Thursday, September 24, 2009

The World Games in Kaohsiung: Sumo

The sumo competition was probably my favorite event, of those that I saw anyway. It was surprising in as much as the spectacle at hand differed markedly from what I can not but help imagine sumo to be. Not all the competitors were male and not all of them were Japanese or Asian. Some of them didn't even look heavy. I remember the indignation (we imagine) suffered by one of the smaller competitors when, after the match was started by the referee, his opponent simply picked him up without a great deal of effort and placed him down outside the ring, winning the match; that got quite a reaction from the crowd.

The spectators: (from left) Tim & Lei, me, Andrea, Andrea's sister Erin, Lee, and Dan.

Before the bouts could begin there was an opening performance of sorts involving Chinese dragons and a whole lot of drumming and cymbal-smashing. Note the sumo ring or dohyo, built to specifications laid down during centuries of sumo wrestling in Japan.
(for a link to a decent site with loads of information (more than you want) about the dohyo and other aspects of sumo, try this one):

Traditionally, women weren't allowed into the dohyo for any reason at any time. Apparently, women's sumo isn't considered authentic by most Japanese and women are prohibited from competing beyond amateur events. However, the World Games includes a full men's and a full women's competition and so would be seen as an amateur competition by those closer to the traditions and legacy of sumo wrestling in Japan. For more information you can check the Wikipedia page and follow the relevant links within.

Note in this photo the referees and the other contestants. The role of the sumo referee (or gyoji) is critical and bound up with the history of the sport. From the sample of female sumo wrestlers in this photo you can get an idea of how the contestants in this competition might differ from those that the word sumo tends to conjure up. You can see representatives from Taiwan (TPE), Hungary (HUN), Australia (AUS), and Italy (ITA).

The usual roles are reversed here as a diminutive Russia takes on a Ukrainian behemoth. This just seems a bit unfair.

Australian sumo wrestlers? What would Australian sumo wrestlers look like if they existed? Well, they do exist. Two male and two female sumo wrestlers appeared at the tournament. Sadly, they were all knocked out in the first round of eliminations. This guy actually looks like what I imagine an Australian sumo wrestler would look like if I could imagine it. It's kind of weird. Sitting behind him on the right is a wrestler from New Zealand (NZL). I noticed that the Australians and New Zealanders were pretty comfortable with each other. The guy about to wrestle in this shot ended up out of the ring and must have hurt his foot because he had trouble getting back up the small set of stairs into the ring again to finish the bout with the obligatory bow. I got emotional when the New Zealander helped him up. All those jokes about New Zealanders having sex with sheep were just jokes.

A classic bout between one of the Egyptians (I think) and the guy from Taiwan (I think). This bout lasts longer than most. I love the way that one helps the other at the end. I'm getting emotional again, but we're talking about men fighting each other so it's okay for me to get emotional, being a man and all.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The World Games in Kaohsiung: Ultimate Frisbee

Apparently the Frisbie Pie Company of Connecticut sold their pies (in tins) to a lot of university campuses in New England and the students started throwing the tins around, and from this beginning we would eventually add the noun "frisbee" to our collective lexicon for describing a round plastic disc designed to be thrown through the air from person to person. Of course, "Frisbee" itself is now a trademarked brand name and the Wham-O company who own the trademark and sell the genuine Frisbee have long begrudged the use of their name without any input or return. The flying-disc game played as part of the World Games is generally called Ultimate Frisbee in informal settings. However, the calculated wrath of the Wham-O company has seen the trademarked appellation dropped from the title of the sport leaving the official title as "Ultimate".

Erin, Andrea, John, and Dan survey the scene just after we arrived at the Flying Dragon stadium.
I'm not sure which teams these are. Let's call them the red team and the white team.

The stadium continued to fill up as the Ultimate matches went on. Interestingly, the seats seemed to be filled by a wave of new spectators that slowly swept from the seats nearest to the entry gates to those at the far end of the stadium. We were sitting in an area all by ourselves for a while and then suddenly... we were surrounded. Are there cultural differences in stadium seat choice?

Almost nobody wanted to sit on the other side of the stadium near the sunlight. In fact, later as the sun crept around to the near side of the stadium, people got up and left to relocate themselves in the shade. That's normal I guess, but just a little more exaggerated in some Asian cultures.

Part of the backbone of the Flying Dragon above the main entry gates.

Wow. Stadium games like Ultimate Frisbee sure make interesting material for blogging about [sarcastic]. The red and white teams again. Unless these are two different red and white teams. I don't know.

In the distance the scoreboard hangs suspended in mid-air and time is distended by the space, the light, and the spectacle. To be honest, Ultimate Frisbee is something I'd rather play than watch. I think I spent a good deal of time reading the newspaper and listening to my mp3 player. I'm just not excited by a lot of spectator sports but it was nice to be out in a different city with friends. By the way, Edward "Steady Ed" Headrick, the "father of the modern frisbee", apparently wanted to be cremated and "to have his ashes molded into memorial flying discs and given to family and close friends" according to the San Francisco Chronicle. You might be tempted to think of his desire as a bit pie in the sky.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The World Games in Kaohsiung: Acrobatic Gymnastics

Acrobatic Gymnastics is something of a marriage between gymnastics and dance and there is an emphasis on continuous movement. I feel like such a philistine. It is obvious that there is an incredible amount of skill in these Acrobatic Gymnastics routines and the timing of the individuals in each team is amazing when you consider that there may be six of them, synchronized almost perfectly. However, I just can't seem to be moved much by any of it. Anyway, here's a quick tour of a few random aspects of Acrobatic Gymnastics. If you wanted to know more then you could click here.

The team from Great Britain create an impressive human tower. This stuff must be hard on the joints. How much force or weight does it take to dislocate someone's knee from its socket? How much pressure will a femur take before it breaks? The photographers seem to be impressed. What does it take to become an aerobic gymnast?

Well, you've got to have a team outfit. No one goes for plain blues or subdued reds; it's about flames and swirls and whorls.

And now the Ukrainian team will demonstrate a method for getting the forth man to the top of the tower to perform a one-handed hand-stand:

Step 1.

Step 2.

Step 3. Simple!

This video shows the Chinese team's kung-fu-inspired routine and is actually kind of cool. Did I say I was unmoved by this sport? Well, perhaps I am moved after all. But only a little bit.

I have chosen to end this commentary on aerobic gymnastics ends with this photo for which I have no comment other than a vague exclamation of bemusement, something like, "Uh?".

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The World Games in Kaohsiung 2009: Introduction

After Taipei, Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan and this year the city hosted the 2009 World Games. Beijing may have won the right to host the Olympic Games in 2008 but Kaohsiung won the bid for the World Games. Never heard of the World Games? Well, the World Games are held quadrennially in the years following the Olympic Games. These World Games are really a showcase for a variety of sports and athletic pursuits that aren't as popular as those that make up the Olympic Games. In some cases sports have migrated from one to the other Games over the years. In other cases some of the sports on the agenda of the 2009 World Games were included for the first time in either the Olympics or World Games. And what kind of lesser-known sports are we talking about? Here is a list I found at The International World Games Association website:
The majority of these titles are the names of the events although some are categories which can be further expanded upon. For example, Gymnastics is an umbrella term for five individual events: Acrobatic Gymnastics, Aerobic Gymnastics, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Trampoline Gymnastics, and Tumbling Gymnastics. If you've never heard of Tumbling Gymnastics, that's okay. Most people have probably never heard of the World Games. I only know of it because there was a Commodore 64 computer game based on it (although that computer game was more of a parody, including events like pillow-fighting and pogo-sticking).

While the World Games are relatively unknown compared with the behemoth that is the Olympic Games, they are gaining in popularity with every rendition enacted. Here is a table with a few pertinent statistics demonstrating the growth of the World Games since their inception:

The World Games in the Past





Total Participants


Santa Clara (USA)





London (GBR)





Karlsruhe (GER)





The Hague (NED)





Lahti (FIN)





Akita (JPN)





Duisburg (GER)





Kaohsiung (TPE)




I found those statistics at the official World Games Kaohsiung 2009 website. Speaking of Kaohsiung, here's a picture of a Kaohsiung landmark:

At 347.5 metres the Tuntex Sky Tower is currently the second-tallest building in Taiwan after the Taipei 101. Interestingly the pronged design (there is a gap between the two bottom sections) was inspired by the Chinese character for 'tall' ['gao']. Personally, the idea of basing the shape of a skyscraper on a letter or a symbol seems like something straight out of a fictional movie or cartoon; for example, the evil overlord Zorg would live in a structure with the shape of a giant 'Z'. But the Tuntex Sky Tower certainly is distinctive.

The view of the 'Flying Dragon' - the World Games Main Stadium from the World Games MRT station (MRT stands for Mass Rapid Transit or Metropolitan Rapid Transit). Lots of trees here. Nice.

From the World Games MRT station you walk up the street toward the main stadium and in the centre of this photo is the tail end of the skeletal 'Flying Dragon'. I have no idea what that red twisty thing is. It could be an architectural rendering of an impression of flames, or a structure based on the triple-helic DNA structure that dragons might have. Or perhaps the organising comittee liked someone's architectural impression of a red twisty thing and so they had it constructed and stuck in the ground near the flying dragon. Maybe.

Nothing special about this photo. It's just a cool image. If I was feeling more pretentious I might tell you that this photo represents the other crucial aspect of the games - the 'they' in "If you build it they will come". But I had oatmeal for breakfast and so I'm not feeling particularly pretentious today.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Day out at the 2009 Tainan International Boat Fair & Oceanic Culture Exhibition

Hoist the main brace, scrub the poop deck, and winch the yard arm into a satisfactorily-compliant-with-the-relevant-marine-statutes position! The 2009 Tainan International Boat Fair & Oceanic Culture Exhibition was held last month and brought together a whole lot of stuff that had a whole lot to do with water - especially the salty, briny kind. The purpose of the 2009 Tainan International Boat Fair & Oceanic Culture Exhibition is officially to:
"... create new values for the city, expand maritime industries and create economic values, while starting from static and dynamic displays to encourage all citizens to participate. At the end, we hope to promote Tainan City through integrated marketing and establish quality images of the country."
Yes, yes. I couldn't have put it better myself. I took that quote from the 2009 Tainan International Boat Fair & Oceanic Culture Exhibition website which can be found here .

I don't know about you but I find that a title like 2009 Tainan International Boat Fair & Oceanic Culture Exhibition is a little too long and cumbersome and by the time I get most of the way through saying it I've lost my cognitive grasp on the start of it. Perhaps, from now on, I'll just refer to it as the TIBFOCE2009. Ah yes, that's much better. And now I beg your indulgence as I continue to quote from the very quotable TIBFOCE2009 website regarding the government's hopes for the exhibition's effect on people:
"The City Government hopes to bring in the vision of development, natural landscaping, historic and cultural edges and the population yacht building industry to encourage people to get close to the sea, love the sea and do good deeds to the seas while improving their knowledge and experience about the cultural and historic monuments."
You have to be careful not to injure yourself on those 'cultural edges'. There is one more quote I will take from the website - the best quote by far. Right at the end of the Mayor of Tainan's speech found this gem:
"And may the event harbor great success."
I like that mayor. And that's in a second language too.

You can see a lot of TIBFOCE activity on the other side of the river. In the foreground (but behind my head) are the piers where fishermen tie up their boats.

Down in the water you can see a pier from which kayaks and canoes were being rented. For a while we toyed with the idea of buying our own kayak in Taiwan and plying the rivers of the city at dusk. But dusk is the best time for mosquitoes so we won't be doing that.