You could feel the vibrations in the streets from the drums a few blocks over. Electric energy flashing from person to person as more and more people crowded the Fire Dragon Path in the area of Tai Hang. The smell of incense was getting stronger and stronger, stirring up the audience as they shifted around in anticipation of the Fire Dragon appearing. Gates blocked the sides to keep the streets clear and police ambled by, seemingly unfazed by the onlookers. Somehow, I had secured a relatively central spot, right up against the gates and near a smattering of photographers.
The Tai Hang Fire Dragon Festival is a part of the broader Mid-Autumn Festival which takes place in the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar. It celebrates the 100-year old story of a holy man who had suggested a three-day festival to help get rid of a plague in the village of Tai Hang. During the setup period of the Fire Dragon parade, this story was blared over loudspeakers in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. Essentially, Tai Hang was suffering from a bout of bad luck: a typhoon hit, a plague struck, and their livestock was being eaten by local predators. The holy man’s suggestion was taken up by the villagers and they danced a dragon of incense through the streets, clearing the plague. Now, this festival remains as tradition and in remembrance of this effort.
Eventually, some of the local children walked out with various signs and lanterns, a few dressed in traditional clothing. It was obviously a pre-show of sorts, but still welcome as the night was wearing on with no dragon in sight. Near where I was standing, there was a gentleman who introduced himself to me. Turned out he was also from Chicago and was now a Hong Kong local. As an aside, he looked really familiar, so I suspect he’s some Viner or Instagrammer or something. Regardless, he gave my co-worker and I some tips on where to go after the festival and what to see around the area. My thanks to that kind stranger.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the drums got louder and louder. As the crowds pushed against the gates, the sounds of cymbals heralded the start of the festival. Cameras shot up and flashes went off to capture the spectacle. As the percussionists made their way down the streets, suddenly a cheer broke out down the street. The Fire Dragon had appeared.
There are over 70,000 sticks of incense in the Fire Dragon, from head to tail, including the two pomelos which are twirled in front of the dragon. It was a magnificent sight. The glow of the incense sticks released a cloud of smoke which filled the air and brought a haze into the streets. It’s no wonder that a plague might disappear as a result of three full nights of this incense. What looks like an unending string of volunteer men hold the whole dragon up as they walk down the street. The head is separate from the rest of the body and itself is a fierce sight. There are lights in the eyes of the dragon, which make the whole ensemble even more awesome.
After the Fire Dragon had passed by a few times and most people started dispersing, my co-worker and I went back to explore the Causeway Bay area. It’s a hipster-like enclave with a number of small restaurants and even smaller streets. Just a couple of blocks away was a wonderful, liquid nitrogen ice cream parlor named Lab Made. As silly as it sounds, the whole literal smoke and mirrors ice cream creation was great. It was the perfect treat to end a warm September night filled with real-life dragons and lanterns.
Obviously we took a ton of pictures at this event. There was a dragon! Take a look at our Flickr and Facebook pages for more shots. Since this was actually from September 2015, it’s very likely I’ll go again this September to close out my trip to China.