The classic “When in Rome…” has been my mantra living overseas.
So, when I heard that foreigners could participate in the Dragon Boat races held at the annual Dragon Boat Festival, I signed my name on the dotted line. No matter that I’ve never rowed a boat in any competition (or with any expertise), let alone a “Dragon Boat”, which sounded mysterious in its own rite.
One slight hang-up: I had booked tickets to Tokyo the same weekend. BUT, no fear! – I would still be here for our practice date, which (I thought to myself) was even better because I could learn to row a Dragon Boat without making a fool of myself. How naively I assumed I wouldn’t do that anyway…
First, we got the boat into the water and 5 of us staggered onto our seats in time for two large tour buses of Chinese tourists to pull up next to the lake: excitedly supplying us with an undesired paparazzi. We immediately gave them priceless footage of us hitting a concrete wall (yes, it was a rough start. I’m convinced there is now a video of us on China’s YouTube – God only knows what the title says. “White Girl With An Oar”, “Do They Even Know What Dragons Are?” “Oh Wait – Do They Even Know What ROWING Is??”).
If you think that was unfortunate, please continue reading.
We were finally finding our stride and I took up the job of counting our strokes. With full confidence and a slight dose of pride, I started shouting out the count in my newly-learned Chinese numbers: “1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8…” Halfway through the number 9, my Taiwanese friend abruptly interrupted me. When I asked what was wrong he uncomfortably replied that pairing the numbers “7-8” the way I did actually meant female anatomy in Taiwanese.
My self-awareness suddenly became acutely clear:
On a lake.
At the top of my lungs.
In their very own language.
For all to hear.