June 16, 2019
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LGBTI rainbow colors Hong Kong's dragon boat festival

By Mar Sanchez-Cascado

Hong Kong, Jun 8 (efe-epa).- Wearing rainbow-colored uniforms and wielding a banner in support of LGBTI rights under the slogan of diversity and integration, Hong Kong-based law firm Morrison & Foerster is participating in dragon boat races for the first time.

"This year we noticed a lot of LGBT movement in Hong Kong. We saw the ruling yesterday," said 42-year-old Jenny Cheung, who is captain of the team and chief of business development at the firm.

"Plus this month is LGBT Pride Month, so we hope to use this opportunity to promote LGBT rights," Cheung added.

The community has received a boost since Taiwan recently legalized same-sex marriage, thus becoming the first Asian country to do so.

The participation of lawyers in favor of the cause comes after a top Hong Kong court made a historic ruling, granting spousal benefits to a married gay couple.

Team "Filipino Dynamo" is also participating in the races for a second time. The team is composed of only female domestic workers based in Hong Kong.

The sector is known for its poor working conditions, and training for the team is hindered somewhat by the fact workers only get Sundays off. Other teams are able to train three or four times a week.

The "Spanish Dragons," with all their members coming from Spanish-speaking regions, have strong hopes for the event. On Friday they came first in one of the elimination rounds.

"The adrenaline, concentration and effort are nothing without team spirit, and we are a big family," said team captain Nacho Barrenengoa.

After pre-season success and a good start at the tournament, the Spanish Dragons aspire to be among the best this weekend.

The team's trajectory has caught the attention of Spain's national team, which will include members of the Spanish Dragons at the world championships next August in Thailand.

These are only some of a total 4,000 participants divided into 200 teams competing in tournaments being held over the weekend in the archipelago.

It is a fierce competition aboard traditional 10-meter-long wooden boats that are decorated with dragon heads and tails, covering distances of between 200-2,000 meters, propelled by some 20 rowers.

A burst of paddling through the water makes it appear as if the boat is flying through a rainbow.

One member of the crew plays a drum, which becomes the "beat" of the boat and sets the rhythm for the rowers, who need to finish among the top three of 12 in every round to progress.

While awards and medals are handed out, tradition bestows on the winning team a year of happiness and good fortune.

"The best of this competition is team work," said the vice president of the preparatory committee of the races, Jacky Cheung Yat-leung.

"We can bring together the whole district, from the city council to the local population, to work together with a common goal," added Jacky.

Onlookers meanwhile dress in the colors of the team they support, cheering from the shores amid high temperatures.

Since the moment the race begins, the applause and cymbals are thunderous, and are said to keep bad spirits away.

The pilgrimage with the long boats and the frenetic sound of the drums converts Hong Kong into an exciting and colorful festival.

With the passage of the centuries it has become one of the nation's major traditions.

But all the bustle of the present version is based on the supposed origins of the festival, harking back to 278 BC when poet and minister Qu Yuan drowned himself in a river due to his despair over the government during the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history.

According to the tale, locals took to their boats to save him, but failed, and the races are a re-enactment of these frantic efforts.

It is also said that they offered rice to calm his spirit.

From a gastronomic point of view, the "zongzi," a glutinous rice with pork meat, eggs and dry fruits covered in bamboo leaves, has become an important symbol of the competition.

During the festival, "xionghuang" wine is drunk, and said to stave off illness, bad spirits and to bring good luck.

The races, which are a part of UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage, will go on for the rest of the month. EFE-EPA

msc/sk/sh

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