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Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival 2009

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The dragons have been awakened and more than 145 teams are readying themselves to take to Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the 19th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival.

Every year, the festival draws thousands of onlookers and hundreds of participants to the park for two days of boat racing and a bevy of family activities in the summer sun.This year’s event will be held on Aug. 8 and Aug. 9 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. rain or shine and will feature more than 1,500 participants coming from all across the United States.

There are four major racing titles up for grabs at this year’s races: the U.S. Dragon Boat Open Championship, the Hong Kong Cup, the Municipal Cup and the Corporate Invitational.

The U.S. Dragon Boat Open Challenge, taking place Sunday, is the main event and more than $15,000 in cash and prizes will be up for grabs.

Dragon boat racing is a traditional style of Chinese racing using colorful, custom-made teak boats. The long, narrow boats are made by a small coterie of craftsmen in Hong Kong, weighing one ton each, colorfully painted with a dragon head at the front and dragon tail at the rearThe boats are piloted by up to 20 crewmen, including 18 paddlers, a drummer and steerperson.

The festival is the modern-day celebration of one of the oldest holidays in China, dating back more than 2,000 years. It commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a poet and Chu kingdom minister. Legend says Qu Yuan was disgraced by a corrupt prince and committed suicide in the Mi Lo River after he was banished from his land. Fishermen loyal to the minister tried to save him, but could not find his body. As a memorial, villagers would throw rice into the river to “feed” Yuan and race specially designed boats with dragon heads on the front to honor his death.

The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival is more than just racing, however. Dozens of family activities and events will supplement the races, including the ever-popular dumpling eating contest, Chinese cultural dancing and music, and food from local eateries.

Morgan Jones, marketing coordinator of the Flushing YMCA, said dozens of staffers from the Northern Boulevard institution will be on hand doing demonstrations of some of their most popular classes, such as karate, Zoomba cardio-kickboxing and breakdancing.

“We want to be able to be a part of an event that reflects what our community is all about,” Jones said. “I also know there’s a huge immigrant community here and a lot of them don’t know we’re here. This is a way of showcasing what we’re all about.”

For more information and directions, visit www.hkdbf-ny.org.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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