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Officials feeling festive

DESPITE more than 540,000 visitors at the Expo site yesterday, foreign officials at the pavilions managed to find some respite from their busy day to get in the mood for the Dragon Boat Festival, which is today.

About 40 foreign officials made zongzi, a traditional rice food, watched a dragon boat race and took part in Chinese folk dances in a river town in Shanghai's neighboring Jiangsu Province to experience the atmosphere of one the country's most important traditional festivals.

The officials, including pavilion directors and deputy commissioner generals, watched an annual dragon boat race in Shajiabang Town and awarded prizes to the winners.

Many of them were itching to have a go at a sport they had never seen before, but unfortunately that wasn't possible yesterday.

"We wanted to organize a team of foreign Expo officials to race with the local team on the dragon boats," said Ivan Buntov, deputy commissioner general and director of the Ukraine Pavilion.

John Andrias, commissioner general of Papua New Guinea, a Pacific Island nation, said he was surprised to find that the dragon boats were similar to those in his country.

The officials were invited to sit on a huge beam scale to weigh themselves one after the other, another tradition of the festival where wishes are made every year that children grow fast.

"The scale is incredibly accurate," said Pablo Ask, sales manager at the Chile Pavilion. He said he would like to take such a scale home if it was not so big.

While watching the folk singing and dances, some officials jumped onto the stage and learned the steps with the local dancers.

They took up shoulder poles, the first time for most of them, while singing "Let me pick up some water chestnuts to present them to my lover," in Chinese, a local song that farmers sing during work.

"The activity let me see the traditional part of China, while at the Expo in Shanghai, we saw the modern part," said the UK Pavilion's John Downham.

At the Expo site, the Shanghai Pavilion began burning xionghuang, or realgar, in its waiting area, a traditional Chinese medicine that people burn or drink with wine during the festival that is believed to make people healthy and keep insects and snakes away.

Visitors to the pavilion will receive a sachet, a traditional festival gift, of the powder.

The Denmark Pavilion is holding a Mermaid Music Show this afternoon at Europe Square to celebrate the festival and it will incorporate traditional Chinese elements.


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