Hsinchu’s version of inter-varsity games proves a whole lot more vulgar and entertaining than what Singapore is used to. In Singapore, we’re raised to be good sports – to take defeat on the chin and offer a hearty congratulatory handshake to the opposing team regardless of how humiliating the loss. I remember being told, as part of a primary school cheer squad on sports day, that we were not, under any circumstances, to jeer at any opposing houses. Because ‘the journey matters more than the destination’, they exhorted, drumming morally upright axioms that would stick with impressionable young minds. Winning, despite it’s resultant glory, was apparently ‘not everything’. So it was with no small amount of glee that I discovered, during Meizhu season at National Chiao Tung University, that all facades of fair play and sportsmanship were relegated unceremoniously to the sidelines when the Meizhu Games rolled around.
The Meizhu games, a sports tournament important enough to warrant it’s own wikipedia page, is an annual competition between our run-down-but-very-dear NCTU and it’s neighbouring Qing Hua University. Meizhu was 43 years in the making, and old rivalries ran high. NCTU had an unbeaten run over the past few years’ tournaments and was eager to add another one to it’s belt. And unlike Qinghua, which had the nicer campus, better academic track record and prettier students, NCTU had nothing much to boast of besides their past Meizhu triumphs and a large collection of engineers in a highly concentrated setting. The year was also Qinghua’s 100th anniversary, and NCTU badly wanted to deny them any additional glory. For the predominantly engineering college, the coming of Meizhu in late February was like tickling a sleeping dragon. Flags and banners were erected at every conceivable empty space. The school gym, as Edwin reported one day upon returning from it, was chock-full of athletes pumping overtime and presumably chugging protein shakes like it was going out of style. The Meizhu central committee worked overtime coordinating performances, organising events and selling merchandise (which I bought into, hook line and sinker, like the Singaporean hoarder I am), sparing no effort to rouse school spirit. Not that much rousing was needed. A student publication circulated every year specially for Meizhu featured photos from last year’s clash, with delightfully uncouth banners championing physical violence against the opposing team. 打死野狗！(Beat the dogs to death!) It was delightful and refreshing. And in a startling display of school solidarity, hundreds of students queued overnight for tickets to the basketball and badminton tournaments, the most popular sports there. How then could we, the Singaporean contingent, fail to be moved by excitement of such a large scale? Although not motivated enough to spend the night queuing for tickets, we secured seats next to the specially trained NCTU cheering contingent for a highly charged table-tennis battle. For the better part of two hours we engaged in an emotive cheer-off with the purple-and-silver-clad Qinghua supporters on the opposite gallery, insulting everything from their lackluster playing ability to their sheer cowardice. To undermine them further, NCTU handed out banners that likened the other side to excrement and dead men. (One of the banners would later adorn the wall of my room in The Mansion.) To their credit, they gave as good as they got, although half the insults delivered in rapid fire Chinese flew over my head. It was awesome, to be so invested in this school which wasn’t even our own; I’d never seen the usually placid Kenny invest so much energy into anything but the pursuit of tasty food. NCTU lost the table tennis match we cheered so hard for that day, but clinched overall tournament victory the next day in the midst of a baseball match which did not have to be played to it’s completion, so great was the difference in score by the time it was midway through. It was to be the greatest showing of school pride I would witness throughout my entire time in Taiwan. 交大加油！