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.

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