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Saturday, June 7, 2008

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Anyone for a game of curling?


Here we stand, on the lip of the frying pan that is Japanese summer, with the humidity soon to be so thick that people will dog paddle to work instead of walk.

So I figure this is the perfect time to talk about . . . curling.

Yes, curling! That, um, sport that has been racking up TV time since the winter Olympics two years back. Japanese viewers have been intrigued with their female team, with male viewers perhaps intrigued most by the team members.

"Hot girls on ice!" An event tailor-made for the late-night sports shows.

Yet, pretty curls are not the only attraction of the female curlers. These girls are medal-quality competitors and the attention-starved Japanese sporting world has taken note.

But wait! The Chinese girls can also deliver the rock, so well in fact that they nearly won the international curling championship in British Columbia this past March.

What's going on here? How have Asian lasses come to slide by curling juggernauts like Scotland and Switzerland? Might we be witnessing the start of a curling revolution?

To find out more, I consulted a friend of mine, Toru, a long-time resident of the Great White North that is Canada. Canada too has sprung from spring into summer, but Toru remains impressed by the broom strokes of the Asian curling squads in British Columbia. Here are his comments . . .

* * * Dear Tom,

I must confess my living in Canada for many years has not sufficiently enlightened me to appreciate the pure joy and the intricacy of curling, which — for some reason — is considered a sport.

But in light of its popularity in Canada and abroad — and now too in Japan — it must have some redeemable value. I have even tried it myself. Yet, I find it as exciting as a visit to the dentist. At least with the dentist, your mouth feels fresh when you're done. You also receive the aesthetic benefits of being in close quarters with his (usually) cute assistant.

Curling, however, leaves me with nothing but a dry mouth. Which makes an apres-curling cold beer of a Canadian variety particularly tasteful. In my experience, Canadian beer makes curling more enjoyable, as such beer has more "kick" than brews in America or Japan, which, I consider little more than "horse p-ss."

So, beer may be the main source of curling endearment among the Canadians and those Europeans living closer to the North Pole. Coincidentally or not, all those countries make excellent brews.

Having said that, I at last have come to realize that curling requires a complicated strategy, akin to chess or Japanese shogi. It involves much more than just throwing a piece of "rock" into the center of the bull's eye on a shiny sheet of ice. You have to anticipate your opponent's moves way ahead.

In fact, curling is more difficult than chess. Just look at the main element of the game, the curling rock. It is far heavier than any pawn or rook. Go ahead. Try to lift it with your fingers. And good luck.

And, yes, the Japanese women have made an international impact in this, um, sport. Team Japan did exceptionally well in this year's women's world championship and the Chinese girls did even better.

Both teams are upstarts compared with a traditional curling powerhouse such as Canada. The Asian teams are also comprised of ladies much younger (and, I might add, more appealing) than the traditional North American and European squads. Their fresh presence was much appreciated by the curling-savvy Canadian spectators. Perhaps this will help attract new blood to the curling ice here in Canada and elsewhere. We all hope so.

It was also interesting to view the reaction of the Canadian team after losing to China. The Canadians appeared miffed at the impromptu celebration of the Chinese women, its leader — or "skip" as it is called in a curling — a mere 23 years old. "The only thing a girl that young should be curling is her hair" was perhaps their thinking.

But why not celebrate? After all, China beat the often-time world champions — twice! Canada still won the title, though they lost those two matches to China and needed a come-from-behind, overtime victory over Japan to end up on top.

I suppose the Canadian curlers did not expect to see such jubilation from so-called inscrutable Orientals. It made losing to them understandably worse.

Anyway, Tom, it's never too early to prepare for the next winter of curling. You should look into a local gym for weightlifting. Remember, those rocks are heavy. Also, it's a team sport. You'll need some friends willing to slip about the ice with you and endure it all until a much-needed break for beer. So, I'd ask around now . . .

"Curling, anyone?" Sincerely, Toru Uno

Hmm. I am not sure if I am up to this, um, sport. But as summer builds, I am sure I will need the ice. And the beer. No matter the horse it comes from.



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