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Annual Dragon Boat Festival thrills Flushing Meadows

Once a year, dragons come alive at Flushing Meadow Corona Park and thousands of spectators were on hand to see them ride down Meadow Lake last weekend.

The park hosted the annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival with dozens of boat races, food, music and fun.

The races, which have been going on every summer since 1990, have been popular with the borough’s Asian community and have attracted revelers from other backgrounds and other parts of the city.

“I thought it would be a really cool way to spend the day,” said Avigail Oren, 22, of Manhattan, who came to the park after seeing a flier for the event.

More than 150 teams made up of 12 to 18 paddlers took their 40-foot-long Asian rowboats, made of fiberglass and wood, down the lake over two days of racing. The nearly 1,500 participants, who range from world class professionals to weekend hobbyists, competed not only for the pride of the waterway, but also for trophies, cash prizes and plane tickets.

Ye Yan, 25, of Astoria, who has been riding with the Wall Street Dragons team, said he was amazed with the number of fans who cheered the racers on.

“It’s a fun atmosphere because a lot of people are out,” he said.

The excitement of the festival was not limited to the water. Dozens of vendors from community groups, such as the Queens Public Library, and businesses set up tents for the games and shows for people of all ages.

Several performances were held at the park’s center, including a number by Asian lion dancers and a demonstration by the Shaolin martial arts masters.

“This is incredible,” said Joey Tonetti, 37, of the Bronx, who paid his first visit to the festival. “How often do you see Shaolin monks do their thing?”

Revelers were also allowed to take part in the fun with games and competitions including the popular dumpling eating contest, where the winner earned cash.

The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival is a public holiday in China. It was made to commemorate the death of an ancient Chinese poet and ruler Qu Yuan, who is believed to have committed suicide by drowning himself in a river after a corrupt prince disgraced and banished him from his kingdom.

The people of Yuan’s kingdom have thrown rice into the river on the fifth day of the fifth moon to feed his hungry ghost and rowed dragon boats to symbolize the frantic attempts made by villagers to save their king.

Out-of-town visitors like Ted Guilmette and his wife, Marcia, who came from Vermont to see the races with their daughter, Emily, who lives in Brooklyn, said they enjoyed learning about the history while having fun.

“I like synchronized rowing and the loud drumming was cool,” said Ted Guilmette. “It’s really different than what we find back home.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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