Archive for June, 2009

a few pictures from the weekend

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

It got the boats there, but the leased car we have here just doesn’t compare to Ted’s faithful H2:
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Here’s the venue. The boathouse is impressive to – four floors including offices and dorm rooms. And flush toilets! (Though all but the handicapped one are squat-types.)
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Ted during his race and me bfore mine:

Ted after his first race – this should show how hot it was!
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And a not-so-little guy we found hanging out by the boats:
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Ilan regatta report

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

The short version:

By invitation, we participated yesterday in the Taiwan National Team Selection regatta. Ted came in first in his final; I came in third in mine. The other competitors were about half our age, the elite Taiwan rowers, who train at least twice every day and live at the boathouse in summer. If you want to stay impressed, stop reading now.

The full version:

Moving boats is a lot more difficult when you’re not using a system you’ve finetuned over the years. It went fairly smoothly, though, as we were able to settle on fairly simple methods. We put the rack on the car Wednesday night, loaded up Ted’s boat (which had been staying in our company warehouse) Thursday night, loaded my boat and headed out to Ilan Friday morning with our usual overpacked car. (More overpacked than usual, in fact; we had to take two computers because we had both had to work from the hotel, and we took extra food since we didn’t know what would be available.)

After unloading the boats by the Dongshan River boathouse (where the national team trains) we had our first adventure of the weekend, when we found ourselves with no idea where our hotel was. It wasn’t the one near the boathouse that we’d thought it might be, and our GPS refused to recognize either the hotel name or the name of the street it was on. I tried calling, but no one at the hotel spoke English well enough to give us directions. So we threw ourselves on the legendary Taiwanese kindness: we went into the nearby hotel and asked for directions. They couldn’t give us those either, but they called our hotel, who sent someone out on a scooter to show us the way there. Only in Taiwan.

Our hotel turned out to be ten minutes’ drive from the park where the boathouse is; we actually had anice view of the boathouse from our balcony and it would have been ten minutes walk but for the water in the way. They’d clearly called in a skilled designer in setting up the hotel; beautiful landscaping and interesting layer – each room had a balcony and bathroom on the outside of the room, with sliding glass doors and curtains for both, to let lots of light in during the day. My only complaint was that all lighting in the room was indirect and it was a bit dark at night.

Because we were grateful and because a buffet seemed like a good pre-race dinner idea, we went back to the much fancier hotel for dinner. I think it was meant to be a Mediterranean restaurant – a very Chinese view of Mediterranean food! It was pretty good, though, and buffet for two people for about $30 is a deal any rower would take.

We weren’t sure when our races were, but fortunately Coach Lin called to tell us Ted was in the first race, at 8:00. It was only after we got there that we learned that this was a National Selection regatta. We also learned that the two-day race was being compressed into one day because of an expected typhoon Sunday (it ended up swerving into the China Strait instead). We’d been told about it by Henry, a high-school rowing coach here in Taipei, who had only said it was a “regatta for adults”. Most of the other competitors are college-aged. One woman we’d met before had been an Olympic hopeful last year; we have a hunch one of the guys in Ted’s race was Wang Ming-Hui, who competed n the Athens and Beijing Olympics (he came in 23/31 in Beijing). The competition was tough, and the humid heat was hard on us; Ted came in 4th of 4 in his heat, close in the pack. He then advanced to a repechage where he was 2nd of 2; since 2 other rowers in that race wimped out and did not start. In the Final B, Ted came in first, way ahead of the other guy. He was happy about that, given the combination of circumstances: heat to which we’re not as acclimatized as the Taiwanese rowers, three races in one day; 2000 meter races, twice the distance that masters rowers usually race, being twice as old as most of the competitors, and most of all, not having been in a racing single since our last race in Taipei.

I was even more out of practice, not having been in a boat at all since the Taipei race (dragonboating is a whole different skill). Also, I was rowing in Ted’s boat, since my boat here isn’t a racing one; fortunately we finally seem to have figured out how to adjust it so it’s not too bad for me. Luckily for me, there are far fewer women racing than men; there were only two other rowers in my race, meaning it was a Final and we only had to race once. I came in third, not surprisingly, the rower who was first was the Olympic hopeful, and I lost sight of her early on except as a distant blur in my mirror. The other woman had a terrible start and I was ahead for a bit, but she pulled in front by the 500 meter mark. According to Ted I at least finished closer to her than she did to the winner!

After our race, we found a place for our boats in the boathouse there; we hope they will sustain less damage than in the park in Taipei, where they get moved (and dented) every time a typhoon rolls in. Even though it’s more than an hour away, we’re also hoping to be able to row more often, since the dock facilities there are great and conditions are more sheltered.

At night we went to the Su-ao port area for dinner. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find parking near the restaurant the hotel recommended to us, so we ended up eating at another place. There was no menu; they just took us outside and had us point to the (raw or live) fish we wanted. It tasted all right, but we probably won’t be going back soon as Ted was queasy all night (of course, three races in extremely hot and humid weather could possibly also have had something to do with it.)

In the morning, we got up, had breakfast at the hotel, and got home by 10:30AM. That was a treat – living in Arizona, a race out of town always meant a drive home of at least six hours – even more fun when you have a two-day race and have to drive home after racing, to get to work the next day. Sometimes it’s nice being on a small island!

“do Americans drink Coke too?”

Monday, June 15th, 2009

On Saturday I had a haircut scheduled, so we decided to have dinner at the excellent Japanese place down the street from the salon. Oops. Fortunately we’d eaten early, a combination lunch/dinner, because it was only as we walked into our building’s lobby that we remembered there was a party/dinner for all residents that we’d promised to attend. Oops. So we had to eat a second dinner from the buffet there, or at least enough to be polite. Fortunately, sushi is one of those foods that wears off quickly.

We spent most of the time talking to the family who own the apartment we rent – Karen, the mother, speaks excellent English. They have an adorable daughter, maybe 9 or 10, and I don’t think she had met any Americans to speak to before. Her questions (with her mom translating)included:
– whether we liked Coke (we were drinking it at the time)
– whether we also get hiccups when we drink Coke too fast
– whether we dye our hair these color (for the record: no. I pulled up my bangs and showed her the same-color roots.)

Then she wanted to arm-wrestle me. 🙂 For being a kid a head shorter than I am, she’s strong! I had to use some muscle to win.

So that was Saturday’s fun.

Sunday morning, wegot to Costco at 11, instead of 10 as we’d planned and actually ended up leavin gin frustration at not being able to find any parking spaces. Sunday afternoon was better: I went to get a fitting for a dress I’m having made (for me! To actually fit right!). Predictably, it was too small in the armholes and a little in the stomach, but those can be fixed; that’s what fittings are for. I also brought in a pair of pants whose lining had ripped; the tailor determined that they could just be repaired instead of needing a new lining and she fixed them by hand for me, for free.

Since that didn’t take much time and I didn’t have to rush home, I decided to walk around a bit. As I was passing one of the storefront foot-masseage place, a woman asked me, “Massage-ee?” I demurred, walked on, then thought to myself, “Are you insane? You have the time for once, and a decent place to try,” and went back. It wasn’t a fancy spa, just one of ones that are common here with lots of chairs with ottomans (all covered in bright green vinyl) where you see people getting foot massages. Also, it was right by a hotel catering to foreigners, so I knew they’d be used to dealing with clueless first-timers.

It turned out they did more than just feet; they offered me a full-body massage for $1000NT for anhour (about $30US, probably on the expensive side here courtesy of the nearby hotel). The young male masseur began by having me sit in a chair while he worked on my shoulders. Massage here mostly seems to be shiatsu style – for this part he found the sore spots and then applied lots of pressure.

Next, he handed me some floppy long shorts to put on under my dress for coverage, then led me to the foot massage area. That was my favorite part, the foot/calf massage. The funniest thing was that the lotion came from a Vidal Sasson conitioner squirt bottle. (I presume it was lotion and that he was just reusing the bottle, rather than applying conditioner to my legs!) He finished by wrapping my feet and legs in hot towels for a few minutes, then playing percussion on my legs and soles. (Seriously. The man could have been a drummer.)

Finally he led me into the back room, had me lay on a massage table, covered me (still fully dressed) with towels, and proceeded to apply lots of pressure to various part of my back. (The other thing that puzzles me, considering how fine-boned many people here are, is why there aren’t a lot of broken ribs that way.) He also stretched out my hip joints nicely. I’m not entirely convinced that so much pressure right over the kidneys is a good idea, and my throat’s a little sore on one side today (drained lymph glands?) but I’m definitely feeling nicely loosened up. Next I need to try the new Thai traditional massage place in my neighborhood.

We have a regatta coming up this weekend, and it might not have been the best idea to get deep-tissue massage so close to it, but oh well.

My eyes are doing fairly well. I don’t have to wear safety glasses inside any more and can wash my face normally now, but I’m still using three kinds of eyedrops and still have a few more follow-up visits. I can tell they get tired more quickly still and are still a little more sensitive than normal, but I can see well, including enough near vision to do lace or sock-knitting without glasses. (I do feel a little eyestrain focusing on the socks in that car, and am going easy on that for now.) Friday Ted took the day off and I drove to and from work with no problem, even after it got dark on the way hoe. So far, so good.

Elfsteden Roeimarathon

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

With a little effort I was able to schedule my last business trip to the Netherlands when it allowed me to row the Elfsteden Roeimarathon. This race is a race that covers approximately 200 km and goes through each of the 11 cities within the Netherlands province of Friesland. It takes 18-24 hours to complete. The Elfsteden race is most famous not for rowing, but for ice skating. During the winter all the water ways along this path can freeze under very cold conditions; when this happens the Dutch initiate the Elfsteden ice skating race, which is not only a race but a truly Dutch cultural event. The last time it was cold enough to run this race was in 1997.

The rowing version of the race is done in Class C Doubles with coxswain (stuurman, in Dutch). They are larger than a racing double and much heaver. Since some of the waterways have large boats that produce big wakes and there can be some rough water the boats need to be modified. The modifications include creating stern and bow decking, adding a very large splash-guard, mounting a GPS for navigation, adding electric pumps for bailing, and inserting extra floatation compartments and wave protectors over the riggers. The most important addition is mounting the traditional oil-burning lamp on the bow and stern. All of these alterations were made the week before the race but had to be installed at the race site on the day of the event since the boat modifications could not survive the trailer trip to the race.

Boat Preparation
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There is a huge amount of organization required to prepare for this race. First, the race course itself is very long and complicated. In the Netherlands the canals and waterways form an extensive network and are nearly as common as streets; thus, you really need to have a good set of directions to prevent getting lost (on our legs we took 2 wrong turns). The race package provides an extensive set of maps and way-points that needed to be programmed in the GPSs used in the boats. In addition these points had to be programmed into the GPSs used in the chase cars so the spare rowers could find the locations to change crews. Since this is a very long race lasting nearly 24 hours people needed a place to sleep, so a convenient “campsite” was found. Camping in the Netherlands is a lot different than I am used to in rural Oregon. In the Netherlands you sleep in a nicely manicured field in the middle of a working farm, with a portion of the barn converted into a bathroom with showers, and a nice patio for cooking and sharing meals together. Since we had 27 people the preparations for the campsite were rather extensive, requiring 6 tents and lots of food. The most difficult coordination was of the cars and people. First we had to get all the people and equipment from Eindhoven to the race, about a 3 hour drive. In the Netherlands this is more complicated than I am used to – the cars are smaller and many people do not have cars, plus 3 hours is considered a long trip. Once everyone is at the race we needed a chase car and a campsite car for each team, each equipped with the preprogramed GPS, food, and drinks.

With the plans in place, we began the actual execution starting at 8:00 AM in Eindhoven. For the race preparations all the people were divided in 2 groups. Group 1 departed first, traveled with the boats to the race course and mounted all the modifications on both boats (I was in this group). Group 2 left a little later with all the camping gear and set up the campsite. Once the campsite was set up, they joined us at the race site; unfortunately they had all the food and we had to wait a few hours for them to arrive. With the full group of 24 rowers assembled we had a big pasta dinner next to the boats and canal. At the appropriate time 2 rowers and a cox for each of the 2 Beatrix crews launched for a leisurely 5k warm up row to the start. The rest of us drove to watch the start – even this simple drive highlighted how important the GPS was because none of the people in my car knew where the start was. All 94 boats were log-jammed in the small start area. At 8:00 PM the boats were started one by one at about 30 second intervals. Each team of 12 was divided into 4 crews of 3 (A-D). Each individual crew of 3 would row approximately 10 km (about 40-60 minutes) then change out with another crew. The intended sequence was: A,B,A,B,A,B > C,D,C,D,C,D > A,B,A,B,A,B > C,D,C,D,C,D. For example, the starting crew A raced while crew B was in a car frantically driving through Friesland trying to find the next exchange point. In the beginning this dash between exchange points was more like a convoy since the crews were closely grouped, but by the end we were on your own. While crews A&B were rowing crews C&D were at the campsite and trying to get some sleep.

Rowing
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I was in crew D so after the start of the race we went to the campsite and tried to get settled. Since it was still relatively early and still light I got very little sleep. At around 11:00 PM, we had to get up and drive to the exchange point. Some people on our team slept well and were not so eager to get up delaying our departure. It was very strange being crammed into a car with mostly strangers, driving through the very dark countryside, toward some way-point on a GPS. Upon arrival at an extremely dark, remote patch of weeds under a brilliant starry sky, we waited with a number of other crazy people for our crew to arrive. This was actually a lot like pit crew in a NASCAR race. The more experienced crews had long poles holding unique combinations of lights, or actually internally lit signs to show their crews where to pull in (we had to shout since we did not have a sign). As the crews arrived the pit crews had large poles with hooks to help pull the boats in and the crew members were exchanged. The more experienced crews had very long poles, pulled in very accurately, and exchanged crews quickly. Being less experienced we had to chase our bout down the cannel a few meters, the exiting crew did not know you had to let the oars go parallel to the boat to so they had difficulty pulling in far enough, and we were cumbersome during the rower exchange (with more practice we got quicker). When I finally got my chance to start rowing around 1:00 am it was truly peaceful, even though we were rowing very hard. The water was glass, there was no wind, no sound other than that of the boat; and the only lights were far-off oil lamps behind us, a small glow from the GPS on the coxswains face, and the beautiful sky speckled with stars. All of our nighttime rows were like this and for some reason not being able to see much made the time go by much quicker. During the last segment of our first rowing shift we watched the sun rise while we rowed across a glassy lake. Our shift ended around 6:00 am and we headed back to the camp site to try to get some sleep

Crew Exchange
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At the campsite I tried to get some sleep but it was difficult since it was very bright day and it was very warm by Dutch standards. So after maybe 1.5 hours of sleep we raced to the exchange point to start another 6 hour adventure, 3 hours rowing & 3 hours of driving. The weather was absolutely awesome for rowing: clear, sunny, and absolutely no wind, which is unheard of in an area covered in power-generating wind mills. The problem with this was that it brought out all the pleasure boats, which produced big wakes that were amplified in the small hard sided canals. Even with this, only about two different stretches, of 2K each, were uncomfortable to row in. Our team decided to change the order of the C & D crews for the last group so after our last segment we rushed to the finish line to watch our team finish 28th out of 94 in 18 hours and 30+ minutes. As with any rowing regatta the race had finished but the work was not done. We had to remove all the modifications and load the boats on to the trailer.

The race organizers had a lot of very unique touches at the post race festivities. They provided each crew with unique Friesland desserts composed of a graham cracker-like base, whipped cream, and chocolate (as with many Dutch deserts it had the slight black licorice flavoring). The post-race meal was a classic Dutch winter meal (I guess since this race commemorates a winter event) of stampot with sausage or sauerkraut, and vla (similar to pudding). They gave each participant a Maltese cross-shaped medal just like those in the ice skating race, and for the winners of each event the medal came with a lanyard in the very uniquely designed Friesland flag.

At the Finish
post-race pastry medal

That night despite being very tired, we all hung around the campsite talking for hours. This was an absolutely wonderful experience with great rowing, true camaraderie, awesome weather, and a fabulous Dutch cultural experience.

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I found Friesland noticeably different from the rest of the Netherlands. It appeared to be even flatter then the rest of the country, even though I know that this is not physically possible. I suspect that this is because it is less populated and there is noticeably less tall vegetation. It was amazingly green with numerous very small quaint villages.

Each boat had a tracking device on it that was used to show our exact position and speed on a web site. Paula was able to track our progress and speed real-time from Taiwan, and since I rowed in the middle of the night the time change worked in our favor. At the beginning of the race we were actually able to use the live video cam on the race web site so she could see me while I talked to her on the phone.

Unfortunately I forgot to pack my camera so all pictures here were taken by other members of the team.

checking in

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Ted is promising to write up his Elfstedentocht race this weekend. (Short version: he had a great time and they did really well.)

Yesterday, we picked up some tailor-made shirts – four each, for all of $100US. It is very exciting to have shirts that are not too small in the armpits or the forearms, no matter how many weights we have lifted in that week – and doubly so to have them for cheaper than store-bought would cost. And they fit!

I was so excited I asked them to make me a dress, a very plain one in a very lightweight wool that I hope I will be able to wear forever. And I’ll be able to raise my arms! (No, they aren’t very big. That’s sort of the point – lift weights a few times and clothing designers all think you don’t exist.)

Tomorrow I am going in for LASIK. I’m nervous, of course, but this place comes highly recommended and Taiwanese medicine seems to keep a very high standard. I’m supposed to keep my eyes closed as much as possible this weekend (I’m downloading audiobooks tonight!) so if there are updates this weekend they’ll definitely be from Ted.