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Lake Lanier gets a taste of China at Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival
Annual boat race, cultural event draws thousands to Olympic Park
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Participants put on their lifejackets before competing in the 22nd annual Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park on Saturday, in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

Drums beating in rhythm to paddles churning the waters of Lake Lanier can only mean one thing: the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival has returned.

The multicultural festival, now in its 22nd year, saw another successful year Saturday as teams, spectators and volunteers packed Lake Lanier Olympic Park. The event has grown in popularity since its move from Stone Mountain to Lanier Olympic Park nearly 15 years ago.

Joanne Chu, director of the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office in New York, said this is the “biggest Hong Kong multicultural event in Georgia.”

“The Trade Office is so proud to sponsor this event. When we first started the event in 1994, we only had eight teams competing in the race and only had 200 spectators. Now, we have 80 teams and over 8,000 spectators,” she said.

Event founder and chairman Gene Hanratty said the festival is made possible by the volunteers and sponsors.

“The one thing I have learned over the years for this festival is that it doesn’t get done without the volunteers, more than 190,” he said. We have some very good and faithful sponsors; it is their interest in this wonderful cultural diversity event that it keeps it going.” 

This year’s rendition will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from Great Britain to China.

“This year is a special year to me, my office and the people of Hong Kong because this year is the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” Chu said. 

To celebrate that anniversary, the festival’s finale featured 10 boats competing at the same time. 

At the festival Saturday, spectators sampled a wide variety of Asian cuisines and given an up-close look at different cultural traditions.

The event began at 7 a.m. with a traditional blessing of the different dragon boats by a Buddhist monk. During the opening ceremony, spectators were entertained by groups of cultural acts and dancers from China, India, Laos and other countries. A traditional “eye-dotting ceremony” was performed by key event benefactors Chu and Jerry Liu, president of Hisense Corporation.

For the first time in America, the venue will serve as the site for the 2018 International Canoe Federation Dragon Boat World Championships next September. Athletes from more than 25 countries will gather to compete in traditional canoes adorned with dragon’s heads and tails while celebrating the Asian heritage event.