Hong Kong | The highlight
Paddling to a sort-of victory at the Dragon Boat Races.
I’ve spent a lot of time canoeing, so when I’m offered the chance to race in the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races, I think, How hard can it be? Of course, that’s before I see the highly trained athletes who spend months (sometimes years) preparing for the mid-June race. Thankfully, I’m not racing against any of these teams. Organizers wisely realized regular joes would jump at the chance to get in one of these boats and created a series of novelty races just for people like us. Virtually anyone can field a team, throw on some wacky costumes and participate in the annual Crazy Costume Race with no entry fee and zero practice. Why settle for watching Chicago’s annual dragon boat races in Chinatown’s Ping Tom Park when you can say you raced in the International Dragon Boat Races in Hong Kong’s breathtaking Victoria Harbour?
My race is the Media Cup. No costumes required; journalists apparently look funny enough without them. I’m placed on the unfortunately named “International Mixed Team” and told to show up for practice in Aberdeen, a picturesque part of Hong Kong known for fishing and a large outdoor market filled with great deals on textiles, jewelry and more. I’m hoping for a team filled with strapping Aussies who’ll lead us to victory but am instead greeted by a not-so-strapping group of German print journalists, a radio reporter from Vancouver and a representative from the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
Practice confirms this is harder than it looks, and when I hear we’ll be competing against the “Mr. Hong Kong” team, a hunky group from a local reality TV show, victory seems unlikely. I’m now hoping we don’t finish last or, worse…sink.
On the day of the race, the waterfront is bustling with thousands of enthusiastic spectators. We fight our way through the crowd carrying an “International Mixed Team” sign out in front as if we’re marching in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. To my surprise, people cheer and ask to pose with us for pictures as we pass by. They call our race, and the team piles into our narrow, fiberglass boat. The water is only inches from the top of the boat and we’re super wobbly. If we don’t end up in the harbor, it will be a miracle.
The gun fires, and we’re off! Mr. Hong Kong and a team of TV journalists are way out in front, but we’re holding steady against the boat next to us. When one of the leading boats tips over, we paddle harder. The boys from reality TV get cocky and try to pour it on only to face a harsh reality of their own: an upside down boat. Our drummer calls for power strokes and we dig deep, easily passing the boat to our right. We finish in the middle of the pack, but as we paddle past our opponents bobbing up and down in Victoria Harbour, eighth place feels pretty amazing.
Plan it: More to do
Where to eat Why eat at the Waterside Terrace at the Island Shangri-La (shangri-la.com)? Because they’ll bring you spicy Thai noodles and a tropical cocktail while massaging your feet poolside under the Hong Kong skyline, that’s why.
Where to shop Finding the Jade Market in Yau Ma Tei isn’t easy, but once you’re there, get ready to haggle and then walk away with a bag full of stunning jade jewelry for less than you’d pay for dinner back home.
Where to drink Located on the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Kowloon, OZONE Rooftop Bar (ritzcarlton.com) is the tallest bar in the world, and boasts the best view of Hong Kong. Take that, Victoria Peak.
Get there To celebrate its new nonstop Chicago to Hong Kong service, Cathay Pacific is offering steeply discounted fares: economy $1,024, business class $6,344 and the ultradecadent first-class service for $10,244 (a 40 percent discount). Rooms at the Island Shangri-La Hotel overlook Victoria Peak or Victoria Harbour and start at $462/night.
Writer’s trip courtesy of Cathay Pacific and Shangri-La Hotels.