This tale happens on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar measured from the new moon. It is 9 June 2016. It is the Dragon Boat Festival, Duanwu, and the dragon boat races. It is one of the few statute holidays in the Chinese world, not just China. There are at least three alternative histories from which this festival derives, including that of Wu Zixu, but Qu Yuan is most popular.
Some 300 or more years BC there was a Chinese poet and Chu state official named Qu Yuan. He was part of the royal household but opposed the king when he allied with the state of Qin. Banished, he was, and he turned to poetry. Being right was not of benefit when 28 years later the Qin captured the Chu capital. Distraught Qu jumped into the Miluo River and was drowned.
The locals who witnessed this act grabbed their boats and raced out to save him. But, unable to find him, alive or dead, they threw sticky pudding into the river for the fish to feed on so his body would be undisturbed.
The two outcomes of this tragedy are two of the traditions of this day – Dragon Boat Races and sticky pudding known as ‘zongzi’.
To accompany the zongzi, the traditionalists consume realgar wine, a yellowish grain liquor to which is added powdered arsenic sulphide, which is apparently sufficiently insoluble that consumers of small quantities of this potent brew are known to survive.
On this day in Hefei, the technology growth city of China, every car is recovered from its park and placed on one of the arteries or veins, among those of the other 7 million citizens, and they behave like a flock of birds of Rome or maybe more accurately like a swarm of fruit bats, racing hither and thither out of town. They fill every possible space at speeds apparently impossible for safety without any accidental incident, yet the pristine cars remain so as the day progresses. Compare this Brownian motion to the GRA around Rome where incidents are more common than exits. There is something peculiar about how the Chinese have become such impeccable drivers with some regard for the laws of the road.
On this day there is much time, as we sit in a multi-lane blocked road, available to observe the suburbs and banks of great apartment blocks each housing a beehive of middle class pseudo capitalist Chinese families – many of whom are spending their first generation in urbia. Our mission in joining the citizens of Hefei on the routes out of the city was to view equestrian facilities, for Energitismic reasons. Today I learned a rule of society that has escaped me previously. We all marvel at the rapid growth of Chinese cities and infrastructure, entertainment venues, malls and apartment towers.
But today we witnessed the balancing force, and that is decay. The new law now reads: ‘whatever goes up must come down’ – not original but … the qualifying element is ‘without maintenance’. And it seems that some buildings and facilities have been created by entrepreneurs without full consideration of both the market forces, something to which even China is now susceptible as internal markets grow, and the high cost of maintenance, particularly of sporting venues.
The example? We witnessed a grand equestrian facility, known as a jockey club, that has now maybe only 10 horses, while the grandiose facilities are filled with thousands of chickens and ducks – rural China retaking its land – the grand buildings already showing signs of future collapse as elegant dining suites fill the empty villa units. I am not criticising this grand adventure with which I have much empathy but simply commenting on the inevitability of the laws of physics (intertwined with those of economics).
From one jockey club to the next, we returned to the roads, yet now finding them virtually empty at 11:30 in the morning, we realise that the apparent millions of cars have all disappeared into the thousands of restaurants sprinkled over the countryside for the dragon boat festival feeding celebrations.
And then as day subsides the dragons return to the road fighting for any space marginally on the road that may lead them towards their safe caves.