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Penang Dragon Races

Updated on August 1, 2010

I must confess that a few years ago I would never have visited anything called a Dragon Race, or indeed anything referring to dragons, but then a few years back I could never imagine living in a country where most religions exist side by side and in harmony.

I still associate dragons with Satan and all other bad things, but was invited to attend this annual event, the local equivalent of Henley Regatta, or the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, and as my hosts were Pacific West, one of the foremost exotic food company's on earth, how could I refuse?

Teams from all over the Commonwealth (remember that, a fine community of former British Colonies which actually worked before Britain entered the E.U.?) travelled to take part in what was an exciting afternoon of races which took part on the Penang Reservoir, high in the hills outside Georgetown (spot the Brit's influence!) and was much enjoyed by all.

Penang folk mix well, smile a lot (with good reason) and enjoy themselves full heartedly when they do something.

The basic mix of Penang is Malaysians, who by virtue of their birthright occupy all the positions of power and have special privileges, followed by the Chinese Malaysians, who control Penang government (but not Malaysia) and generally run the business side of things (and make the most money) and then the Tamil/Indian Malaysians, who do the work.

It's a blunt appraisal, but it's true, and everyone accepts that this is how it should not be, but is anyway.

Malaysians of all classes and cultures accept the inherent racialism that exists, though as a newbie from Europe, it seems strange, and indeed what I see here would never be allowed in Europe... but we are not in Europe, are we!

Anyhow small rant aside... despite all that, everyone seems to get along, and they certainly did on this particular Sunday, despite cloudy sky's, high humidity and then a thankfully received downpour, which returned the temperatures to comfortably warm rather than sticky hot.

Pacific West put on a magnificent open buffet with sufficient booze to cause any Baptist or Iman to throw a wobbly on the spot, and their guests (myself included) enjoyed full hospitality in their corporate tent.

Fortunately the 'drink drive' laws seem to be non existent in Penang, which, being ostensibly part of a Muslim country, seems not to breathalyser folk at random.

Perhaps they choose not to establish that local Muslims may also imbibe!

Don't get me wrong, I do not support drunk driving, but in Penang the traffic moves mostly very slowly, in comparison to say the UK, and in any case there is a vast difference between being drunk and being over a politically correct, predetermined limit, besides which, I'm blessed with a wife that does not drink!

It's a long way down!
It's a long way down!
Team tents
Team tents
Canadian war dancing
Canadian war dancing
Tobago & Trinidad team...
Tobago & Trinidad team...

Better mention the races huh!

Not that I saw too much of them perched high above the water line, but anyhow the sight of these teams hauling on enormous oars and moving large dragon boats (see the prow to understand why they are called that) at high speed is actually exciting.

The Canadian team won overall, which was a fine reward for having flown all the way from Canada to take part... with determination like that they deserved to win, and seems mighty pleased about having done so, dancing a Canadian version of a warrior dance on the prize podium, equal to that performed by the Trinidad and Tobago team.

The exuberance of all participants, added to the light hearted way they approached the racing made me proud to be a member of the Commonwealth... or at least I presume I still qualify as a member, even if we did drop them like a lead balloon once the EU got their grimy grips into the UK government.

Don't misunderstand me, I lived in Spain for 25 years courtesy of the fact that as a Brit they could not stop me once we were all in the same club, but I never much cared for the EU and still don't, because frankly all the nations of the Commonwealth fought for the freedom of European states and left citizens buried in war graves for their efforts, yet they now find that even the UK will restrict their ability to be there, whilst allowing a multitude of folk, from countries that basically dislike the Brits, free entry and full benefits.

Still, the Commonwealth folk I saw seemed content to party in Penang rather than freeze in the UK, so maybe I'm just being touchy again.

Prizes having been awarded, the party wound down and everyone slowly drifted off, no doubt to relive their moments when muscles bulged and strong arms swept them to victory or defeat, over more drinks and fine food under a tropical sunset.

Sometimes it makes me sad that I never found this wonderful isle many years ago, but hey! better late than never.

Soon I will be able to disclose what I've really been doing down here since I arrived, but for now I'll repair to my bed and sleep the sleep of the just.

Stay tuned!


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    • aguasilver profile imageAUTHOR

      John Harper 

      10 years ago from Malaga, Spain

      Maybe we'll see each other there next year!


    • shimla profile image

      Scott M 

      10 years ago

      Thanks for this article - I have enjoyed being Penang many times but have never seen these races - I have a friend living in KL and will ask him if he wants to meet there the next time the races are on!

    • aguasilver profile imageAUTHOR

      John Harper 

      10 years ago from Malaga, Spain

      These teams were FIT and vibrantly healthy, whereas all I could contribute would be ballast!

      Thanks for the comment Benjimester.


    • Benjimester profile image

      Benji Mester 

      10 years ago from San Diego, California

      I actually did a dragon boat race myself believe it or not, when I was living in Cambodia. It was great fun but really tiring. We were mostly made up of Australians and New Zealanders, and we got slaughtered by the local Cambodian team :) I was so thankful to get the chance to participate in a cultural experience like that. Thanks for the hub. Brings back the memories.

    • aguasilver profile imageAUTHOR

      John Harper 

      10 years ago from Malaga, Spain

      I knew nothing until I got here two months ago, and I am no authority on Penang, but I do observe and report, which is my wont!

      But it's a beautiful place, and the dollar, pound or euro goes a lot further here, plus the folk at kinda nice and easy going... if I stay here for long enough, I just might turn into a more mellow person myself.

      I can certainly feel the pressures of living in the 'western world' dropping off me daily, and I love it.


    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      10 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I know nothing about where you write but it sounds wonderful, glad you had a good time.

      Thank,s for sharing

    • tobey100 profile image


      10 years ago from Whites Creek, Tennessee

      Ah Penang. Know it well. When I lived in Chiangmai Thailand we always ran down to Penang for all our vacations. Wonderful Beaches, incredible food. Of course this was in the late sixties and early seventies. Haven't been back for a while. I hear it's a lot more commercial.


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