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With dragons, dumplings, drums, let the race begin!

It all started more than two millennia ago, in the Chinese state of Chu.

A court minister, who was also a patriot and a poet, was a bit of a rabal-rouser, pushing for reforms. This didn’t at all please the king, who promptly banished him from Chu.

He wandered around the country writing poetry and lamenting his fate, when he received word, in 278 BC, that Chu had been invaded. In despair, he jumped into the Mi Lo River and drowned himself.

Local fisherman tried but failed to save him. To tempt hungry fish away from his body, they threw rice dumplings into the water.

And so a long Chinese tradition was started. Long, narrow wooden row-boats with the head and tail of a dragon are raced with a drummer scaring off any adventurous evil spirits, while the townsfolk on land celebrate and eat treats including, of course, rice dumplings.

The festival is particularly popular in Hong Kong, now part of China again after being under the British crown. This Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11 and 12, Hong Kong and New York City link up for the 11th time in the annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Flushing Meadows Corona Park at Flushing Meadows Lake.

Festival organizers point out that the two cities, although far apart in time and distance, both are world financial and trade centers, and cultural capitals of their respective hemispheres.

As shown in this TimesLedger special section, the event within view of the Unisphere is more than just a boat race. Landlubbers can enjoy musical performances, folk arts and crafts, martial arts demonstrations, and a variety of ethnic food.

Look over the section, and then make plans to be out at the park this weekend.

And be sure to bring your dragon repellent.

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