Well it’s late June again and with that comes Shanghai’s rainy season once again. The plum rains kicked off with a nice 12 hour downpour on the 18th and we have been getting little bits of rain everyday since then. Of course the 4 day work week is relatively un-rainy with the main blasts expected to start on our free Friday , a heavy downpour with thunderstorms all day Saturday continuing on to Sunday. Monday will see a clouds , with the rains picking up again on Tuesday and Wednesday. The next two to three weeks will continue on like this.
Hard to believe it was already a year ago my family picked the start of the rainy season to arrive for their first visit to China. It was quite fun wandering around Suzhou’s gardens trying to balance a camera underneath the umbrellas. Last summer I had two whole months off and traveled with my family throughout China (Shanghai , Suzhou , Hangzhou , Xian , Beijing) before heading off alone to Yunnan province and then finally dipping down into Laos. This summer will see myself working the whole time with no break until a Taiwan stop-off in October. While my mind might not quite be as satisfied my bank account will certainly be much happier. For next summer I think I hear India calling my name.
Along with the plum rains it means it’s time for the dragon boat festival. While the forecast doesn’t look too good for catching the boat races on the Suzhou river , I’m still gonna try.
Last year’s post had me explaining some of the history behind the dragon boat festival and this year with my new apartment I’ve caught something I didn’t encounter last year. People are hanging leaves from the Acorus and Artemisia plants outside of their doors in the hallways. On the way to work this morning I saw many older people carrying bunches of these leaves back home and heading up the 5 floors to my new apartment I saw about half of the apartments were hanging these branches. Apparently they have anti-toxin functions and also work to keep insects out. Sounds pretty good to me. I told my girlfriend to keep an eye out for them. Couldn’t hurt!
Well it’s here again. The east Asian rainy season known as the Plum Rains are have reared its gray drippy face。 Just in time to rain for the Dragon Boat national holiday. My original plan of heading down to, previously written about, Mengqing park was thwarted by the steady drizzle that started early early morning and has still not let up. Not a hard rain at all , just constant. My enthusiasm for sitting in the park and watching the dragon boats race down the Suzhou river evaporated as the rains condensed. I was really looking forward to hanging out in the park all day and there was even supposed to be a food street set up with all kinds of delicious food. Street meat , brew, sunshine , trees, and dragon boats , arghghhhhh stupid rains!!!!!
Okay let’s go into some details. Apparently the term “Plum Rains” comes from ancient China , the rains would start every year just around the time the plums were ripe. When the rains fall on the ripe plums, there follows 40 rainy days. Maybe it’s all made up, but it sounds reasonable and I sure as hell haven’t noticed any amethyst hue to the water. Maybe a slight sludge color from all the air pollution getting pulled out of the sky but that’s it. Haha kidding but the air does seem really fresh right and I am definitely liking that. Anyways , these rains last anywhere from a month to two months or so. I wasn’t yet in Shanghai this time last year so I can’t tell you how long this weather phenomena went on before but I will make note of it for everyone this year. Perfect timing for my parents to arrive, no?
Now we will focus on the parade (or race) that these rains fell upon. The Dragon Boat Festival or 端午节 Duanwu Jie as it’s known in Mandarin occurs every 5th day of every 5th lunar month. This holiday has many different theories about its origins but the most common one I am encountering and the one told to me by a Chinese friend is the story of a poet’s suicide. Supposedly the poet Qu Yuan decided that in the year 273 B.C he had enough and leaped off in a bridge into water to commit suicide. The villagers raced out in their boats in an attempt to save his life but unfortunately they couldn’t make it in time. They couldn’t help him in life but in death they could. The villagers threw glutinous rice wrapped with bamboo leaves into the water so the fish would eat them and spare Qu Yuan’s corpse.
Due to Chinese influence throughout Asia in ancient as well as modern times the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in Japan , Korea , Vietnam , Singapore , Malaysia , Hong Kong , and Taiwan. On an interesting note, this holiday is a brand new one to China! (the People’s Republic of China that is) You may be wondering ,”how this is possible?” considering how I just stated the ancient roots of this festival. Well due to the pure genius of events occurring after 1949 traditional holidays were ignored in an attempt to… uh well …….. I have no idea. Thankfully though this holiday was reinstated in 2008! Woo hoo! Yes opening up and reform! I have the day off now because of you! Weird to think that during my first visit to China back in 2007 this holiday didn’t exist and now it does again. Kinda cool. Ok folks I’ll leave you with some pictures.