It was the London Dragon Boat Festival yesterday and like the weather, it was a scorcher. 40 boats competed on the water by the London Regatta Centre near City Airport, mainly corporate teams entering for team building and networking purposes. Entertainment, food and shopping was laid on for the crowds. Some of the races were nail-biting close calls, raising whoops and cheers from the sunburnt crowd. In between those, it was a day out on the river for families, friends and work colleagues, perfectly set up for a sunny Sunday afternoon.
This annual celebration in the Chinese calendar marks the beginning of rainy season and also commemorates the suicide of statesman Qu Yuan who was exiled by the king and wandered the woods and wilderness until he learned of a rival kingdom's planned invasion. In despair, he threw himself into the Mi Lo river and townspeople rushed out in boats to save him, beating the water with paddles to scare away fish from his body. Rice and lentil parcels (as heavy and starchy as they sound) are eaten this time of year to remember how the townspeople dropped rice into the river to keep Qu Yuan's spirit from starving. Eventually the rice was wrapped in leaves, formed into three corner shapes and so this early summer traditional food item was born.
Being there was just like being in Hong Kong, with all the public announcements in Cantonese and the hot, noisy crowd shouting over them in even louder Cantonese. We were surrounded by gleaming, towering skyscrapers overlooking the Thames doing a very good job of impersonating the famous Hong Kong harbour with its commerce enhanced skyline. Aeroplanes roared in overhead and landed metres away from the crowd at City Airport across the water, recalling the famously terrifying, exhilarating landing at the old Kai Tak airport.
A nice accompaniment to the food and waterside scenery was the bustling number of extremely fit young things in rowing outfits getting in and out of dragon boats. These were groups from all the big banks and financial organisations, consisting of highly motivated and driven people competing in a tough and extremely competitive watersport - mostly in lycra. That and the large number of cute kids running wild on the lawns or squealing excitedly at the boats going by, the sunshine, the food, noise and crowds made this Dragon Boat Festival a top afternoon in the Docklands.