The Society for Friendship with China, the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department sponsored the Dragon Boat Festival that was held on Brush Creek bordering the country club Plaza, with the assistance from Kansas City Chinese Association (KCCA), Tsinghua Alumni Association of Greater Kansas City, and the Kansas City Plaza Rotary Club.
Preparations for the race and other activities began early in the morning. I arrived late, around 9 am, to document the festival from beginning to end.
The rowers were to arrive for early practice, and to learn the rythm of rowing, drumming and how to keep the boat straight. When the KCCA team arrived one member said: “ I hope we don’t go in the water, I don’t want to get wet.” Thus their fate was sealed. They slalomed back and forth hitting the side-walls of the creek. All of the teams would have this experience at one point or another before, during and after the race. The KCCA boat was coming down-stream and they headed straight for the wall. It looked as if moderate panic took over, because balance was lost and so were glasses, shoes, phones and other items one would carry in the pocket. The boat tipped and rolled over, everyone one went in. There were no injuries, I am happy to report, and a great story for the rowers. They pulled together, helped each other out of the water, got the boat out and bailed the water. The whole crew then placed the boat back in then everyone carefully re-boarded and rowed back to the dock.
The festivities on dry land began around 10:00am. There was a food booth selling zongzi, along with other food items, and various other booths selling fans, paper umbrellas, dragon boats, t-shirts, beverages and a photography exhibit depicting images of China. There were children’s activities such as making fans, boats, and they could have their own, dry, boat race. On the main stage the audience was delighted to watch the beautiful children drumming, doing dances from various Chinese minorities, an amazing martial arts demonstration, traditional Chinese music from the guzheng, lovely sounding Chinese singers and a fashion show to close the stage. Throughout the day one could purchase a wishing lily.
At one o’clock preparations were underway to “wake the Dragon”, a ceremony to open the races. The dragon was resting behind the stage waiting for the children to come and roust him and take him to the water. They all got to their designated pole, lifted the dragon, the drums started and they set off, winding through the crowd with much excitement and fanfare. The dragon impressively snaked through the spectators and down the path. The drums got louder as he arrived. The dragon then was coiled by the dock, as speeches and introductions were made. Then at 1:15 the official waking of the dragons began as John Fierro president of the Kansas City Parks Board and Counsel Yu from Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in Chicago opened the eyes of the dragons. The races began at 1:30.
Many teams struggled with keeping the boat straight, however one team seemed to have gotten the hang of it rather quickly. They began with the round robin race then the serious races began. The sun was peeking out as the crowd grew and excitement was building. KCCA won against Mel’s Mauraders. The final race was the Plaza Rotary against Gossen Livingston Architecture. Both teams were flying in the water. Gossen shot out of the “gate” at top speed Rotary was behind just slightly, at the turn Rotary caught up and they were neck and neck to the end. Rotary wins by almost a boat length with Gossen coming in second. It was a nail biter and the best race of the day. Everyone was excited and hot and tired. All of the teams did an amazing job. To end their racing day the two final teams took a nice leisurely row down the creek to the boat landing so that the boats could be loaded and stored until next year. The festivities broke up for about a four-hour respite when we would return later that evening.
I was back at the dock at 8:30pm, Bob Chien, president of the Society For Friendship with China, CJ Wei and Tammy Wang from KCCA, along with Counsel’s Yu and Yang were preparing the wishing lilies for launch at 9. For $5 one could by a wish, and have their wish launched and floated in the night to be answered. This was a most serene and beautiful way to end a frenetic, exciting day. Next year I may buy 10, but, maybe that’s too greedy, since everyone one of you will want one too. See all of you there next year. Don’t forget to wish.