XVII Asiad in Incheon


Last Saturday closed the XVII Asiad in Korea, aka The Asian Games. I watched it on and off during the week. It was actually anticlimactic as China racked the medal count for the ninth consecutive time with twice as much as the second, the host country, South Korea. The Philippines, which hosted the first event a century ago, had one gold, three silvers, and 13 bronzes.

China is into bragging rights these days, in response I think to continuous official putdowns from the United States and Japan. It sent numerous athletes into the fray, with the table tennis (ping pong) doubles becoming an awkward spectacle when it was fought over by contending Chinese teams vying for the gold. Hong Kong and Taiwan played on their own cognition.

English as the international language and Hanggul being the local tongue, we had the broadcast translated from Korean to English and then to Chinese. CCTV often just skipped the English. From the synchronized swimming to the track and field relay, China’s team exhibited their prowess, while Hanggul Saram reflected all what they have learned from being the unofficial 51st State of the Union. The opening, attended by President Park, ended with PSY’s universal Gangnam Style, the closing showed Korea’s k-pop group of CN Blue, Big Bang, and Sistar. Shadows and moves of Michael Jackson are alive and well in South Korea!

The news was, of course, off the playing field. While China was racking the medals and the MVP is a Japanese swimming athlete, the DPRK sent ranking officials at closing that became the occasion for talks with their South Korean counterparts. At a time when Kim Jong-Un is allegedly having health problems, it was nice to know that ranking officials close to him were able to be away, settling rumors of a possible coup to rest. The Western press is often quick to the draw when imagining what might be happening in the Hermit Kingdom!

The swimmer MVP received his trophy from keffiyeh’d Kuwait’s Sheik Ahmed Al-Fadah Al-ahmed Al-Sabah (how do they keep up with names that long), president of the Olympic Committee of Asia, responsible for the Asian Games. When the head of the local organizing committee gave his closing message in Korean, translated for broadcast in China in Putunghua but not in English, I sat back and practiced my Ari-rang! and echoed my Yobo sa-i-yo and kamsa hamnida!

The 18th Asian Games is scheduled next in Indonesia 2018 so the closing ceremonies presented costumed dancers that I thought looked and moved more like natives of Peru. Of course, a long time ago, the Peruanos traveled from the steppes of Mongolia whose kin also went down to Indonesia. Anyway, Korea managed to have its black-hatted “old” men in white kimonos, the stereotyped male Korean, performing stylized moves. With the Games’ theme this year being Diversity Shines Here, Korea virtually subsidized everyone’s coming to the Games to ensure attendance, an edge it gave India’s New Delhi in the bidding for the venue.

Kinks in the games were few, with a couple showing steroids in their blood test, three basketball players born in the USA barred from competing, and the Qatar basketball ladies refusing to play when their hijab head gear were banned. Still, the One Asia theme was heavily promoted.

Asia as geography is problematic since the Persian word from which the name is derived from just means “east of Europe,” but the contiguous landmass goes north up to Russia all the way to Bering Straits of Alaska. It does not fit therefore as a continent surrounded by water.

Used as an ethnic definition, Asia is problematic around the area between the Black and Caspian Seas, which is not Turkic, Mongol, Hindu, Malay, nor Han, or any of the other identifiable ethnic “Asian” minorities. This is probably why the central Asian countries of the USSR have since joined (though Russians from the ‘Stans look odd) but not Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia of the Aryan Mt. Caucasus area. Part of Turkey is Europe, and Aryan Iran takes exception to being lumped with the Arabs. Ideologically, Israel since 1974 was thumbed out on Arab objections. Calling it the Asian Games, however, might require some rethinking by its 45-member nations.

But for now, the fun and games at Incheon has come to a close. Longevity, if the Philippines—one of three original members of the precursor of the Asian Games—is to be an example, does not guarantee medal-earning performances. Overall, the top three gold medal accumulators are China, Japan, and South Korea.

But for now, the Korean Kims are talking (“Kim” is the regal name on both sides of Panmunjom, which also means “gold”) as the DPRK sent high level officials to the closing ceremony and opened an opportunity between the separated kin. The U.S. quickly sent State Department officials while Pyongyang welcomed their athletes as returning heroes.

Meanwhile, Phonfone ravaged Japan, and thankfully, Vongfong skipped the Marianas. Semoga beruntung.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at pinoypanda2031@aol.com.

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