Tuen Ng is the Cantonese name of the festival that is known elsewhere as the Duanwu Festival.
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Duanwu means ‘double fifth’ because Tuen Ng occurs on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in the Chinese calendar.
Tuen Ng is also called the Dragon Boat Festival and it’s the astounding time when the waterways around Hong Kong come to life with dragon boats competing against each other and myriads of decorated junks and other watercraft. Teams even come from overseas to compete.
The dragon boats are built in the shape of massive war canoes. They vary in size and have crews from 20 to 80 people, which often now include teams of women. The crew paddles according to the thunder of the drummer who sits in the middle of the boat and beats on a drum.
The ‘support crowd’ on the shores and in watercraft alongside also joins in the noise. From the moment of the starter’s gun, cheers and loud banging of cymbals (believed to ward off evil spirits) deafen those nearby.
There are usually several dragon boat races during Tuen Ng. These sometimes change location from one year to the next but Victoria Harbour, Stanley Village and Tai Po are popular locations.
The holiday is also a celebration of the Goddess of Heaven who takes care of fishermen. It is assumed, naturally, that the goddess will also take care of the dragon boat racers.
Wonderful food is a necessary feature of Tuen Ng with the popular rice dumplings, zongzi (ch’un tse in Cantonese or tsung tzu in Mandarin), being sold at food stalls around Hong Kong. The dumplings are washed down with beer or realgar wine. Food markets are everywhere and music and live entertainment fills the air with an atmosphere of excitement.
Tuen Ng Festival is more than 2000 years old and is marked with a public holiday in Hong Kong. It became a holiday in mainland China in 2005.