I have written about 25 pages on our recent trip to China. I know none of you are interested enough to read 25 pages of my thoughts, so I'll summarize as best as I can.
Vi, Oliver, Kenny P, and the Guppies (Wila, Kevin and Joe) and I arrived in Tin Jing at 3 a.m. on race day, 10/1/02. We got a couple hours of sleep in a beautiful hotel that was paid for by the government (a common theme this trip). Since we didn't bring up a full team, we were paired with the foreign students from Beijing University, aka Team Dragonfly. These paddlers were originally from Canada, Boston, Europe, etc. There were a few decent paddlers, but there were also a hand full that have never paddled before. I was in charge of seating the boat and general captain duties.
We entered the open division since the race only had women and open divisions. We paddled in two 500m heats and placed last (6th) and second to last (5th – a team was disqualified). The boats we raced in were made of "teak" (not sure of the spelling). They were waterlogged and heavy. I couldn't figure out if the boat felt so heavy because of the actual boat, or the inexperienced paddlers we had on the boat – probably both. The 500m races were concluded before lunch, so now we had to prepare for the 10,000m races that started after lunch.
The basic race course was paddle down the river 5000m, do a u-turn and paddle back up the river for 5000m. The basic plan was to paddle for the 1st 5 minutes then start resting rows every 30 seconds for 30 seconds. Our stroke rate for this race (I counted was 56 strokes per minute) – about the pace when we paddle in after a race. Wila (our caller, who did a fantastic job), inserted "ready for powerlongs?????" "READY!!!" for the last ½ of the race. We finished the race in just over 55 minutes – our team goal was under 1 hour. Props go out to Oliver, and myself ( J ) for not taking any rest. Even though we beat our goal, we still came in last, oh well. But a strong effort from all of the Los Angeles paddlers, caller and steerer (Kenny P).
We attended the team dinner later that night, and had to perform a skit for the other teams. Having nothing prepared, we did the UCLA 8-clap and called it an evening.
Before we headed off to our next race site, Wuhuan, our chaperon/host/drinking buddy Simon took us to the Radio and Television Tower at Tin Jing – a space needle-like tower that rotated 360 degrees. It provided a breathtaking view of Tin Jing. Too bad it was a little hazy that day….
After lunch we got on a train that would take us to Wuhuan in 20 hours. I got some sweet video of the old guy that slept next to me – I've never heard so many different snoring sounds from one person … I was so amazed, I felt obligated to video tape him in action…. Or maybe it was because I couldn't sleep ….
We arrived in Wuhuan, checked into our government paid hotel, had a government paid lunch after some brief sight seeing, and headed off to the race site for a practice race. Dr. Chen told us that the crew we would be paddling with in Wuhuan would be much better than the Dragonfly crew we previously paddled with. Unfortunately, that wasn't true. Dragonfly allowed us the opportunity to paddle with most of their "B, C, and D" paddlers. We were given maybe 2 paddlers that had been paddling for over 5 months, the rest had either one DAY of experience, NO experience or a few weeks of experience. After Wila showed the new paddlers how to hold their paddles, we proceeded to get crushed in the 500m practice race. One guy even showed up to practice in dress clothes (slacks, button up shirt and dress shoes)!
After some behind the scenes discussions with government officials, Simon was able to get us 4 paddlers from nearby Wuhuan University – 2 women and 2 men – all 6 feet tall. Serious monsters. Exactly what was needed – only we needed about 14 more. Anyways, I quickly thanked Dragonfly for allowing us the use of a few of their paddlers but told them that I had to accommodate the new paddlers… We still finished 6th (last) in the 500m races. I had difficulties stroking with the one of the Dragonfly paddlers in the first 500m so I had Vi swap with him. She did an outstanding job.
Next up was the 4,500m race. The race was done on an oval course. We were to do 3 laps. Each boat started in 30 second increments. Since we finished last, we went off last. Dragonfly finished 5th so they went off 30 seconds before us. We caught them ½ way through the first lap, and tried desperately to pass them throughout the race, but since we could only pass on the straight-aways and on the outside, we were never able to pass them. It seemed like every time we were in position to pass them, we were at a turn. That race was probably the most fun I have ever had on a dragon boat – the Dragonfly's dragon boat tail almost hit me on the head twice during turns and my paddle actually slammed the tail twice. We finished about 5 seconds behind Dragonfly – making up 25 seconds, thus finishing 5th to their 6th place. We were so pumped up. We paddled with Dragonfly's least experienced paddlers, had one of the Dragonfly ladies on the boat decide to stop paddling and bail water instead. I heard she was bailing water as we crossed the finish line. We essentially beat Dragonfly with THEIR worst on the boat. I was proud of our team.
After our races, I got a chance to soak in some of the other races. There was one team, not exactly sure where they were from, but they were absolutely incredible (somewhere in China). I had the chance to watch their start in the 500m race. They did a few deep strokes – similar to our "up, up, up" pace but did them deep and hard, then they did THEIR "up, up, up" – at a blistering 130 strokes a minute (3/4 blade, but powerful). Their timing was flawless – every paddle was at the exact same angle throughout the stroke. They then settled at a mild 90 strokes per minute. Unbelievable.
I also watched the same team in the 4500m race. They decided to have their paddlers switch sides in the middle of the race. It was flawless – in one stroke, one row changed sides. Once sides were changed, all of the paddlers STOOD UP then started paddling standing up. My jaw was on the floor. The next time around, they passed TWO boats in about 20m – like they were standing still. Keep in mind, we couldn't pass ONE boat in 2.5 laps. I think they won.
I figured that if we brought up our black team, we could finish in the top 3 of the open division, but a distant 3rd from the Monster Team from China….
We left the post-race dinner early, as we had to board a plane to take us to Shanghai the next day. We flew in, saw the lights of the city (Shanghai is similar to a VERY large Las Vegas /New York), ate a late dinner, then drank too much beer. Drinking with Oliver is an experience in itself. I have had many "loopy" nights in my fraternity and law school days. Not once have I EVER drank with someone so concerned about his pancreas. Oliver is absolutely hilarious. I guess there's a first for everything. I think the pictures are self-explanatory. After a laugh-attack in the hotel room at 3 a.m. , we finally got some sleep. The hotel accommodations were again marvelous – LARD had a 3 bedroom 2 bath HOTEL ROOM.
After some shopping the next day, we got on a plane back to the U.S. Oliver, Vi and I actually got to see the final race of the Red Bull tournament – 4 tournaments in one week.
That's it in a nutshell. What an great experience. Dr. Chen and Simon promised that our next trip in Winter would be even more fun. I hope as many of you can attend as possible.
Let's go out there and whoop some ass (and have a few drinks).
Scott D. Wu
reprinted without permission from the Long Beach Festival Program