(Dragon Boat Festival)
Tuen Ng, the Dragon Boat Festival, falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calender. This festival is an example of cultural exchanges, a mixture of East and West, and an adoption of old techniques and methods and transform into a new fantastic sport race. It represented Hong Kong and was proudly spread out to the rest of the world.
Back in 295 B.C. , a chinese poet and a loyal royal advisor, Wat Uën ( ), was very depressed and upset this his King would not believe his advice. He forsaw the downfall of the kingdom, yet lost his confidence to regain his power and credibility from the King. He tied a rock around his chest and threw himself in the Mile River at the age of 37.
The country people were distressed of losing their hero Wat Uen. However, they believed they could recover him up by building some long narrow boats with a drummer at the stern. They cruised along the Mile River and hit the drums loud enough to scare away the sea animals which would be predators of their hero. Furthermore, the country women made many different kinds of rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, like tamales in corn husks, but three times larger. The boat riders threw those dumplings in the river to feed those sea animals. They hoped those creatures would forget Wat Uen's body and leave him alone. These were probably successful diversions, but perhaps they forgot decomposition would still happen!!
When I was in Hong Kong during 1960-1982 , the Dragon Boat Race was the big event every year. The main contestants were clans and local associations, some youth groups like YMCA, YWCA, but the most fascinating contestants were the westerners from Australia, New Zealand and Europe. They were serious and raced hard. The racers trained diligently for the race. Most of the the Chinese boat racers were believed to know Kung Fu, and were quite tough dudes. When the years went by and more westerners became involved in this sport, the western boat racers were better equipped than those tough dudes. The Westerners caught on to the techniques and methods of successful dragon boat racing. I thank them for spreading this sport out, and made it known the world wide.
I was surprised to find out that in the United States there is an American Dragon Boat Association. It's quite well established here, though probably not for historical reasons; although they could not retrieve the dead body of Wat Uen, they definately enjoy the race and the some dumplings.
Making rice dumplings (tsüng ) at home was a family tradition for this festival. The technique has many steps. To start, my grandmother would buy a bulk of bamboo leaves soaked into the water for days, and then wash them thoroughly. In the early morning of Tuen Ng, she went to the kitchen and started her process of making rice dumplings. These dumplings are like tamales; I wonder if this could be a trace of evidence that the migration of Asian people to early America by their similarities of food and ways of .
My grandmother put two long leaves together, and formed a cone shape. She poured some sticky or sweet rice, peeled green mung beans or unpeeled red beans, 5 spices pork cubes with fat, shitake mushrooms, and dried shrimps into the cone. Finally, she tied them up with a straw. She also made some filled with sweet lotus seed or red bean paste. Some were plain but alkaline. The alkaline ones taste great with sugar on top. After assembling, the dumplings are then steamed in a wok for hours, and then stacked in baskets for serving at the festival.
In Houston, making rice dumpling for the festival is hopeless. I was lucky to enjoy some because my mother is still capable of making them. However, she complains of the heat in June in Houston makes it quite unpleasant to work in the kitchen. I remember my grandmother said, "Don't pack up all winter clothes before Tuen Ng." I don't think it is true in Houston. If you want to try some dumplings, either you go to make friends with your Chinese co-workers and invite yourself as a guest for dinner, or go to a Chinese Dim-sum restaurant. You should be able to find these dumplings at any time, not just during the festival.
Rice Dumplings - tsúng are available in a variety of styles:
- haäm - salty
- hüng taû- red beans
- kwóh ching - assorted meats
- lïn yüng - lotus seed paste
- kaán - alkaline