Today is the Dragon Boat Festival, a colorful Chinese holiday that commemorates the death of the celebrated poet Qu Yuan in 278 BC.
According to legend, he was so depressed by the capture of his ancient state by a rival kingdom that he drowned himself in the Miluo River. People raced boats to the site in a futile attempt to rescue him. When they couldn’t find his body, they dropped sticky rice balls into the water so that fish would eat the food instead of his corpse.
During the festival, the Chinese honor him by eating zongzi (sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves), drinking realgar wine (a rice liquor laced with arsenic sulfide) and racing dragon boats, which are decorated with the head of a dragon at one end and the tail at the other. Another tradition is trying to make an egg stand up at noon, which is supposed to bring good luck for the next year.
Most Chinese holiday celebrations revolve around eating and drinking. In fact, food is a virtual obsession here. Instead of saying hello, a common greeting is, “Have you eaten yet?’’
Instead of opening a door, you often enter a building in China by walking through a plastic curtain.
It’s basically a bunch of clear plastic strips hanging in the doorway. You part the curtain to enter and, if you’re polite, make sure the flaps don’t hit the person walking in behind you.
So why plastic curtains instead of doors? First, they’re cheaper and easier to install – two major pluses in a still-developing country like China. Second, they keep the air flowing, which is important here because many buildings don’t have heating or air conditioning.
They’re a little annoying at first and take some getting used to. But, like many things in China, they make sense when you start to understand the economy and the culture.