We all need excuses to get together and celebrate friendship! That is why every day which can be turned into a festivity ought to be turned into one!
Today is officially known as the Dragon Boat Festival or the Duan Wu Festival (端午節). But I like to call it Bak Zhang Day just to annoy the ultra-traditionalist sort of people who demand that it be called by its proper name. Personally, I prefer to call it Bak Zhang Day since most of us do nothing special but eat bak zhang (rice dumplings). Only a handful of people get to play with the dragon boats. Since everybody celebrates it by eating bak zhang, it should rightfully be called Bak Zhang Day!
There are many versions of the story out there, but to put it briefly, this minister guy, who also wrote a lot of poetry, tried to woo the Emperor (I know… there are other versions, but I like this story better!). The Emperor, who’s not into that kind of thing, rejected the minister. Soon, this rejected fella started writing a series of emo poems to express his broken heart. Eventually, he was so heart broken that he committed suicide by jumping into the river.
Apparently, he did some really awesome things apart from writing emo poems. Because of that, the whole village tried to save him, but they weren’t successful. The next best thing they could do was to ride out into the sea on their dragon boats (basically, a really really long row boat), and started polluting the waters by tossing tons of Bak Zhang (rice dumplings) into the river, hoping that the fishes would eat the Bak Zhang instead of that dead emo dude.
I never understood how throwing rice dumplings for one day would do anything. Eventually the fish would get hungry again, right? So, technically if they wanted to preserve the dead guy’s body, they would have to flood the river with rice dumplings every single day so that the fish won’t eat the corpse.
(Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure this story is fictional – there are more realistic sounding versions out there, but I like this one the most!)
Anyway, it’s thanks to this dead emo poet-minister guy, and a village full of loving people, with their dragon boats and bak zhang (rice dumplings) that we have today to celebrate! I don’t see why it’s worth celebrating, but my guess is, it’s kinda fun to get the whole village to row out into the rivers, and throw food all over the place. It’s a good excuse to go out and have fun with friends anyway.
I’m guessing that’s why it became a festival.
You’d probably think I’m crazy… Well, if I was the Prime Minister and I could mobilise you guys to do something fun and crazy like that, at the end of the event, you would be bugging me to make it an annual public holiday so that every year, you’d have a good excuse to do a bunch of crazy things with your friends!
That’s what it’s all about – finding excuses to make ordinary days special just so that we can all gather together with friends to celebrate friendship!
So, today, I managed to gather three other friends to eat over-priced bak zhang. From experience in the past, if you want to eat over-priced bak zhang, it makes more sense to eat it at an expensive restaurant than at the usual bak zhang place.
On Bak Zhang Day, the usual vendors of bak zhang would raise the prices of their ordinary bak zhang to black market rates. I remember buying just one bak zhang for around $7. Since you’re going to be paying so much for bak zhang, it would be far more worth it to eat it at a posh restaurant, where you only pay a few dollars more than the black market prices at normal places, and you are served the finest bak zhang ever made (some times with improvisations too)!
One friend suggested that we go to the Hua Ting Restaurant at Orchard Hotel. The prices were quite reasonable, and so off we went to Orchard Road for our little Bak Zhang Day celebrations.
It’s my first time at Orchard Hotel, and I must say, the interior is really amazing!
Here’s what greeted us at the entrance of the restaurant:
Look at that! It’s just the display, and it already looks so awesome!
We ordered two different kinds of bak zhang, to be shared amongst the four of us. The first was a Hong Kong style bak zhang with duck meat, pork meat, chicken meat, scallop, lotus nuts, several other awesome ingredients which I cannot recall. It came as a huge parcel wrapped in leaves. The waitress divided it up and served it to us. Here’s how it looks:
Super delicious! The second one was a very unique bak zhang made from pork meat, and yellow rice. It looked more like the Italian riso, which is a kind of pasta that looks like rice. I forgot to take a photo of that. It was so delicious!
To top it all off, we were served a non-stop supply of delicious Tiekuanyin (鐵觀音) tea. Oh… I love this tea!
In the end, the entire thing cost us about $10 per person! Just $3 more than what you’d pay for the ordinary miniscule bak zhang sold on the streets today.
The gathering was really great. We really should have more special days just to gather with friends. Otherwise, we’ll always be finding excuses to avoid meeting people due to the pressures of work. Of course, we shouldn’t have too many or we will never finish our work. But we all just need at least one special occasion a month to catch up with friends and do some really crazy things every now and then.