Competitors in action at the Singapore Dragon Boat Festival. Photo: Sport Singapore
Dragon boating’s hypnotic and synchronised thrashing of paddles against water is steeped in history, tradition and mythology, with roots tracing back more than 2000 years to ancient China.
What began as a way to commemorate a martyr’s death and sacrifice, has now become an international sport, reaching far beyond imperial China.
Dragon boating’s association with Chinese mythology has not stopped competitors from all countries partaking in the sport, offering a melting pot for people of different nationalities to learn about each other’s cultures and customs.
Just as the sunny island-state of Singapore is a microcosm of multiculturalism, the Singapore Dragon Boat Festival over the last weekend was a real international affair.
Competitors at the Singapore Dragon Boat Festival. Photo: Sport Singapore
The Gaelic Dragons, a competitive team founded in 2004 with members hailing from four different continents, were among the many teams at festival. Andy Pickering and Nuala McGlynn said the team-building sport gave them an avenue to meet new friends to socialize with.
“How do you find friends? You got no family here. You are here by yourself,” said Pickering, who hails from Britain and has been with the team for seven years. “And if you are working in an office that’s full of people who don’t go out, what do you do?”
Dragon boating helped fill that void, providing an opportunity for foreigners to learn more about local culture as they mingled with the local dragon boaters.
“Coming over as someone from Ireland to join the dragon boat team, I got to meet a lot of the local people that are here, who are in the team as well,” McGlynn said.
“Through them, they would take me to different restaurants, different places in Singapore that I didn’t know about.”
Alan Lee, a Singaporean member of the Gaelic Dragons who has been involved in the sport for five years, is now an ambassador of sorts for the newly arrived and uninitiated members.
“It’s really nice that some of them after all these years can actually walk up to the person and order a drink in perfect, almost Singlish like [language],”Lee said.
“It’s really amusing, but at the same time, I thought it was really heart-warming seeing how two cultures kind of came together.
“So it’s a good cultural exchange between locals and foreigners which I think is what we need right now in this current climate.”
“And that’s what life is about – them coming here and experiencing. It’s a good experience for me as well as it is for them.”