Singapore Adventure

Monday, September 12, 2005

by venitha

Late Saturday afternoon, we huddled beneath umbrellas and splashed through puddles past a surprising number of rent-by-the-hour hotels. In Singapore? Who knew? These, however, were not our destination, and neither was the Fatty Weng Restaurant, though its name and its seemingly appropriate neighbor provided Jim with as many bad jokes as the hotels did. With relief, I was rescued from both the rain and Jim's adolescent sense of humor by our arrival at our destination: the Singapore Badminton Hall and the semi-finals of the Cheers Asian Satellite Badminton Championships.

This is decidedly not your backyard lawn variety of . Birdies are smashed with amazing force and shoot like bullets across the net to be intercepted and deflected in the blink of an eye, Wonder Woman-style, on the other side. Long volleys are played out with such shocking speed and skill that they're almost hard to follow, until an unexpectedly sudden and disconcerting shift in tempo leaves the birdie drifting in a slow short dink that just barely crosses the net or in a high arcing slow motion lob that out of nowhere loses its lackluster momentum and plunges like a rock to the court. Such jarring speed shifts leave me feeling like I'm trapped in the Matrix; I almost expect the angle of our viewpoint to shift and the players to start performing super-human flips and jumps.

In spite of its air conditioning, the badminton hall is easily the warmest public building we've been in in Singapore, and the athletes practically swim in sweat. They regularly mop their faces with their hands and flick fingers full of moisture beyond the boundaries of the court. Breaks are taken to allow them to sponge their faces, necks, hair, arms with towels: demure hand towels for the glowing ladies, enormous over-sized bath towels for the oozing men. Line judges double as court moppers, rushing out during frequent breaks to swab fat splatters of precipitation from the floor.

Mesmerizing as the badminton is, it doesn't keep us from noticing that we are the only Caucasians in attendance and from feeling conspicuously uncomfortable for the first time in quite a while as the complete and utter minority we are. An international sports event is an odd and unexpected place for such a reminder; there are players, coaches, and undoubtedly fans from many different countries. As the name of the competition suggests, however, all these countries are Asian, and just because I can now easily identify them all on a map does not mean that I fit in. Thankfully, however, there are at least two ways in which I am just one of the crowd: I have a passion for sport and a happy enthusiasm in cheering on Singapore.

Other athletic events that are definitely in our future while in Singapore: ping pong and rugby. Anything else we should add to this list? Snow City notwithstanding, I imagine the odds of a short track speed skating competition coming to Singapore are abysmally slim.