Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival dates set

HONG KONG -- One of the premier events of Hong Kong's sporting calendar, the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, is set to churn the waters of the Shing Mun River July 3 and 4 this year.

The Dragon Boat Festival, held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, originated in Hong Kong in 1976, although the spectacle of dragon boat races is thought to go back some 2,000 years. The festival is held to commemorate the death of Chinese hero Qu Yuan, who, it is said, drowned himself in the Mi Lo river during the third century B.C. to protest a corrupt government.

The race, which is expected to draw some 15,000 spectators, is held in Hong Kong's New Territories district on a 640-meter, eight-lane race course starting at Sha Tin Park's Pictorial Garden and finishing at Ravana Garden. This year's event features 12 categories, including men's, women's and children's championships, as well as a Mixed International Championship and races pitting members of various police, financial, public utilities and fishing organizations.

Apart from viewing the dazzling race, spectators can wander through a Biergarten that will feature bars, food stalls and souvenir shops; performances by jazz bands, cheerleading teams and drum performers, and a beer-drinking contest. The festival also will feature a July 4 Bath Tub race, during which six bathtubs containing two paddlers each race for 150 meters.

Spectators can view the race from a tiered Hospitality Box that offers a canopy, tables, chairs and electric fans, or stake out a vantage point for free along the waterfront. Admission to the Hospitality Box, including a reserved seat, unlimited soft drinks and local beer with nuts and chips, costs about $13 on July 3 and $32 on July 4. A two-day pass costs about $39 and provides a reserved seat, unlimited soft drinks and beer with nuts and chips on both days, as well as a buffet lunch on Sunday.

The festivities will be held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on July 3 and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 4. Hong Kong Tourist Association, Phone: New York, (212) 421-3382; Chicago, (312) 329-1828; Los Angeles, (310) 208 4582, or Toronto, (416) 366-2389.

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