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.