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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Of Fire Dragons, Hakka Villagers and The Mid-Autumn Festival

So I'm spending my first Mid-Autumn Festival here in Hong Kong.  This was not entirely by choice but more to do with the fact that my procrastinating nature got the better of me and I didn't manage to book any trips during this long weekend until it was too late.  No matter - Hong Kong is a bona fide holiday destination in its own right, and I figured, quite rightly it turned out, that there'd be tons of things to do and see in town.  Case in point: getting over to nearby Tai Hang that's minutes from Causeway Bay to see the famed Fire Dragon Dance (which is one of only four festive traditions that have made the third national intangible cultural heritage list, the others being the Cheung Chau Jiao Festival, the Tai O dragon boat water parade, and the Yu Lan Ghost Festival.) 
According to the official website, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon tradition started in 1880.  At that time, Tai Hang was a sleepy Hakka fishing village, and during one stormy night, the residents killed a serpent.  By sunrise, the serpent's body had disappeared and a few days later, a plague had spread throughout the village and many people died of a mysterious infection.  In a dream, a vision of Buddha came to a village elder; he told the latter that the villagers had to perform a fire dragon dance and burn fire crackers during the Mid-Autumn Festival to be rid of the chaos and suffering.  Turns out that the sulphur from the lit incense sticks and fire crackers drove away the disease and the villagers were saved.  Since then, a 200-foot Fire Dragon, made from straw and covered with joss sticks, is paraded through the streets of Tai Hang each year for three nights during the Mid-Autumn Festival in commemoration of that incident. 
It was a slamming crowd when I made my way into Tai Hang on the first night of the ritual. I was fortunate enough to stand at a narrow street near the famous Tai Hang Temple when the spectacular (and believe me, it's a sight to behold) Fire Dragon, with its hooting and hollering "holders," went right by me, U-turned at the temple not 200 meters (650 feet) away, and noisily "danced" by me again, leaving a trail of thick incense vapors in its wake each time.  I like to think that, as it had done for the villagers more than a century ago, that those fumes will also bring good joss to me and everyone else in the crowd, during this Mid-Autumn Festival and for the rest of the year.

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