Sunday, June 20, 2010

What Color is Your Hat?

Last week was Duanwu Jie, known in English as Dragonboat Festival. To celebrate I traveled to Miluo, Hunan Province, with the Beijing International Dragonboat Team to compete in their annual competition. Miluo is famous as being the birthplace of Duanwu Jie, during the Tang Dynasty, where the government official and poet/philosopher Qu Yuan jumped into the Miluo River from the shame of being accused of corruption by jealous, and corrupt, colleagues. The local people respected and admired Qu, so they took to their boats and tried to save him. When time passed they tried to prevent his body from being eaten by fish by throwing rice into the river. This eventually turned into the annual tradition of dragonboat races and eating zongzi, cooked rice covered in bamboo leaves.

My team had traveled to Miluo last year as well, and competed in nonstop rains, so this year we had some idea of what to expect. There were 11 teams, nine Chinese team and two 'international' teams. My Beijing team, composed of paddlers from China, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, is proud to be able to travel around China and compete against local Chinese teams and international teams from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Singapore and other places.

In Miluo this year the other international team was made up of foreigners living and working in Changsha. Their paddlers came from Pakistan, Iran, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, Kenya, Gambia and other countries. Their captain, a friendly Iranian man who lives in Changsha, is married to a local woman and runs an Arabic restaurant there. He caught my attention, and that of a few others, because he was wearing a black scarf, decorated with large green marijuana leaves, on his head. China has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drugs, and I've read in the papers of foreigners being put to death for drug dealing or use, so I was surprised to see the marijuana leaf design being worn so openly. One of my teammates asked about it. Apparently, the Chinese don't care about the design. The headwear does generate comments though. The local custom is that men will wear a green hat when their wife is cheating on them. It's a low-drama way to draw attention to the situation and cause shame.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Cup

The games are on.

In Beijing, crowds assemble in the evening in open spaces with large electronic displays. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs have either televisions or projectors screening the matches on walls. Friday night I attempted to walk home from the subway by cutting through The Village shopping mall in Sanlitun, which has a large open plaza in the middle. I had to walk around the tightly packed crowd gazing up at the monitor that usually displays the latest fashions in stock at local shops or listings for the cinema in the basement.

Last night friends and I started out the evening with dinner at Vineyard, a British-owned cafe, where diners glanced up at the game on the television. From there we went to an Italian cafe, Aperitivo, where we had espresso or aperitivos as the Argentina-Nigeria game started amidst cheers and groans. After greeting other friends there we made our way to nightclub Kokomo, where friends were DJing and we planned to spend the rest of the night dancing to mark the summertime departure of a good friend. A projector had been strung above the dancefloor using wire, a piece of flat cardboard or plastic to hold the projection unit, and plastic twine to hold it all in place. A group of Beijing's Nigerian residents danced while watching the end of the game, which their country lost.

When the US-England match started a group of people placed themselves on the dancefloor so that we'd have optimal viewing positions. Cheers went up when England scored their goal, minutes into the game, and everyone knew who supported which team. At some point some dancers knocked the projector out of position when they had their arms raised. Groans went through the crowd as we tried to watch the action now displayed against the speakers or the top of the DJ's head. There was widespread relief when the projector was shifted back into its optimal placement, in time for everyone to watch U.S.A. score against England and bring the match to a tie.

Last night, even more than usual, the question everyone asked new acquaintances was 'where are you from?". The World Cup celebrations, and citywide displays of national pride by Beijing's many groups of foreigners, will continue until July 11.