Carving Dragon boats in Vancouver's Roundhouse Community Centre for Thursday, February 25th.

Carving Dragon boats in Vancouver's Roundhouse Community Centre for Thursday, February 25th.

Time is running out for finishing up our carving.  Yesterday,
we asked our instructor Eric Neighbor how long he thought it took
people to carve dragon boat heads in China.  “Oh- weeks, probably.”

“What! And we are doing this in five 5-hour days!”
“Well – just
to get started…This is a pilot project, I thought initially that people
would be able to be painting for Friday.   If we had one more
extra day for everybody, it should accomplish a lot and really help
people finish their carvings.”

I had hoped to get into our carving area early today so I could work
on re-doing some of my drawing plans.  My initial drawings haven't
accurately translated the Gung Haggis team logo into as satisfying a
rendering as I had hoped.  It wasn't until last week, when Eric
e-mailed me to say that there was one spot last in the workshop, and
would Gung Haggis Fat Choy confirm it's commitment.  We've done
pretty well, all things considered, in creating a design in the two
hours of class time on Sunday, and trying to render it into a wooden
log less than 24 hours later.  As well, we have tried to round up
paddling team members and friends to help carve something that's
probably never been done in North America before – create a wooden
dragon boat head from scratch.

I get to the Roundhouse at 2:30pm, and show Eric the photo-copied
enlarged pictures of our dragon boat logo, and how I would redesign the
log carving if I were to start over.  We discuss the pros and cons
of going with what we have, or redesigning the carving.  We are
not that far off.  If I did redesign the drawing, there would be
more of an angle for the head, to allow more neck and wave designs for
the neck.  We decide that it is far better to keep moving forward
than taking a step back.  We do want to have something to show for
our 5 days of carving effort, and not come in dead last in this pioneer
round of “X-treme Dragon Boat Head Carving Survivor.”  We want to
have something decent looking that looks like a dragon boat head and
tail when the CBC TV cameras come back on Friday afternoon.  We
want to have something that doesn't resemble a hacked up piece of log,
when the other teams come by to look at us.

We know the other teams well.  Bob Brinson used to coach the
Abreast in a Boat team.  I have known some of the team members
since 1997, when I first met the team and I introduced myself as a
fellow cancer survivor (1989).  Bob started coaching the Women on
Water team from Ft. Langley last year, and he even brought me out to
help coach one Saturday.  Some of the paddlers came down to
Seattle with us for the first dragon boat rodeo barrel racing in 2004
with the Tacoma Dragon Boat Association.  And we know the Wong Way
team.  I have known Peter Wong since about 1997, when we were
helping out with the Festival by taking out corporate sponsors. 
Ming Wong is Peter's nephew, Ming and I met in 1999 when we went down
to San Francisco for paddling with the Spirit of Vancouver team
organized by Richard Mah.  Peter's father William Wong – known as
“Uncle Bill,” grew up in Strathcona with my uncles and aunts, and my
Uncle Laddie has worked in Modernize Tailors for decades. 
We
all know each other.  We have raced against each other on the
water.  And despite our friendly natures, we all have an inner
competitive nature deep down inside.  We don't want to be last.

Every team has been experiencing carving challenges.  One
dragon's eye splinters off, another dragon's tail cracks and needs to
be glued, another team makes a mistake and gouges too deep and cuts in
the wrong area.  But we all adjust and move on.  We don't
have time to brood about bad decisions or mistakes.  Despite the
pressures, I never hear anybody raise a voice to anybody else. 
Everybody's spirits are buoyant.  Everybody is excited.  We
are all over the hump with our carvings, we can see the shapes
emerging.  And some teams are starting their detailing work –
carving out eyes and mouths, adding spikes to the back of the neck.

Thursday is day four of carving.  I have finally prepared a
design for our tail.  Bob wanted to emphasize the wave designs
from the logo, and I couldn't visualize his ideas until we finally had
them on paper.  My drawing looks incredible.  I am very
happy.  Our design has a tail hidden yet emerging from the
waves.  I will have to post a photo of the drawing so you can
figure it out.  It is abstract and radical.  But then we
don't want to be like everybody else.  We want to be outrageous,
ahead of the curve…

While I am working on my design, a young Asian woman approaches me
and asks, “You must be Todd?”  “You must be Pamela…” I
smile.  Pamela contacted me two weeks ago and asked about joining
the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.  She found us on the
internet.  If you google “Vancouver + dragon + boats” – Gung
Haggis Fat Choy comes up #5 and #6.  Very cool!  Pamela says
she likes the multicultural emphasis we place on the team, and that
website articles demonstrate that we do very interesting
activities.  Gee… I think, we are probably the only team that does
Tai Chi in the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens, wears kilts and/or tartans, has
a Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinner, and has been featured globally
on French public broadcast television.  I give Pamela a tour of
our carving area and show her our design plans.  We put her to
work helping to carve the nose, teeth and mouth.  She smiles later
and says, “This is much easier than I thought it would be.”

Alf and Dave show up soon and we get to work on the tail.  We
draw out the waves for the tail, and start gouging the designs in the
wood.  It's an unconventional design, and I think they understand
it.

My cell phone rings and it is Anita Webster, media and
communications coordinator for the Alcan Dragon Boat Festival. 
She got my e-mail about the dragon boat carving and is excited about
it.  She thinks it makes a good story and wants to get some TV
cameras down, and some radio reporters to record the sounds of hammers
and chisels that she can hear over the cell phone.  She asks how
the project got started and I hand my phone over to Eric
Neighbor.  10 minutes later, I have to ask Eric for my phone back,
as it is now time for me to do my work shift at the Vancouver Public
Library (gotta make money somehow!)  Anita says she will call the
media in the morning and send out press releases. 

At 9:15pm I return to the Roundhouse Community Centre.  Most of
the carvers have all left.  Bob and I ponder how we will make our
carvings look semi-decently finished when the CBC TV cameras show up
again tomorrow.  He wraps the dragon's neck up in the tartan sash
I brought, and with a broad smile… he says to me, “Do you think we
should wear our kilts tomorrow?”

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