Participants cheer after winning the dragon boat race during the 1st River Nile Dragon Boat Festival in Cairo, Egypt, Oct.1, 2016. (Xinhua/Meng Tao)
by Marwa Yahya
CAIRO, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- The 1st River Nile Dragon Boat Festival, a unique event ever held in Egypt that combines sport and culture together, kicked off on Saturday.
"The event is a new chapter in the Egyptian-Chinese cultural and civilization intermingling," said Atef Abdel Hamid, Governor of Cairo.
Based on their historical pioneering leadership, Cairo and Beijing present the whole world this sporting, historical and tourist event, which was held for the first time not only in Egypt, but in Africa and the Middle East, Abdel Hamid told Xinhua.
The event coincides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the two countries and the "2016 China Culture Year" in Egypt.
The date of the festival was carefully chosen to mark both the 67th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and Egypt's October Victory in 1973.
Waving flags of different countries, crowds were excited to see boats with dragon heads and tails, with those who enjoyed the Chinese and the Egyptian folklore music dancing on the shore.
"From now on, Egypt has its own Dragon Boat team which is very meaningful and a very good opportunity for both people to get deeper understanding and integration," said Chen Dongyun, Cultural Consular of the Chinese embassy in Cairo.
Dragon-boat racing is a Chinese tradition dating from nearly 2,000 years ago. It commonly falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar year.
The Dragon Boat Festival is organized by the China-Egypt Friendship Association, a non-governmental organization in Cairo, with the cooperation of the Chinese Embassy and the Cairo governorate.
Twelve teams including four professional groups from China, Egypt and European countries joined the race.
"The event will promote friendship between the two ancient countries. Both Chinese and Egyptian cultures are very rich and we have so much to learn from each other," Mary Lai, the founder of China-Egypt Friendship Association, told Xinhua.
Egypt is proud of River Nile, which is one of their most ancient civilization symbols, and the dragon symbolizes both power and benevolence in Chinese culture, she added.
Alan Caubergh, a representative of the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) and the European Dragon Boat Federation, described the Egyptian-Chinese ties as "unique."
"The two countries have the world's oldest civilizations and they share special historical ties, and today the Chinese culture in Dragon boating and the amazing river in Egypt are combined together," he said.
He also detailed the skills needed for a dragon boat race.
"The most important thing about the Dragon Boat race is the team effort, as you might be with twenty peddlers, a drummer and a helm in a standard boat, and you have to act at the same time, do the same thing, so it's like a machine," Caubergh said.
The IDBF currently has 92 members and this sport entered Europe in 1985, he added.
He also emphasized the history and experience of China in dragon boating in IDBF's efforts to promote the event.
"That is why we have two basic languages, Chinese and English," he said.
Caubergh pointed out that friendly but competitive dragon boat races can boost cultural exchanges between different coutries as they embrace people of all ages and genders.
A dragon boat is generally rigged with an ornately carved Chinese dragon head at the bow and a tail at the stern.
Su Zuyao, the leader of the Chinese team, said he is "really excited to participate in this race. This kind of Dragon Boat race is good for team building and I can see Egyptians living along the Nile really love water sports, and I do think this sport is really good for promoting the Chinese-Egyptian cultural exchange."
According to him, the Chinese team members mainly come from Hong Kong and Foshan, a city in South China's Guangdong Province.
"Sport is part of culture, full of energy, diversity and life pulse, and it is suitable for both young and old," said Ahmad Aly, a member of the Egyptian National Rowing team.
"This is the first time for me to row in a Chinese beautiful boat, and I got some tips in training sessions yesterday from a Chinese coach. Today we learned something new from China," he said.
Lai said this event is scheduled to take place three times in 2017, first in southern Egypt's Luxor, then in a Red Sea city, with the last round in the capital Cairo.
Kris Robky, the chief executive officer of the Cairo-based African Hope Learning Center, who came with a team of 23 refugees from Africa, said the race was wonderful because everyone had to work in step with each other.
"They are cooperating, laughing together, and having pleasant moments," he said.