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Foreigners get a taste of dragon boat culture

TAIPEI -- Foreign nationals in the Taipei International Dragon Boat Championship said yesterday they were excited to be competing in this year's races, which they view as a good way to experience Taiwanese culture.

β€œIt was a great pleasure and it was a lot of fun,” said Henley Jones, an official at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the United States' de facto embassy in Taiwan.

Jones, a first-time participant, said he appreciated the opportunity to experience that aspect of Taiwanese culture, although the AIT Men's team did not make it through to the quarterfinals in the Men's Open Division of the races.

The AIT team practiced for about two months before the start of the three-day championship on Saturday. The team won a preliminary race on the first day and made it into the second round of Sunday's competition, placing third in a stiff race against three local teams.

β€œI wish the results could have been better,” said AIT spokesman Mark Zimmer, who was participating in the Taipei dragon boat races for the second time. But it was a good race and it was fun, he added.

Meanwhile, the AIT Ladies team has advanced to Monday's quarterfinals, Zimmer said, wishing the women luck.

The AIT, a regular participant in the annual dragon boat competition over the past few years, fielded two teams this year. Last year, its team competed in the Mixed Open Division.

Other foreign competitors in the championship include teams from Israel, Australia, Malaysia, Russia and the Philippines, according to the organizers.

A total of 233 teams registered to compete in this year's Taipei dragon boat championship, which is being held May 31-June 2, the organizers said.

The Dragon Boat Festival, one of three major festivals in Taiwan, is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar and falls on June 2 this year.

During the festival, dragon boat races are held around Taiwan to commemorate Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and minister in the state of Chu during the Warring States Period more than 2,000 years ago.

When the state of Qin conquered Chu, the poet committed suicide in despair, drowning himself in a river. Legend has it that a crowd gathered and beat the water with paddles to prevent the fish from eating Qu's body. Today's dragon boat races originated from that legend.

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