Sunday saw an audacious bid by Japanese operatives to retake Formosa.
At Beitou, late morning, a troupe of foot soldiers from Matsuyama rampaged through the streets bearing a palanquin as part of a shrine-crashing mission, while a couple of hours later two lithe female assassins brandished deadly weapons in a display of raw power at Taipei Arena.
OK, slight hyperbole. The first event was part of the Taipei Hot Springs Season (台北溫泉季) which ran from Friday to Sunday, the second the OEC Taipei Ladies Open final.
According to bystanders and a Japanese official I spoke to, the team from Japan were here to show gratitude for Taiwan’s support during the quake and tsunami in Japan, though the street side stalls, where young Japanese-speaking locals were promoting tourism in Matsuyama, indicated this wasn’t solely about thanksgiving.
Shoving our way through the throng we watched the chunky palanquin – or mikoshi – attendants engaging in the back-and-forth assault of the SweetMe Hotspring Resort (水美溫泉會館), the main sponsor of the weekend’s festivities.
I didn’t really know anything about this ritual but friends tell me it’s common in Japan and the Inveterate Bede, whose snaps you see here, swears he has seen similar things in Taiwan. Come to think of it, I’m starting to think I have too at the Matsu processions.
Clad in colourful robes, the team accompanying the mikoshi forced the crowd back to create a clear path along which the bearers could shunt their idol-laden vehicle toward the hotel, then retreat, shunt and then retreat. On board with the deity – whose identity I couldn’t ascertain – was the skinny, goateed director of proceedings who engaged his cohorts, and some of the crowd, in a set call–and-response chant. Different chants are apparently used on different occasions in Japan and I’m not sure what the significance of this one was.
Most of the path-clearers went about their task with a degree of politeness but there was the odd fathead physically shoving people back. One such squat and swarthy, salt-and-pepper haired yobbo, received as good as he got when attempting this manoeuvre on yours truly. He grunted and glared.
Barely pretending to exert a semblance of authority, a solitary, bewildered Taiwanese cop peeped her whistle and waggled her plastic orange baton at the oblivious rabble. The Japanese were clearly running the show.
Later we chatted to some of the mikoshi boys, who like us, were keeping it real outside the 711, with cans of Asahi. “Ah, Engrish,” said one moustachioed wag. “Beckham?” he inquired, with a thumbs up.
I shook my head and attempted to demonstrate the limitations of old Golden Balls’ game, through mime. He quickly got the picture. “Ah. Rong ball!”
Interestingly, while Beitou and Matsuyama have apparently now been twinned as hot spring towns, Bede’s covert government work revealed that the characters for the Japanese city are the same as Songshan (松山), the Taipei district. Indeed, Songshan was renamed Matsuyama under colonial rule, before being changed back again under the KMT.
It was in Songshan that we ended up a couple of hours later. By the time we got courtside, it was already 2-2 in the OEC Taipei Ladies Open final between 41-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm and Ayumi Morita – 20 years her junior.
Although Krumm went down in straight sets 2 and 2, there was good shot-making and a fair few decent rallies. The veteran looked pretty weary by the end of it and made way too many unforced errors against her countrywoman, a runner up here for the previous two years.
Both players lack big serves and Date-Krumm, with her low ball toss, looked particularly vulnerable on her second. Several times she cast irritated scowls toward the photographers on the sidelines. Apparently the frenetic click of their cameras was disturbing her concentration.
There was definitely an uptight atmosphere to the proceedings. A pal later told me he left the stands after being given the evil eye for the heinous sin of letting his 4-year-old daughter cough.
More justifiable was Date-Krumm’s ire at the failure of Hawkeye on one of her challenges to a line call. Ump Pascal Maria forced to lamely announce that “due to a technical error” the original call would stand.
But the prize for anal retentive of the afternoon had to go to the Japanese reporter who, as the Taiwanese journos shuffled out of the post-match press conference, whined: “Could you be quiet please!”
Considering he hadn’t even started interviewing Date-Krumm, I am not quite sure what his point was, except to project an air of authority and professionalism that he felt the local yokels lacked. Tosser.
Before he got his claws in, I had a chance to chat with the diminutive Date-Krumm, and she was a breath of fresh air. That’s probably in part because I fancied her but also because she’s clearly not shy of speaking her mind.
Earlier this year she basically accused Venus Williams of cheating by faking miscued ball tosses (despite the New York Daily News’ dismissal of the claims, I’m quite certain players do this all the time) and she also had a dig about younger players taking medical time outs.
I asked the former world No. 4 what it said about the women’s game that she could come back after 12 years out and still be competitive. “When I started out there were many different types of players,” she said.
“Navratilova had serve and volley, Graf had the big forehand, Sabatini had the topspin … Now it’s all power,” she said, clearly not enamoured of the crash-bang-wallop style of play in the current era.
“Everyone is in the gym. Even,” she added with a smile “the older players.” To compete now against the flat-hitting wham-bammers, she said, she has to rely on her footwork, tactics and crafty shot selection.
Having been encouraged to return to the game by her hubby, German (for some reason I thought he was Austrian) FIA GT1 racing driver Michael Krumm , she reckons she has no plans to jack it in again any time soon, so hopefully we’ll see her back in Taipei next year.
In the doubles final, the weekend’s Japanese hegemony was shattered, as the cross-strait pairing of Taiwan’s Chan Yung-jan (詹詠然) and China’s Zheng Jie (鄭潔) saw off 19-year-old twins Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic in a third set super tie break.
POW Memorial Day
On a more sombre Japan-related note, a few of us are making the journey up to Jinguashi (金瓜石) near Jiufen (九份) on Sunday morning for a Remembrance Day Service in honour of the 4350-plus Allied POWs who were interned in 14 Japanese labour camps around Taiwan from 1942-5.
In the unlikely event that anyone, other than the people who are accompanying me, happens to read this and is interested in paying their respects to these men who suffered tremendously during their captivity, contact Tina Wu at the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei Tel: 02 8723-3461 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Buses are leaving early from the Grand Hyatt and the return journey with lunch costs NT$400. There’s also a dedication ceremony on Friday afternoon at a newly-erected memorial to one of the Taipei camps at the Ministry of National Defense Headquarters complex on Beian Road in Dazhi (大直).
For more info. on this dark and oft-neglected episode in Taiwan’s history, check out the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society Web site, devotedly maintained by Michael Hurst, MBE.