Dragonboats and tuk tuks

Trip Start May 05, 2012
Trip End Mar 01, 2013

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Flag of China  , Tianjin,
Friday, June 22, 2012

Tomorrow is the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which is also known as duanwu jie [do-an wu ji eh- double fifth) or the dragon-boat festival.  The festival is celebrated in China to commemorate the life and morals of the Chinese poet Qu Yuan [Chu you-en].  It seems like there are many different versions of the history of the dragonboat festival online, but I will tell you the version that our Chinese teacher told us- I like it best!

The ancient Chinese state of Chu was ruled by an emperor who was not too smart.  However, the Kingdom ran pretty well because he had a very smart and moral advisor called Qu Yuan who was loved and respected by the whole Kingdom.  Other members of the court were jealous of Qu Yuan's power and in order to bring him down they whispered bad things about him in the emperors ear, and eventually he believed them.   He banished Qu Yuan from his Kingdom, telling him he could not return to his home.  This is a big thing in Chinese culture, (we talked about the special way that you say "return home" in Chinese is a previous blog) and made him very depressed.  During his wondering outside of the Kingdom, Qu Yuan wrote a lot of poetry expressing his sadness and anger with what had happened. (He is credited with the birth of romantic Chinese poetry.  His most famous poem is called Li Sao, which I am going to try and get a hold of somehow!)  He was very depressed at the state of humanity and committed suicide by throwing himself into a river.  Suicide is a very big deal in Chinese society, because they do not believe that there is a life after death.  All you have is here and now, so you had best do all you can while you live.  His suicide is seen by scholars as a statement of his pure morality.  He would rather die than be tarnished by the behaviour he saw in humanity (greed, lust, jealousy etc that saw him banished from his home).  The villagers from the village close to the river wanted to prevent such a great man from being eaten by the fish in the river, and so they made up zongzi (sticky rice with filling-sweet or savoury- wrapped in flax) and threw these into the river for the fish to eat instead of Qu Yuan's body.
Scholars have since viewed Qu Yuan as a example of honourable behaviour and someone to strive towards.  While they themselves won't commit suicide (apparently your body is seen to belong to your parents in China and thus not your property to destroy), they strive for his moral purity and his unwavering belief in his principles (ie he would rather die than live morally impure)

To remember this remarkable man, during the dragon-boat festival people make zongzi (we tried both the date and the sweet bean versions- see pics) and race dragon boats.  The dragon boat racing is especially done in southern China where the Qu Yuan originates.  In Tianjin, people just tend to make and eat zongzi. 

This week has been pretty busy.  I had an absolute nightmare of a demo class on wed night, so I am super glad not to have another one tonight.  Only four kids turned up to this demo, but all of them were 3 and under.  Not one of the kids would say a word.  One was just super shy, two of them were particularly naughty, running around the class and not sitting down, and the other one was not quite right.  He just sat staring at the ceiling until I tried to get him to play on the whiteboard, and then he would madly giggle and run around too.  With only one TA we couldn't keep them on their chairs and I'm pretty sure they didn't learn a thing.  We finished 20 mins early because we were unable to do any of the activities, and to make it worse it was all witnessed by a new boss at the centre! There was really nothing else that we could have done to make it better, but it was still a pretty bad impression!
I wanted to cry. 
Luckily my demo yesterday was much better (also witnessed by the new boss), but I am very glad to not have a class tonight.  Hopefully the regular weekend classes go much better -
well they really couldn't be any worse!

In other news, we could not get a taxi to work yesterday. Normally we may have to wait 10 mins, but we waited a full half hour without any luck.  The only taxis that were free were either a) stolen from us at the last moment (people can be so rude!) or b) would wave "no" to us and then pick up someone else 30 metres down the road.  We got so frustrated that we just started walking in the direction of work, hoping to  find a taxi further away from the shopping district.  We were stalked down the road by a man in a tuk tuk for about 100m (we thought tuk tuks would not take us as far away as work so we hadn't bothered to flag any down before!), literally crawling along behind us.  We eventually turned around and asked him how much to Ao Cheng thinking he would leave us when he knew where we wanted to go, but in the end he was very happy to take us.  What an experience!

We travelled mainly in the bike lanes and were able to zoom past taxis stuck in traffic.  Road rules don't seem to apply to anyone in these lanes so we were wriggling into gaps I was sure we wouldn't fit, and going through red lights- a little bit scary, but also exhilarating and fun! 
The driver was a great guy, every-time we stopped at lights (we did occasionally, although it seemed pretty arbitrary to me) he would turn around and talk to us- very friendly (we even understood most of it!).  We have some pictures and possibly a video if I can manage to upload it, so check them out.  I have no class tonight which is a relief, but means that Evan cannot do the techy stuff, so we will see what gets added to the picture/video wise. 

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Debbie on

Just like that, indeed! At first I wished we could see the traffic in the video rather than the buildings, but now I think I prefer not to! The concept of road rules clearly doesn't apply. Stay safe! xo

Mike and Lou on

Hi Ev and Steph! Wow, love the video taken on the Tuk Tuk, what a crazy place to travel in. More video please!
Are the Tuk Tuks now your second choice for getting around?
On another note, these electronics malls, wow!
Have you seen any electronic hobby shops, that sell electric Helicopters??
Love to you both.

JorD on

Have just had a quick read through all your adventure stories. Sounds like you are having an amazing time over there learning all the insides of China. Reading through your posts brings back memories from when I was in China when I was six. I haven't heard of zongzi since then yet it came straight back. Have you had much rice porridge? I used to live on that when we where over there. Have you been to a pharmacy yet? they are crazy with sikader shells and what not..... pritty sure that was China.

carol on

Zoes cousin in Tauranga makes the sticky rice and I think its yum as well!

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