By Mark Hallum
The 2016 Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival brought the competition of traditional Chinese boat racing together with food, fun and entertainment to Flushing Meadows Corona Park last weekend and thousands of people came from across the city and beyond to explore what the attraction had to offer.
The vendors along Meadow Lake who dished out food and beverage items included Tbaar Bubble Tea, a company based in Taiwan that creates a variety of tea beverages with flavorful toppings and ingredients, and Choklo, famous for roasting corn.
In the lake teams of rowers in brightly colored boats with dragon heads leading the bow paddled furiously.
Teams competing were from the public and private sectors, with the FDNY team racing against NYPD and losing. The NYPD Dragon Boat team was formed in 2011 as an all-female team when the World Police and Fire Games took place in Queens. Among other teams were the Hong Kong School Alumni, comprised of former students from five different Hong Kong-based schools who are now living in the city; Team Kaya, a local group of sports enthusiasts of all ages who participate in philanthropy and fund-raising events for various causes; and Xtreme NY, a Queens-based team which has been competing in the Dragon Boat races since 1996
“Culturally, it’s really impressive, the amount of things that they offer,” said Brian , who lives in Queens.
Ingri, who came from Manhattan to attend the festival, said it was another example of why she loves discovering the seemingly uncharted territory of the attractions in Queens.
“We loved it,” she said. “We saw the traditional dancing. The music was beautiful, and the costumes were beautiful. It was also really exciting to see the dragon boats. We
were right on the water and they went right in front of us.”
Performers from the New York Chinese Cultural Center and Dance China NY graced the stage, using their styles of traditional dance to illustrate to the audience a world of mythology and history. Shaolin Master Warrior Monks from the New York Shaolin Temple displayed martial arts skills on the stage.
-Entertainment new to the festival came in the form of storyteller Jonathan Kruk, who kept children in the arts and crafts tent busy with “Dragon Tales.” Kruk masterfully performs these yarns about dragons from folklore and children step into a different world. This solo storyteller, famous for his performance of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and the National Geographic Channel as well as performing throughout Queens schools and libraries.
Entertainment did not only come in the form of Chinese culture, however. American Bolero Dance Company performed choreography which showed off a variety of Flamenco and Spanish Classical dance. Mariachi Agulia y Plata took the stage to demonstrate its traditional Mexican musical talent.
But Chinese mythology ruled the day.
The Dragon Boat tradition comes about from the story of one man’s struggle with an oppressive king of Chu in the third century B.C., who was eventually banished from the kingdom. While in exile, Qu Yuan, a true patriot, had learned that his homeland had been invaded and threw himself into the Ni Lo River and drowned. Fishermen raced their boats to try to save him, but they were too late. Today, people celebrate the legend by ritualistically bringing the dragon boat to life on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month each year.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall