This morning I went out rowing in a dragon boat with a group of 13 others, a mix of Chinese and foreigners (Aussie, Dutch, Canadian and U.S.). The group met at a restaurant at the north edge of Houhai (one of the manmade lakes in central Beijing), which has a variety of boats and kayaks for rent. After stretching out, being given our oars and having the correct way to hold the oar and row demonstrated for us it was time to board the boat, regulars in front and newcomers in the back. We sat, two to a row, behind each other on hard wooden benches, with life jackets underneath us as seat cushions.
After we pushed off from the dock we got into position, with one hand on the end of the oar, another right above the paddle, and when the boat captain told us to row we bent forward at the hips and put our oars into the water, pulled them back behind us and up, then repeated the entire motion. As the captain counted we all attempting to row in time, following the paddling rhythm of the people at the front of the boat. Splashing the people in front of us and behind was inevitable, but it's a beautiful warm day, and we could see the sky, so the occasion splashes felt refreshing as we paddled around the lake.
At various times we did different rowing drills or the the captain shouted rowing chants. When he yelled "Long and deep and hard" we replied "Hai." When he yelled "Jia you" (translation - add oil) we yelled back "Jia you!" As we rowed around the lake onlookers cheered and shouted us on: "Jai you!"
Our captain moved me forward in the boat twice, once forward one row, then forward two rows and to the other side. After we were out of the boat and changed into dry clothes he commented that this was only my first time, I just need to practice and I'll get better. I'm looking forward to proving him right.
The dragon boat crew meets twice each week during nice weather. Usually they compete in games all across China during the summer, with sponsors paying the travel costs. Unfortunately those types of games are not permitted this year because of the upcoming Olympics, but it would be fun to compete as part of the crew next year. In the meantime, I look forward to going back to play again.