Dragon Boat Festival: Before oars hit the water, dragons must be awakened

By Kevin Zimmerman

Beneath the glow of the Golden Arches and amid the throng of tourists queueing up for half-price theater tickets, a Buddhist monk dressed in a traditional orange robe stood in the middle of Times Square last week to awaken a sleeping dragon.

As the city gears up for the 23rd annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival on Aug. 10-11 in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a couple of hundred people crammed into Father Duffy Square near W. 47th Street to watch the official kickoff of this year’s event.

After the previous year’s race, the boats are carted away for a year-long slumber. Then about a week before the return of the races, the boats are brought out of hibernation, refreshed and blessed by a monk.

City Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu was at this year’s ceremony in midtown.

“There is no better place than Times Square to reawaken these dragons,” Liu said. “This is a great tradition in New York City and a great cultural event. Now, let’s get this dragon awake.”

A monk from the Yunmen Temple in Flushing started by lighting sticks of incense, then handing them to Liu and other VIPs in attendance. Like an Asian Pied Piper, the monk led Liu and the others around the boat to ask permission of the guardian spirits to provide good fortune to all the racers.

Finally, the monk grabbed a small brush, dipped it into a container of red paint and dabbed the dragon’s eye to awaken the slumbering beast.

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