Saturday 5th December was meant to be a big day. My first organised trip taking the InternChina interns out to do some fierce Dragon boat racing on Doumen lake. I had it all planned down to a tee.Meet at 11.30am at the bus stop; 12.30pm arrive at Doumen Lake; allocate exactly one hour for lunch; then get on the lake and play some team games.
There were whisperings of potential rain over the weekend but I ignored them. Being from England, it rains ALL THE TIME and a little bit of rain never hurt anybody. However it did have the potential to cancel our Dragon Boat Racing plans…
Half way through the journey, we received a call from the company saying that Dragon Boat Racing had been cancelled because there was torrential rain and it was too dangerous to go out on the lake. This was so unfair. In an effort to make the best of a soggy situation and still have our day out, we made a detour to the Jintai Buddhist Temple which was close by.
Located at the highest peak of Huangyang Mountain in Zhuhai, over looking Yamen seaport, this was everything you imagined a Buddhist temple to be. Surrounded by tranquil waters and picturesque scenery, all that missing was a Chinese Erhu playing in the background to our exploration.
Under reconstruction after being destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, Jintai Temple was slowly being restored to it’s former glory. Brightly coloured with intricately painted designs and spiritual figures, it was growing into a memorable piece of work.
For me, however, Jintai’s highlight was it’s unassuming restaurant located near the entrance. We wondered in, damp and hungry to be greeted by an old man with a beaming smile.
We asked him if there was a menu, he said “No”.
We asked him how much the food was he said “Any price that you want to pay”.
To say that we were confused, was an understatement. After 5 minutes of translation between us we realised that this was exactly how this restaurant operated.
There was no menu, only a vegetarian buffet available and we did only need to pay what we thought the meal was worth.
The food was homely and comforting and the staff were so friendly and helpful, despite our cluelessness. When it came to paying the bill, not being told how much to pay definitely made me more generous than I would be otherwise. This is a very good business idea.
While my initial plans for Dragon Boat Racing may have been swept away to sea, our trip to Jintai Temple was certainly a successful alternative.
Until next time for another InternChina Zhuhai adventure….. apply here to join us!
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, those of us who live in China got to enjoy three days off for the public holiday commemorating the “Dragon Boat Festival”. For many Chinese people, this meant having the chance to travel back to their hometowns to visit their families. For others, it meant the opportunity to stay at home and relax for a few days before going back to their hectic schedules. For us at InternChina and many of our interns it meant: road trip!
But… what exactly is the Dragon Boat Festival and why is it celebrated in China? Most of us foreigners have never heard of this holiday before, and even those who have lived here for a few years know very little about it, other than that it has a cool name and it means not having to work for three days.
The name in Mandarin for Dragon Boat Festival is “Duanwu Jie”, and in Cantonese it is “Tuen Ng”. As it happens, it is not only celebrated in China but also in many other East- and Southeast Asian regions, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.
While in 2013, for example, the festival occurred on the 12th of June (and we also had the 10th and 11th off), there is no set date for the holiday on the Gregorian calendar, which is the one used in western countries. Rather, it is based on the Chinese lunar calendar, falling on the 5th day of the 5th month, which is usually at the end of May or beginning of June.
There is no consensus regarding its origins, and there are numerous legends which, depending on the region, are said to be the source of the festival. The most popular story, however, revolves around Qu Yuan, considered by some to be China’s first highly renowned poet. During the Warring States period, he was exiled from the State of Chu – of which he was minister – for opposing the ruling aristocracy in an effort to protect Chu against the Qin State. When the Qin invaded the capital, he committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month.
Wanting to pay their respects to Qu Yuan, the people of Chu set their boats on the river and threw zongzi – glutinous or “sticky” rice triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves – into the water to feed the fish and keep them from attacking his body. This is said to be the origin of the dragon-boat-racing and zongzi-eating traditions that customarily occur on this day. Other customs of this holiday include drinking realgar wine and tying perfume pouches to children’s clothing as well as, of course, the mandatory firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.
Dragon Boat Festival Today
An interesting fact about Dragon Boat Festival is that, despite being a culturally important holiday celebrated widely across China, it was not recognised as a public holiday by the Chinese government until 2005. For many young Chinese, this meant properly celebrating the festival for the first time; for the older generations, it meant a long-overdue recognition of the importance of preserving Chinese traditions and culture in a rapidly-changing, globalised world.