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Dragon Boat Festival's cultural buffet churns Laniers waters
Annual event more than just races, with world championships set for 2018
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Saran Branch, a monk from the Cambodian Buddhist Society, gives a traditional blessing over the dragon boats Saturday before the 21st annual Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Would a roundabout help?

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The dragons have indeed found a home on Lake Lanier.

Saturday marked another successful Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival held on Lake Lanier. The festival, now in its 21st year, has grown enormously in popularity since its move from Stone Mountain to Lanier Olympic Park nearly 15 years ago.

According to event founder and chairman, Gene Hanratty, the event began with eight teams, 200 or so spectators and a handful of volunteers. Saturday, he cited more than 200 volunteers from the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club community, 80 teams of boaters from Georgia and beyond, and an estimated 8,000 fans in attendance.

“This is the best hands-on cultural event around,” Hanratty said. “There are lots of events you can go to where you’re gonna taste foods, see a movie, listen to someone speak. But this is one where you actually get in the boats and participate.”

Olympic Park venue manager Morgan House agreed, calling Saturday’s festival, “the best event since the ’96 Olympics.”

House announced to the packed crowd Saturday that the venue would serve as site of the 2018 Dragon Boat World Championships.

This announcement seems to be in line with Hanratty’s observations that the annual dragon boat race on Lake Lanier isn’t just a Gainesville, Hall County or even Georgia event. He said the event represents a diverse network of Asian cultures displayed for North Georgians.

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 from the Cambodian Buddhist Society. During the opening ceremony, spectators were entertained by groups of cultural acts and dancers from China, India, Laos and other countries. Later, a traditional “eye-dotting ceremony” was performed by key event benefactors Steve Barclay and Jerry Liu.

Barclay, director of the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office in New York, was quick to explain Saturday that the mixture of cultural opportunities at the event was not unintentional. He said his office is always looking for ways to connect people with the cultures of Hong Kong and China.

“We have to think of ways to connect with people in the general public,” said Barclay, explaining that often people are unaware of Hong Kong’s interesting history, grouping it in with mainland China.

Barclay believes such events are perfect ways to showcase culture and engage in a fun team sport.

“The beauty of dragon boat racing is that it has been embraced by the world,” Barclay said.

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