around his waist and jumped into the river.
The fishermen tried to save him, but the rock was too heavy. They eventually gave up, but were worried about the fish eating his body. They started to pour food and wine into the river so the fish were never hungry enough to eat Qu Yuan. They also sat on their longboats, splashing the water with their paddles and beating drums to scare the fish away. One afternoon, after a local fisherman had poured a whole barrel of rice wine into the river, a strange dragon was seen floating on top of the water. In the dragons whiskers sat a piece of Qu Yuan’s clothing.
The Chinese celebrate his death every year in May, and so we had the Saturday off work. We woke early, jumped on a coach and headed towards the mouth of the Ming River for a spot of dragon-boat racing. When we got there we assumed we were lost. Past industrial Fuzhou, down a tiny dirt track with potholes the size of a small volcano, past the lorry parking, and further still until we reached a community of holiday homes and empty warehouses.
It was buzzing. The entire swimming population of Fuzhou was out, playing cards and smoking cigarettes in the sun (more than half of the people in China cannot swim, so to have so many swimmers in one place was pretty rowdy). We were hustled into life jackets and out of our shoes before being placed two abreast in the thinnest boat I have ever seen – and I have been in a one-man-canoe.
Handed an oar, we were given a quick demonstration (in Chinese of course) on how to row when the drum sounds, and we were off. Thirty seconds later the drummer stopped to check his phone so we stopped rowing (remember that we were only to row on the drum beat) which sparked another demonstration on how to row when the drum beat. Again he started, beat for thirty seconds or so and stopped again, which sparked a further “this is how to row” lecture in Chinese. After asking them to sack the drummer (in English) we continued, again for a minute or so, before the drummer had something better to do. Our 30 minute dragon boat trip was littered with constant lectures on how to row, before we finally alighted on an island, still barefoot.
Absolutely buzzing, even though we had a stop-start journey, we jumped on a concrete boat that was full of sand to head back to our shoes and try again. However, as we alighted on the island they actually sacked the drummer, and quickly replaced him with the driver of the concrete-sand-boat. And so for 15 minutes we were stranded, waiting for a man who could drive the boat to be sped across the water to take us back.
We finally got there. Unfortunately we missed out on a second ride but we did build an awesome sandcastle on the concrete boat. Back on shore we hung around in the sun for a little before we were made aware that lunch was ready. Ushered into a large empty warehouse full of tables, we sat at the closest convenient table and started to dig in, unaware of what the dishes were but trying them anyway. More and more food kept coming until the dishes outnumbered the people on the table 2:1. Now, one wouldn’t complain if there was a spaghetti, or roast vegetables, but these dishes were incredibly Chinese. To name a few: turtle soup, shark fin/fish skin (no one really knew which), jellyfish and fish balls. Needless to say more than one table was told they had to eat more because they were wasting food.
After lunch the afternoon was our own, so stocking up on beers from their cooler we sat in the sun until a trip was arranged to visit a famous house that was close. The house belonged to a famous translator Yan Fu. He quite famously translated, and thus introduced China to, Huxleys book on Evolution and Ethics and Darwin’s Natural Selection, alongside introducing the three principles of translation (which are faithfulness, expressiveness, and elegance, if anyone was interested)
His house was large as houses in China go, and as we walked in there was a large courtyard for collecting water both for basic necessities and for fire prevention. All of the old houses are made of wood with a stone wall running between them to prevent fire from burning your neighbours house as well as your own. Looking around uncovered a beautiful writing room, and an open living room, apparently used for hosting parties of family and friends. Following the room through we met his family – a young woman and her toddler who still lived there. After a quick chat in broken Chinese with the toddler (haha, yes, I can converse pretty well with a 2 year old) who thought we were going to steal his grandpa’s e-bike, we let the woman go about her day. How strange it was to walk into someones open house, gawp at her beams, poke our noses into her kitchen, chat with her child, then leave. She had no privacy, no security, and yet she was still kind and patient enough to answer my questions about her house and her great uncle.
After leaving here and walking back I found myself whiling away the afternoon making rice-in-bamboo-leaves. Apparently I was very good; the chief woman kept emptying the badly-made ones so I could make more. After refusing her offer of cooked ones more than once – the making is relaxing but I’m not hugely taken by the end result – we finally took a walk and found a small pagoda, a horse, and a swimming pool.
Obviously I went in (after petting the horse for a while and finding him some water), until it was time to leave. Jumping back on the coach we had a sleepy ride home, to a restaurant-cum-supermarket that only sells steak or lobster, before heading home and to bed for work the next day.
The actual weekend boasted a walk with some friends up path we found a few weeks back when we went abseiling. The sky was clear, the water cool and fresh, the valley packed with families enjoying the Bank Holiday weekend. I say packed but I really mean that people were scattered along the paths, usually in buildings specifically for such occasions, cooking barbecue and drinking rice wine.
I can’t fully tell you the beauty of the day so I will let the pictures do the talking.