Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pirates !

Hong Kong . . . shopping capital of the world, the haggling capital of Asia !  It’s a moniker that best describes this small city state and perhaps it has taken that reputation hands down all over the globe.  This simple allure takes root from history.  Hong Kong has been an international port since way, way, way back in time.  Merchants from all over the world dock down to it’s ports to do trade and business.  Pirates of course are not far off.  Where good business can be found, pirates are always sure to be nearby, scoping off the opportunities and bounty!  The ports of  Hong Kong  is a hotspot of an orient adventure.  I sort of wish I could have seen the old ports in action, the way old galleons dock, the smell of sea air as porters haul in and out cargo, the noise coming from merchants selling their wares, the smell of steaming rice, roast ducks, anise and spice mixing with humid sea air, hot rice buns finding their way into hungry travelers going in and out the pier. . . I’ve been frequently traveling in and out this city for over a decade, it could have been that way . . . I shoulder my pack, smell the character suffused air and start walking down the gang plank with a focus on what we’ve come up there for.   

Rickshaws no longer take to the roads.  The huge jumbo jets takes the place of the galleons.  MTR's ply the burrowed tunnels running beneath the busy city. The changes have all re-faced today's Hong Kong.  In the next few years, another face lift will again change the way things are but certain characters would still closely remind us of specific  cultural distinctions. Hong Kong will always be busy.  New things always around the next block, old stores closing down, new ones braving the uncertain  future, food hawkers, the spice scented air, savory sidewalk eats, corner and alley noodle houses . . . scenes that have become familiar, I'm guessing will still be familiar until the next decade.  

The International Bouldering Competition in Hong Kong is a yearly event.  Climbers from Mainland China, Taiwan, neighboring Philippines, Thailand and sometimes Singapore and Indonesia have at one time or another visited and dueled in the arena of plastic holds and dynamic moves.  The anticipated event runs for two days with continuous sifting of warriors from qualifying, to the semi-finals and finals bouts.  Only few from both men’s and women’s  categories would stand on the podium with highest honors.  The money purse from the event doesn't even cover the travel expense but the desire of honing climbing skills and exchanging climbing notes and generally tempering nerves to steel during the pressure filled  courses draws those who wish to get bit and get burnt by dragon fire. 

I've been in that arena on it's first ever gladiatorial combat.  That was over 10 years ago.  As I stepped onto the mat to face this year's first problem it felt almost like stepping into a warp zone.  It felt nostalgic but at the same time I had to focus on staying in the present.  I was there to test myself again.  Have I grown as a climber, have my senses been honed by time? Only finishing the entire event was on my mind and I had the fullest intention of giving it everything I have.  

Many new faces signed up, some familiar ones as well, but the same kind to energy suffused the air. It crawled under my skin and left a few tingly sensations as we waded into registration.  The first time I was there, I was almost lost in a new world.  Everytime I walked, I walked around with a map in my pocket.  McDonalds was always an anchor for something familiar.  Now, I can walk around comfortably and seems like I'm never lost.  Their noodle is now my noodle too! The many friends that have walked with me then still walk the same road with me now.  It makes the way much easier.  They've also brought along new faces, faces I wish to see again on the same road in the coming years.

The qualifying round saw me in much disappointment.  I've been away from competition for a while and so tactics were at an all time low.  I failed to recover composure and I succumbed to stress under fire.  I was all too eager to get everything done.  The pump swelled early and recovery was all too hesitant to cooperate.  I still managed to  hang on though and test myself again  during the semi-finals, committed not to make the same mistake again.  On the other hand, my team mate found himself in unfamiliar territory.  I assured him it won't always be that way.  There will always be that painful nag of a lost promise.  In the end, only the way you get up on the next problem will be that which will allow you to transform yourself into a well oiled machine.

5 walls, 5 problems elims, 4 problems finals
Lai Chi Wai keeping on the iron will !

At the end of the semi-finals I'm up to 5th.  Not extremely bad but just as bad with only one of four.  Only one got 2 tops, The rest only 1 top at best with some bonus hold points. The on-sight though carried me to the final round.  The record could have been better still.  I have to work on several other things to tune up.  I'm not particularly content with the semi's results.  Within the next 4 hours the final round would start.  A crucial rest was in order.  An hours sleep would be the cure.  Blanking the mind and staying motionless for an hour was a bit difficult.  The ambient noise from the ongoing novice and youth divisions still crept in and the cold polished uncaring granite floor of the isolation area kept me from getting total rest . . . but it had to do.  

Men's category and women's category finalist shared the spotlight at the same time.  Two at a time, one male and one female took to the problems.  One by one, each competitor from each division took turns solving the puzzles under the intense beams of two surreal spotlights following each climber's move.  All of the crowd's attention was drawn into this last culminating show.  Six women, six men.  The continuous flow of climbing never left the overhanging walls empty.  6 of 6 was the score by the end of problem one.  All six of the men's stuck the problem on the first try.  My turn on the 2nd problem.  Sticking the slopey green globs proved to be the crux.  After coaxing the crowd for big cheers I jumped on the the problem with relentless energy.  I felt the friction bite down, 2nd try finish!  No pump, the feeling was good and my confidence built up.  The fingery 3rd problem was next.  The deadpoint to the first crimp sent me cutting loose.  Managing a quick pull, my fingers found the 2nd crimp.  Matching and almost slipping raised my heartbeat.  I chalked up, recovered, mindfully lowered my pulse . . .  and flashed !  There was too much excitement in the blood, I couldn't stop myself from hammering the wall with my palms before landing on the mat. I felt good and overly positive after the 3rd boulder problem. Up next, the 4th and last problem.  We all sat down again in transition and waited once more for the call that signals the start of the last problem.  I felt half and half as we sat there waiting.  Part of me wanted the moment to last longer and the other half couldn't wait to get going.  The crux on the last boulder problem was low off the gound.  The balancey sequence was tricky.  I tried over and over for what seemed eternal.  I had 2 solutions playing in mind.  Both seemed possible and so I stuck with them.  My mind solidly committed to these two options.  I failed to keep my mind open for a third.  I kept falling and falling.  I was trapped, the time ticked faster, it was like slipping into quicksand.  The final buzzer sounded the last of my attempts.  I did what I could and in the end 3 of 4 problems  was on the scorecard.  Next, there's only the wait.  There wasn't a clear winner up to the last boulder problem.  The match was too close to call until the last climber was done.  Danny Ho finished the last problem a minute past the final buzzer.  His last attempt, a quick jump for the slopey crux volume, almost not sticking it.  It was the same way I pictured it, the 2nd option I had in mind was executed nicely.  Watching Ron Chow soon after my attempts and prior to Danny's attempt however was the one option I  shut out.  It's not a move I'd regularly do but it was the perfect solution to the trick.  The heel rock to a balancey, slow, torso twisting, two hand catch of the crux  was the best solution I've seen.  The last problem decided the outcome.

A thrid place podium finish.  I found myself sharing the podium with two of Hong Kong's new young guns!   In previous years the title of champion was held by Lai Chi Wai.  It is unfortunate that Chi Wai didn't make the games this year.  The motor vehicle accident he had a few months back left his lower extremities feeling numb to any sensation.  In all that he looks positive and I'm happy he still visited the competition venue.  His spirit remains strong and he's on the road to recovery.  

Chopsticks, tea, beer, a sweet reunion, new friends and a short trip to Beacon Hill ! Sounds good for the perfect ending ! Until next time . . .

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