The duanwu (double five: fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar), an ancient festival revived in China 2008, is now one of the statutory holidays of the country.
It follows a week after the western Father’s Day celebration this year. The Duanwu is a masculine celebration, falling on the strongest lunar presence in the longest day of the year (summer solstice) in the northern hemisphere, and the sun (yang) represents the male energy in life, like the dragon (long), as the winter solstice, the longest night of the year represent the apex of the female life energy.
We wrote recently of the Jiaolong (sea dragon), the submersible that will attempt a dive down Challenger Deep of the Marianas Trench this month. We will not be surprised if the attempt is made today! (The lady astronaut we wrote about last week in Tiangong the Skylab is now in orbit.)
We will skip the various stories tracing the origin of the festival. Suffice to say that like their youthful counterparts in the West who do not hesitate to find any occasion to party, Eastern cultures tend to get the male to stretch their muscles in sleek dragon boat races. Then they drown their enthusiasm in a liberal dosage of spirits with the arsenic-laced realgar wine. This carcinogenic ingredient is used to ward off evil spirits in traditional Chinese medicine.
Arsenic provides the colorful fireworks of Chinese pyrotechnics; a realgar wine residue is used to paint colorful faces during the festival. Taking arsenic represents the risk-taking but daring aspect of male machismo. It is said to protect the body from disease for the rest of the year, and is tested in the skill of standing an egg on its end at mid-day to ensure good luck the rest of the year!
Prior to reinstatement five years ago, the holiday was observed in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Bangkok, Japan, the Koreas, and other Sino-influenced Asian cultures.
The festival also commemorates the rescue attempts on the patriotic poet Chu Yuan who opted to drown himself rather than be subject to the demands of the Qin rule. Rice was thrown into the river where the poet committed suicide so that the fish will feed on the rice rather than on the hero’s flesh. Wrapped glutinous tzungtzu and dumplings are also thrown into the river to accompany the hero to the afterlife. They are both common table staple during the celebration.
We trade in celebrative metaphors. To latch on to the adventurous impulse to plumb the depth of awe by the awed in awesome style underlies to us the tenacity of this festival in spite of the dangers involved.
We do note that pure MDMA of the phenethylamine and amphetamine classes of drugs, inducer of euphoria, not unlike the "out-of-body" experience from the '60s LSD, has been pronounced safe in its pure form (not the adulterated street sold Ecstasy aka XTC) by no less than the health officer of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Used in psychotherapy, it facilitates radical self-examination and drastically reduces fear. Small doses are used to enhance meditation "to generate the divine within" (entheogen) by some Buddhist monks.
We do not traffic in drugs, nor do we recommend its use. The organic variety of getting high is fine enough for us. And we do not mean peyote or mescaline, nicotine or alcohol. (OK, we concede the caffeine).
Saipan’s corruption involving public coffers is attributed to many kinds of addiction. In our decade of work in the Commonwealth, we know that the use of methamphetamine, commonly known as "ice," is on the high side. A PSS colleague once opined that of her acquaintances in public offices, she would tag half of them as occasional meth users!
Dragon boat festival imbibers of the arsenic-laced realgar wine will be excused for their disregard of toxicity in their reckless continuation of a traditional drink. Perhaps, like immunization, a dosage of the object of prevention inures the body of deleterious effects.
We are in the Year of the Dragon on the Sino calendar. Already, maternity wards of hospitals are experiencing a radical increase in birth deliveries. Those who strongly follow the dictates of Sheng Xiao horoscope of this mighty animal plot their family planning on this season’s auspicious 12 lunar turns. Of the 12 animals in the zodiac, the dragon is the only imaginary animal, and thus subject to the highest hype of the imagination. Might is the central character of the make-believe but well-revered dragon. Well wishing recipients of "may your tribe multiply" do not take this endorsement lightly!
It is the 23rd of June and unless one lives in close proximity to duanwu celebrants, the day hardly holds any significance. Given that a fifth of the world’s population hold this as a special holiday, we might remember that the dragon is balanced by the grace of the peacock, and in the yin-yang lies the wholeness. Male and female, might and grace, duty and responsibility. Reality hangs in the balance.
In wholeness, we thrive. The ancients did, too, save they called it "holy"!