Sunday, May 18, 2008

One fine day in Stanley

It doesn’t always happen. In fact, more often than not, I am lugging groceries through our crowded little town of Stanley, dodging taxi cabs and tourists and trying to hurry the twins along in order to catch the next shuttle bus home. But sometimes, I suppose like anywhere, it can be glorious. And it recently was as we stumbled upon dragon boat races near the new Stanley pier.

Tori and I were walking home from church, going through Stanley and the grocery store en route. During church, we could hear the beating drums of the dragon boats in the distance. With the electricity inexplicably out in the church, the atmosphere was definitely foreign, if not exotic. As we rounded a corner, popping out of Stanley’s tiny winding alleyways crowded with kiosks of all kinds, we came upon Stanley harbor brimming with color and noise and excitement.

Unbeknown to us, Stanley was having the local version of dragon boats races. In early June, there is another dragon boat race series, more widely known as the expatriate race series. Historically, dragon boats rushed out to save a drowning poet, who was committing suicide to protest state corruption. The drums were meant to scare up the fish, which would buoy up the drowning man. While it did not work, the racing tradition lives on in Stanley and all over Asia.

The dragon boat races we discovered didn’t appear to have much signage or sponsorship but had plenty of spirit. We watched transfixed as heats of five dragon boats each races in about 400 yards, from out in the harbor to right where we were all standing. The view area was excellent. The expat dragon boat races are at a different beach and harder for crowds to watch. Because of this, we have long heard the dragon boats and watched them train outside our apartment windows but had never seen a race. I really had no idea the race was such a sprint (and am now reconsidering my commitment to join a team next year. I am not a sprinter, not ever).

The event was so festive and colorful and just plain fun, that we called Phil, Adam and Royce to join us. They came down and were also amazed at the transformation in Stanley. The kids licked ice cream cones and watched a sporting event. They tried to bet on which team would win. They (and we) had no idea what was going on or why but were excited to be there. All in all, it was not far different from an outing to a baseball game and thus, in its own way, a little preparation for our soon to be summer of little league game watching in the states.


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