A grand time at the Grand Canal

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A three-day party along the world's longest artificial waterway, the Grand Canal of China, will be held in Hangzhou, featuring folk cultures, food and histories of the cities along the canal.

Initiated by authorities from Hangzhou and with 18 of the participating cities, the Grand Canal Temple Fair which runs from October 18 to 21 aims to teach locals and tourists in Hangzhou about the canal's culture and history.

Creative knickknack markets, as well as a float parade on the water showcasing local cuisine, kung fu and acrobatics, are just some of the items meant to attract visitors.

"The scientific way to protect the river is to develop sustainability, or in other words, to keep the river healthy and to make it the people's river," says Zhang Wenge, deputy secretary general of the Hangzhou municipal government.

He says that in the past 12 years, the Hangzhou government has spent more than 20 billion yuan (US$3.26 billion) to protect and develop the river, aiming to make the Hangzhou section of the Grand Canal a world-level tourism product. The Grand Canal Temple Fair is meant to demonstrate the product's charm.

The temple fair is a Chinese cultural gathering traditionally held adjacent to temples, and activities usually include worshiping deities, entertainment and shopping. This time the fair will be held near Xiangji Temple.

In ancient times, people living along the canal held prayer ceremonies, and performers will revive this practice at the Canal Culture Plaza. There will be music, dancing and ceremonies to pray for good weather.

During the performance, an "ambassador" from Beijing will pass a bottle of water taken from the Beijing section of the canal to an "ambassador" from Hangzhou, who will infuse the water into the river — a gesture similar to passing on the Olympic flame.

Following that is a float parade put on by 18 cities that dot the Grand Canal. Each float will have a different theme. The Beijing float, for example, will tell the history of granaries along the river; the Tianjin float will exhibit its local New Year paintings; the Yangzhou float will have a jasmine flower theme; and the Suzhou float will showcase traditional opera. The last and main float will stage an acrobatic performance depicting the canal boatmen's lives.

The fair will be celebrated in four other venues: Qiaoxi Historical Block, Tangxi Ancient Town, Dadou Road Historical Block and West Lake Culture Plaza. Visitors can reach the venues by boat.

At Qiaoxi Historical Block, next to the Canal Culture Plaza, a market will offer dim sum and local handicrafts, all listed as intangible cultural heritage.

In Tangxi Ancient Town, a Lamb Noodle Competition will be held at noon every day during the temple fair. Lamb is a specialty of Tangxi, and everyone is encouraged to nominate the best noodles in town.

At Dadou Road, people can play traditional games such as hopscotch, hoop rolling and paper folding. There will be a vegetarian food fair in front of Xiangji Temple.

A creative market selling accessories and paintings will be held at the West Lake Culture Plaza.

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