Zongzi, or rice dumplings, are seen at a workshop in a restaurant in Manhattan, New York City, the United States, on June 16, 2018. A famed restaurant in New York City turned itself into a workshop over the weekend for learning to make rice dumplings to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival, a traditional Chinese holiday that commemorates the death of an ancient patriotic poet Qu Yuan. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)
By Xinhua writers Yang Shilong, Zhang Mocheng, Qiu Junzhou
NEW YORK, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Hand-wrapping rice dumplings, splashing dragon boats, reciting ancient romantic poems...many New Yorkers marked the Dragon Boat Festival, a traditional Chinese holiday that commemorates the death of an ancient patriotic poet Qu Yuan, with fervor and color over the weekend.
TITILLATING TASTE BUDS
Jasmine, a famed Chinese restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, turned itself into a workshop for learning hand-wrapping the rice dumplings on Saturday and Sunday, for people from across the New York City, home to by far the biggest Chinese-American population of any city proper in the U.S..
It was the restaurant's second consecutive year to host such event. Located near the United Nations headquarters, it caters to diners from all nationalities by presenting authentic Sichuan, Cantonese as wells as fusion cuisine.
The rice dumpling, called Zongzi in Chinese, is a centerpiece of the Dragon Boat Festival,or Duanwu Festival, which falls on the 5th day of the fifth lunar month (June 18 this year).
"'A lonely stranger in a strange land I am cast, I miss my family all the more on every festival day,' "said the restaurant co-owner Zuqi Su, quoting a Tang dynasty Chinese poet Wang Wei (699-759). "On a festival like this, we want to help with the homesickness of Chinese living abroad, and introduce traditional Chinese culture to people here."
"We wanted to give Chinese abroad, especially students who have no family here in the US, a sense of home away from home," Su told Xinhua.
Sherrie Wang, a Chinese student studying at Columbia University, was very grateful to Su and his team organizing such a special gathering.
"This is our first time making rice dumplings on our own," said Wang, who has been in the U.S. for six years. "We used to eat a regular meal with friends or buy ready-made rice dumplings from stores on this festival."
The young girl's words were echoed by another college sophomore who did not identify herself.
"Being able to make authentic Chinese festive food and share it with others really helps with the homesickness," said the sophomore. "It can be hard to stand especially in the first few years in the U.S.."
The participants were instructed step by step to make a Zongzi on their own: layer two leaves, with the smooth sides up and form a cone, and add fillings of different kind in proper order. Then add another leaf around the edge of the cone to make it wider and fold the leaf towards the middle, upper remaining part of the leaves towards the back. Finally use kitchen string to wrap tightly around the dumpling.
Wrapping a rice dumpling is quite a challenge, especially for a beginner.
"It's honestly harder than we thought, but it's really fun!" said Annie Lin, a Chinese college student, struggling to wrap the string around her "artifact."
"My daughter loves cooking, and I wanted to take this chance to introduce her to the traditional Chinese culture, which I myself didn't know much about either," said Yan Shao, who brought her U.S.-born daughter to the event.
"I get to see glimpses of Chinese culture through my Chinese friends," said Thomas Hasler, an Austrian who came with his Chinese friend Hanming Zeng. "I eat out a lot at Chinese restaurants, but being able to make something has been so much more fun. I enjoy this so much."
"I try to introduce Chinese culture to my friends," said Zeng. "Sometimes I bring them to restaurants like this."
Anirudh Singh, another participant, was able to recount the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival. "The fishermen threw rice in the river to make sure the fish didn't eat Qu Yuan's body, right?" he said. "I learnt all about it before I came here."
Singh was quite right. The festival began in China's Spring and Autumn (770-476 B.C) and Warring States periods (475-221 B.C). Qu Yuan was a minister of Chu, located in the Yangzi River area of central China.
In 340 BC, Qu was facing the pain of losing his homeland. Later he drowned himself in the Miluo River on May 5. The people of Chu were very sad.
To prevent fish from eating his body, the locals wrapped leaves around rice and put them into the river while beating their drums and splashed their paddles on boats.
"DRAGONS" READY TO BE UNLEASHED
Jasmine's event also featured a recitation of an extract of Qu's famous poem Li Sao, or The Sorrow of Parting, by a guest from the New York Hanfu Corporation in traditional Chinese costume.
With 373 lines and more than 2,400 characters, "Li Sao" is also one of the longest poems of ancient China. In making use of a wide range of metaphors derived from local culture, the poem expresses Qu's unrequited love for his country Chu, and his sadness over its inevitable decline.
The great poet might never have imagined that his death would inspire a much-loved sport, not only in China, but also all across the world including the U.S. cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Kansas City and Boston.
Interestingly, dragon boat racing has grown beyond the Dragon Boat Festival's official holiday celebration on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month every year in America over the past decade while the old-fashioned dragon-headed boat and drum as well, are still kept for carrying the Chinese tradition, and the rules set by the International Dragon Boat Federation are abided.
The 28th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York is scheduled for August 11-12, and over 200 well-trained teams will paddle across the Meadow Lake, at the Corona Park of the city's borough of Queens during this year's race, Henry Wan, chairman of New York's Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival host committee, told Xinhua, on Saturday.
"Throughout the years that we've been having this festival going on, it's continuously growing. We've got more and more viewers every year, and teams grow more and more, too," said Marvin, a volunteer for the festival."It's definitely making an impact on this community right here."
"I'm captain and drummer, we have a new steerer this year and we are moving into using the fiber glass boats instead of the timbre boats for the race," Julia Chesler told Xinhua after about three hours practice with her team on the Meadow lake.
Bobby Li added all their team members were classmates in a local high school and they have joined the race for eight years. "We're just as much friends from high schools, we do it and stand out a lot, we always have tons of fun, It is always a great time for people to come back."
Anthony Demmasi with the UPS team said they were inspired to do dragon boat racing by a YouTube video fours years ago.
"It's pretty cool. you learn how to better pace yourself, learn the techniques, learn how to train each other,train new people that are coming in. Mainly because we got keep on learning, we got keep on showing new people the experience, And it's a lot of fun," Demmasi said.
The dragon boat racing, now the largest summer activity in New York City, has injected lots of new life into the Corona Park, home to the 1964 World's Fair where exhibitors worldwide showcased their inventions and culture.
The celebrations incorporate activities both on land and on the water. It usually begins with traditional opening ceremonies that awaken the dragons and bless the racing to come. From there, paddlers take to their boats and spectators crowd the waterfront amidst a carnival of cultural activities and food.