Monday, June 21, 2010

Taiwanese Traditions: The Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat festival is held each year on May 5 of the Lunar Calendar. This year May 5 (lunar) was June 16. The lunar calendar is made up of fewer days than the solar calendar, which we use, so the date changes from year to year. This year it happened to be June 16. The name of the Holiday in Chinese is Duanwu Jie (Dwanwoo jeeuh). The name literally means double fifth festival (as in 5/5 May 5). The festival celebrates the life and death of Quan Yu a scholar and poet.

The Legend

Quan Yu was a scholar who served in the government of the King of Chu in approximately 300 B.C. He was a loyal subject and minister to the King for many years. He had great favor because of his faithfulness, but because of the favor he had with the king the others in the government began to plot to rid themselves of this man. So they trumped up a charge of conspiracy against the king. The king bought into the conspiracy charge and had Quan Yu removed from his position in the government and exiled from his homeland. As you may imagine this caused a bit of distress for Quan Yu. He used his talent for poetry to write a number of angry poems about his exile, the damage to his reputation, the loss of his homeland and the people of that homeland. Finally, in a state of depression, in the year 278 B.C. at the age of 37, he threw himself into the river with a huge boulder clasped to his chest and drowned.

The local people, recognizing his righteousness, ran to the river to find him. They took out Dragon Boats to search for him under the river. They also threw a type of Rice Dumpling, called Zong zi into the water so the fish would feed on these rather than Quan Yu’s body.

The Modern Holiday

Currently, in Taiwan The Dragon Boat festival is celebrated by racing Dragon Boats. Teams from around the world converge on Taiwan and China for the annual races. This year the 1st place team in Taipei was from the Philippines. The race was held in the River that dissects Taipei.

People also prepare and eat Zong zi. In China they still throw Zong zi into the river, as well. But the people of Taiwan don’t do that. The Zong zi is prepared and eaten by the people. Zong zi changes a little by location, but most contain Pork, S\spices, herbs and Chestnuts covered by sticky rice and wrapped in Palm leaves. One family in the church brought Zong zi to the church's weekly fellowship. They were made in the Hua Lien tradition. (That is they were made as they are made in the city of Hua Lien) They were delicious.

The Zong zi is a dumpling that is made into the shape of a pyramid, in folded palm leaves. Often you find them hanging. One day last week, it was raining so hard that we took shelter. in the traditional market and I found myself sitting in the company of an elderly Taiwanese woman who had prepared Zong zi. I bought a couple from her and enjoyed them when I got home. Zong zi are everywhere during the run up to the Dragon Boat festival. You often see them hanging in clusters in the Traditional market

Not just for Duanwu Anymore

The eating of Zong zi is no longer confined to the holiday. Taiwanese people eat them throughout the year, but they are still the traditional food of the Duanwu Jie.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  Chinese Valentines Day
Taiwanese Traditions:  Ghost Month
Taiwanese Traditions:  Chinese New Year:  The Legend of Nian

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Random Asianess: Election Time...Again

Well…it’s election time here in Taiwan. We’ve been here for 9 months and this is the second election we have gone through. Elections are somewhat different here than we’re used to in the United States. I’ll walk you through the process for just a moment.

Every body here is running for a number. I have no idea what the number means. It’s like living on Sesame Street. “I’m Oscar the grouch and I’m running for the number 5.” See the sign in this photo. That “lady” is running for the number 5. There are lots of banners and signs and posters on every signpost. By the church there is a light post that has signs plastered all the way around it. But so far, I haven’t seen anybody walking around the post and looking at all the signs. Maybe like in America, people are apathetic about voting.

The candidates have all kinds of events to get people to vote for them. Last Friday night we came home to find our street completely blocked off by a huge tent that our neighbor put up. (He’s running for the number 2.) And the next morning he had a huge event. He set up a karaoke machine and people came from far and wide to sing, really loud off key Chinese songs. I recorded part of one for you.

I think this is a risky campaign event. Sure the people who got to sing, they might vote for you, unless another politician had better songs and let you sing louder. But what about the people who have to listen to the singers? They have to be thinking to themselves, if this guy would allow this in our neighborhood, what other atrocities will he force us to endure, in our own neighbor hood. On the other hand he served this delicious fruity type of soup, It has Leachy nuts and plums in it along with these little gooey balls made with rice flour. The neighbors came out of their homes and swooped down on the event for that. Even I got a bowl so maybe it was a trade off. If you put something good into someone’s stomach, they can handle a lot more offensive noise.

Finally, the last campaign trick is to run a little truck down every street blaring your message to the people. And begging. You hear the words Bai Tuo (Bye Twa) that means, "please." So they go down the street yelling, "Bai Tuo, Bai Tuo." Our friend Elliot, who happens to be 8 years old calls them the bai tuo guys. I've made a video of the trucks that came by in about an hour. This is by no means a complete sampling.

They start at about 9:00 am and continue until about 9:00 pm. Some of them are so loud that you have to wait for them to go by before you can continue to talk. The politician, and a group of supporters, walk along beside the vehicle and drop off flyers and gifts at each house. We get a lot of small tissue packs, and notepads, that kind of thing. I even received a bottle of hand soap. The politician wears a golden sash with the number he’s running for on it and his supporters smile a lot and wear gold vests.

So let me evaluate the candidate for the Number 2.

He blocked off the street with his tent – minus 4 points
He allowed people to sing karaoke in our neighborhood – minus 10 points
He served plum, Leachy rice soup, - plus 5 points
He had a truck that blared music and bai tuo – minus 5 points
His supporters kept blocking my garage door – homicide, in this case is justifiable – plus 0 points
He’s really grouchy to customers in the store he runs, so my wife and kids won’t shop there – (This is a very important consideration.) plus 100 points.

Total Voting Points – That’s plus 86 points – It looks like we have a winner.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese History:  Double Tenth Day
Taiwanese History:  The 2/28 Massacre
Taiwan Travelogue:  The Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine