Since school has not started for me yet, I have had a lot of time to see some sights and soak in Taiwanese culture. Much to my delight, I am here for a once-every-four-year event. Friday night was the opening ceremony of the 17th Asian Games. The 2014 games are being held in Incheon, South Korea with 45 countries participating. It is one of the largest sporting events in the world, and yet I had never heard of it, being an ignorant Westerner. Of course, Taiwan is participating under the name of “Chinese Taipei.” I’ve written before about my feelings toward this and I am not writing now to rehash these feelings. This is about the Asian Games and how great I think they are.
Asia is a big place and a diverse continent and the Games try to embody that through the slate of events. Sure, there are globally known sports – swimming, shooting, soccer, basketball, baseball, cycling, gymnastics, etc. But to really capture the spirit of Asia, the games dig a bit deeper. Some of these sports are very region specific and probably unknown to the average Westerner.
For instance, there is the sport of Kabbadi, which is a combination of tag and wrestling while holding your breath. Even though I had never heard of this sport, I am really excited to see a match. Another event is Sepak Takraw. This sport, native to Southeast Asia and first mentioned in Malaysia in the 15th Century, is foot volleyball. I have also yet to see this sport, but I can imagine that playing volleyball without the use of your hands is just a bit challenging.
Aside from these obscure-to-the-west games, the 2014 Games made the controversial (to me) decision to drop some real show stealing events. For instance, no board games in 2014! This is a crime. Past games included competitive Chess and Go. Even though I have never seen Go played in a competitive international setting, it will surely be missed. Chess and Go for the 2018 Asian Games!
And then, of course, every country in Asia seems to have its traditional martial art or full-contact fighting sport. In addition to more “global” combat sports like fencing, boxing and wrestling, the games feature Wushu (both full-contact and forms), judo, karate, and taekwondo. Muay Thai fans will have to wait for the Asian Indoor games.
While the Games have a decidedly Asian flavor, I do believe there is a bit of an East Asian and South Asian bias. Even though nations as far away as Lebanon are sending teams, there does not seem to be any events that scream Western Asia or the Middle East. This is a bit bothersome but does not take away from my enjoyment.
Of course, now that I am living in Taipei, I cheered heartily for the “Chinese Taipei” team. Taiwan is my home for the next year, so at least for the Asian Games, I have no problems going native. As I write this, I am yelling at the television for Taiwan to beat Japan in men’s handball. The Taiwanese announcers are maybe a bit too much into it, which just adds to my enjoyment.
These next two weeks are going to be really fun.
Have you ever heard of, watched, or even played some of these sports? I would love to hear about your experiences. Please comment below. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter at JohnS_20.