Tag Archives: basketball

Kaohsiung Pride

My friend and former Fulbright colleague Kelley posted this to her Facebook account this morning: http://focustaiwan.tw/ShowNews/WebNews_Detail.aspx?ID=201008070005&Type=aSPT.  A girls high school soccer team from RueXiang High School in Kaohsiung City (the same city where I lived and worked during my Fulbright) won a major international tournament in Norway.  I’m so filled with Kaohsiung pride I can’t resist highlighting it here, on my Facebook and on my newly minted chest tattoo.

As happy as I am, I’m also a little surprised.  One topic of an earlier post on this blog was how obsessed Taiwanese are with their international celebrity athletes.  Scarcity breeds value.  Chien Ming Wang (or, as they’d say it in Taiwan, Wang Chien Ming)—a M.L.B. starting pitcher—is widely popular because his skills are so rare in Taiwan.  When Taiwanese produce a global athlete, they’re thrilled.

Fact is, Taiwan doesn’t produce many world caliber athletes.  People keep off the pounds by eating healthily and eating less (hear that, my fellow Americans?).  They don’t exercise much.  Some folks jog but almost no one weight trains.  Even dedicated athletes in Taiwan are, on the whole, smaller than their global counterparts.  Badminton eats up a lot of time kids could spend playing basketball.

Times are achangin’, though.  Taiwan is now a fully developed country that provides very adequate nutrition to its children.  My generation of Taiwanese are the first group to know a protein-rich life on the level of the US and Western Europe.  In time, Taiwanese won’t be much if at all shorter than Americans.  Interest in high profile competitive sports like basketball and baseball is growing.

Small victories like the RueXiang soccer team will spur greater confidence and interest amongst the Taiwanese for international sports.  Better nutrition will breed more athletic competitors.  With twenty-three million people jammed into their small, beautiful island, Taiwan’s population isn’t a big handicap; countries like Australia, the Netherlands, Chile and Portugal all succeed internationally with fewer total citizens.

Keeping Perspective

The Spiders’ dance was short lived.  St. Mary’s of California cut off the music after only forty-eight minutes.  Congratulations to the University of Richmond Men’s Spiders for a great season.  Losing’s hard, so I understand why many U.R. fans are ragging on the team right now.  Let’s vent our frustrations quickly and get around to praising Richmond’s first tournament team in many years.  There are tens of thousands of fans of unchosen bubble teams that would love to have lost in the first round.  

In light of Richmond’s first round loss in the NCAA tournament, I can’t decide whether it was a blessing that I couldn’t watch the game in Taiwan.  I’ve wavered on this question all morning.  Much easier to decide is whether it’s a blessing or a curse that all of the tournament is unavailable here besides the national championship game.  Huge bummer.   College basketball is my favorite sport.  The NCAA tournament is the most exciting athletic event of the year. 

Taiwan loves the NBA, why not the NCAAs?  It’s too bad Harvard didn’t win the Ivy League conference for a spot in the tournament.  Harvard’s best player is a Taiwanese-American point guard named Jeremy Lin.  Taiwanese love pulling for other Taiwanese because there are so few internationally recognized Taiwanese athletes.  I bet at least Harvard’s first-round exit would’ve been televised.  Anything’s better than nothing. 

Adding insult to injury is the recognition that I’m likely to miss another two consecutive years of March Madness action.  It’ll make four out of five years from 2008-2012.  Some would say: “Small price to pay.”  I say: “Medium-sized price to pay.”  I love March Madness.

The angst I’m experiencing after my alma mater’s loss is nothing like the angst my sixth grade teenagers experience every day now.  They’re a few months into their confused, sullen, rebellious pre-teen period.  It’s shocking to observe from a more mature vantage point.  It is one thing to reflect on my not too far gone days as a hormonally erratic pre-teen, and it’s another thing to watch other kids go through it.  You need to see it as an adult to believe it.  What a pronounced transformation.  

What are the major symptoms?  They’re pretty universal; there are no big differences between American and Taiwanese kids in this department. Many of my readers are adults with children , so I don’t need to explain this in too great detail.  My sixth graders are well into their ‘too cool for anything’ attitude.  School, teachers, especially teachers.  Their esteem for me is less than it was, although my foreignness allows me to retain some interest in their eyes.

Mostly, I can’t believe I was the same way when I was twelve years old.  They’re only six months away from getting weggied and locked inside their lockers by scrawny fourteen year olds, and they think they’re set to take on the world.  Amazing. 

This is a good opportunity to stop and take stock a little more of my own pre-teen/teenage development.  One of my favorite subjects to laugh about with my old high school classmates is the stunning arrogance of kids at my high school.  Regians, as we call ourselves, walk around with this arrogance both during their time there and for a year or two afterwards.  It’s a noxious cocktail of pre-teen/teenage hormones and a school-wide sense that students at your school are the world’s smartest people.  Thus far this will sound like nothing too special to those who haven’t met Regians or lived with a fifteen year old Regian.  For those who have, just mentioning this subject should be enough to effect either vigorous head-shaking, mild PTSD or some funny-in-retrospect memories.

So, to satisfy the unexperienced reader, here’s the most hilarious permutation this form of arrogance took for us (and takes for current students): a smug confidence that you’re smarter, and know more, than alumni of the same school you’re going to.  I’m not kidding.  This presumption defies logical practices on the mastery of which Regians ground their claim to intellectual supremacy.  It’s a thing of wonder.  I was guilty of this alongside many others.  It’s funny to realize that there are at least a few fourteen year olds running around my school who look at me when I help out at a school function and think “I totally know more than that guy.”

Overall, Taiwanese sixth graders aren’t too troublesome.  I’m speaking relatively.  Bronx twelve year olds are rebellious in an entirely different, more threatening, more in-your-face sort of way.  Keeping Taiwanese preteens in line isn’t too hard in light.  Sure, it’s frustrating to pause instruction for discipline.  But when you tell a kid to write “burden” fifteen times if he continues his refusal to play the game, he doesn’t tell you to “F*ck off” or throw the pencil you give him at a kid he doesn’t like.  Bronx kids certainly don’t tear up when you ask them to speak with you after class and then tell them that they’re good students but they can’t contradict direct orders because they’re bored by the easy material.

Sometimes sixth graders reach out from behind their hormonal veil to show some of the maturity you’d expect to come with age.  A few of my slow learners did really well this week on their English tests, confirming my theory that a curriculum-focused remedial class would both benefit them the most and attract their interest the most.  In fact, one girl who did well on the latest test came to the remedial class on Thursday five minutes early to prepare her books.  She took notes throughout and participated fully in every activity.  It was amazing. Many of my other slow learners did very well.  One even scored in the low 90s!

My heart sank a bit today when Margaret and I gave the test to the second half of the sixth grade.  Once again, the majority of slow learners improved.  However, there’s one remedial kid who is quite smart and funny, but he hasn’t bought into the new regime and he failed the test.  It’s disheartening.  I know it is as true for elementary school kids as it is for adults that you can only bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  So long as I’m making things interesting and useful, I can’t blame myself if there are a few kids who aren’t willing to learn (I’m excluding from this kids with special needs who, thanks to a very underdeveloped special education program in Taiwanese public school, simply can’t do the work).  Nevertheless, it hurts.  Good and the bad, hand in hand.