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Passionate int'l teams make a splash at the Dragon Boat Festival

Local families and foreigners were out in force at Dajia Riverside Park yesterday for the first races of the weekend's Taipei International Dragon Boat Championship. Crowds lined the 500-meter course, with Yuanshan Grand hotel and Dazhi forming the backdrop.

Some 207 local and international teams will take part in the two-day event, culminating in the final this afternoon.

One group hoping to make an impression this year is the Dragonfly team from Penang, Malaysia. This year marks the 28-member team's debut in the Taipei event, with team members saying they hope to gain experience and exposure for their younger rowers by participating in the competition.

The Dragonfly team was invited thanks to Penang and Taipei's twin-city status which encourages sporting and cultural exchanges between countries. The team's manager, a Penang city government, complimented Taipei on being “clean, green and safe,” and its “very nice city planning.”

Both the manager and Jegathesan, another member of the team, made a point of speaking about Malaysia's multicultural society. The team also planned to perform a special dance show combining Indian, Malay and Chinese music on Saturday night to share their open culture with Taiwan.

Unlike the more-relaxed Dragonflies, team Pyros from the Philippines are in it to win it. Their team manager Borges spoke passionately about the team's 20-year history, boasting participation in numerous international events and four appearances at the Taipei championship.

“We love this sport,” he said, going on to describe his team's hectic training schedule, including gathering four times a week at 5 a.m. for 90-minute practise sessions throughout the year.

When asked about what makes the Taipei event so special, Borges said, “What I notice here (is) there are a lot of students. It is so nice because they encourage the universities and the companies to apply (themselves to) the sport.”

The leader also said he appreciates the idea of letting as many people as possible compete, and that the prize money — uncommon in many international competitions — is a very welcome addition. The Pyros, which in previous years had sufficient sponsorship, is facing some financial difficulties this year, as the financial burden of competing internationally can be very high.

The good news, however, is that the Pyros are well on their way in this year's championship after winning their heat convincingly in 2 minutes and 53 seconds, beating the second-placed team by a large margin of over 40 seconds.

The theme for this year's event is Health and Happiness on Taipei's Riverside. Numerous Taipei City Government departments set up information stalls during the event, with long lines of people forming for the booths' special activities and give-aways.

In the surrounding areas, besides being able to sample traditional Taiwan street-food, youngsters — and the young at heart — could also try their hand at various sports and water-related activities. The main stage area played host to the traditional egg balancing game between 11 a.m. and midday. Families gathered together on the ground and vied to be the first to build their egg-tower.

The festivities will continue today with more races and varied activities for young and old.

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Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin, left, leads a Taipei City Government team in the 2012 Taipei International Dragon Boat Championship in Taipei, yesterday. Many international teams also took part in the first day of the weekend competition to celebrate the traditional Dragon Boat Festival.(CNA)

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