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An American Flag Heirloom

During this U.S. Fourth of July season, AmCham Taipei is pleased to share some family lore passed along by Chamber member Faye Angevine of Bai Win Mercantile Corp. The 45-star American flag shown above was owned — and probably made — by her great-grandmother, Effie Foster, and is currently on display in the lobby of the American Club.

Faye informs us that Effie Foster, related by marriage to the great songwriter Stephen Foster, was a participant in the first Oklahoma land rush of 1889. “She traveled with her daughter (my grandmother Mildred Foster) and a group of relatives from Salem, Massachusetts, and settled in Kingfisher, Oklahoma,” Faye writes. “I found the flag folded up at the bottom of my great-grandfather’s doctor’s bag while going through my Mom’s things after her death.” The stars are hand-stitched onto the flag (appliqué), while the stripes were sewn on with a pedal machine. (Because the stars were applied to the wrong side, the flag is displayed backward).

The 45-star flag became the official flag of the United States on July 4, 1896, following the admission of Utah to the union as the 45th state earlier that year. Three presidents served under that flag: Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. Later stars were added for Oklahoma (1907), New Mexico and Arizona (1912), and Alaska and Hawaii (1959).

Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

Teams race to the finish line during the annual Dragon Boat festival. (Image: Flickr)

Teams race to the finish line during the annual Dragon Boat festival. (Image: Flickr)

If you passed by the Tamsui River this week, you may have seen – or heard – dozens of dragon boats speeding through the water. The crews of these boats, which are so named because of their dragon-like appearance, have been practicing for the Dragon Boat Festival, an annual holiday that honors Qu Yuan, an exiled minister and poet from the Warring States Period. The holiday falls on June 9 this year.

While there are various interpretations of Qu Yuan’s story, a popular telling is as follows: Born around 344 BC, he was a powerful and patriotic minister from the state of Chu. He was later exiled – some say because he opposed the king’s alliance with the Qin state, while others say that his reputation was tarnished by jealous court officials.

Living in exile, Qu Yuan wrote beautiful poems describing his admiration for his country. Nearly 30 years later, his state was captured by Qin. Unable to bear this sorrow, Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River, illustrating his ultimate loyalty to his state.

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Dragon boats are carefully constructed decorated to resemble real dragons. (Image: Flickr)

The people of Chu rushed to the river on dragon boats to look for his body. Women threw zongzi, rice wrapped inside bamboo leaves, into the river, hoping the fish would eat that instead of his body. Men beat drums on their boats to scare the fish – and evil spirits – away, and a doctor emptied realgar wine (雄黃酒) into the river to repel monsters.

Two centuries later, the Dragon Boat Festival, known in Chinese as Duanwujie, is a lively holiday celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunisolar calendar – the day Qu Yuan threw himself into the river. This also happens to be around the time of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. As the sun is associated with masculine energy, this holiday represents the peak of masculine energy. Dragons are similarly symbolic.

There are many customs associated with Duanwujie, such as hanging mugwort bouquets to keep away mosquitos as the days become hotter and drinking realgar wine to ward off spirits. Children wear sachets containing different Chinese herbs for the same effect. Lastly, people eat zongzi, triangle-shaped balls of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves.

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It is not hard to find zongzi, which come in both sweet and savory varieties, during the holiday. (Image: Flickr)

Perhaps the most recognizable tradition is the dragon-boat racing. Typically, dragon boats consist of 22 people – 20 rowers, 1 drummer facing the paddlers, and 1 sweep who stands at the rear and steers. This year, 210 teams composed of 5,000 participants from across Taiwan and the rest of the world will compete in the three days of racing in Taipei. The largest competition in Taiwan, it takes place at Dajia Riverside Park and offers a winning prize of NT$3,190,000. (Click here for a schedule of events).

At the race, you’ll be sure to see people eating zongzi, and at exactly noon you may also witness egg balancing. It is said that if someone succeeds in balancing an egg at noon, they will have a lucky year.

AmCham Taipei wishes you a happy Dragon Boat Festival! 端午節快樂!