Dragon boat races to aid victims of Japan disaster

If you enjoy authentic Asian food, Asian cultural exhibits and extreme dragon boat racing, come Saturday to the 2011 Charlotte Dragon Boat and Asian Festival at Ramsey Creek Park.

The festival will benefit victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

You will also be treated to stage performances and the talented ladies in the Miss Asian Festival Scholarship competition. The festival and races are free.

The festival opens at 11 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m. Heats for the dragon boat races begin at 9 a.m. and continue all day. For a full schedule go online to

There's no parking on site, but the public can park at the Palace Theatre and take a free shuttle to the festival.

Dragon boat racing has been an important part of the Chinese traditional calendar since its origin more 2,300 years ago. The races promote competition, fair play, team building and Chinese culture. The sport is growing around the world, with organized competitions in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia, culminating in World Cup Championship races.

A dragon boat weighs about 600 pounds, measures 40 feet long and is in the shape of a canoe with a wooden dragon head at the bow and a tail at the stern. Each boat is crewed by a team of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a helm. It races in synchrony with the rhythm played by the onboard drummer.

The festival is organized by the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation and the Charlotte Dragon Boat Association to introduce Asian culture and traditions to the greater Charlotte community.

The Asian-American Chamber is helping the American Red Cross and the Japanese Red Cross Society drive for donations to help the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Donations can be made through the links at

John C. Chen, president of the Asian-American Chamber, said, "As we celebrate the federally mandated month of May as Asian Heritage Month, the festival will be used as the occasion to continue our appeal to support the Japan earthquake relief effort.

"One will have the opportunity to visit the Wells Fargo and the Red Cross booths to show your support of, and express your sympathy for, the victims of this tragic catastrophe."