General

They Smiled as they Sweated

My Dear Rotarians and Friends, in particular my Action Presidents,

I returned home from dinner last night and by reflex flipped the remote control through the network channels. Gosh, the Olympic Games were over. There were no more live broadcasts, commentaries, flashbacks, announcements and results. Somehow, I felt lost. Already, the withdrawal symptoms, the post Olympics depression, had set in. I tried other channels, but there was not much to watch either. HBO was finishing off Harrison Ford, which was followed by Psycho, not really suitable for Rotarians; two channels were doing some live performance by soldiers; while one decided to show us how the tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma in May 1999.

I would not say I am a sports enthusiast, but the Olympics aren’t daily fare either. No wonder my friend who teaches German refused to take classes in the past two weeks. Her students invariably were told she was too busy. Apart from the fact that it takes more than a few years for a host city to prepare for the Games, there is probably wisdom in not giving people the good stuff too frequently. For example, biennial conventions could be more popular than annual conventions. Maybe or maybe not.

Without doubt, Sydney had put up a good show; and it doesn’t take Samaranch to tell us. I still remember the flak attracted by the gigantic and oversized coke bottle near the main entrance of the last venue. The entire event was too commercialized, but neither the sponsors nor the city, nor the Committee was happy or laughing off to the bank. I don’t know what happened this time, but everyone has been heaping praises all over the place, and someone even openly suggested that Sydney should be asked to host all future Games.

There is something for everybody during the 16 days the Games were on. I wonder what the schools were doing these days. The Games would have provided salient, pertinent and relevant teaching points through the joyous and poignant moments of victories and defeats, the surprises and unexpected twists, and the realization that the race is not always to the fast. From the moment Cathy Freeman carried the torch with the baggage of a nation, or was it two, to the singing of Nikki Webster at the Closing with all sorts of symbolism, there must be boundless and countless moments that would capture the individual person, community or nation.

I hope everyone learn something from the Games. I hope all nations and the world learn from the experience. For the 10,000, or was it 12,000 athletes, life would never be the same. For that matter, think of the people of Sydney, the volunteers, regardless of whether they got the free tickets for the Closing, and all those involved in putting the Games together, directly or indirectly, over the past seven years. The mind boggles. I was trail walking with my friend and we were searching for an English translation for the oft-repeated term used by Chinese gold medallists to describe their state of mind during the finals. Obviously, it is a very much Chinese or Eastern concept with no direct Western equivalent. It would be a combination of peace of mind, of knowing the limits of oneself but still pushing, of trying one’s best but without trying to win, of excelling one’s best without knowing and much more. It reminds me of the Olympics Anthem by Bernstein in which the lyrics talked of the athletes competing and fighting to win as friends. Somehow, I cannot help thinking that the Ideals of Olympics embody our Ideals of Service. Perhaps, we should develop a culture that encourages members to fight to win, but as friends.

While nursing our post Olympics depression last night, Rosita and I were actually worried that Jon Brown might hit the wall or face some dramatic and unexpected calamity, as alluded to by the commentators, for the camera did not show him coming back or indicate that he completed the Marathon. We were relieved to read from today’s papers that he did come fourth, just over a minute after the winner. The commentators took some time to find out that this Britain, a hitherto unknown character, was 29 and a journalist, but they predicted that name and the fashion he made it would probably be remembered for a long time, and quite rightly so.

Closer to home, we had the first ever District Swimming Gala on Sunday, 24 September, in the heat of the Summer Olympics. I said at the Opening that the seriousness, the competitiveness and the professionalism of the people involved, and the spectacle the events would command would be no less than what one would expect to find at the Olympics; and sure it was. It was a rather hot and sunny day. We had a big crowd of over 400, comprising at least half of spouse and children. It is a very respectable attendance figure by any standard. Full marks to District Sports Convenor, Past President Tony Kan (Shatin) and the hard working members of the Rotary clubs of Tai Po and Kowloon Northeast. One should look at the proud and exciting parents as their six and seven years old kids got ready to plunge into the pool. This is parenthood at work. They were all sweating from the sweltering summer heat, and their shirts or blouses were as if they had just come out of the pool, but they were all smiling from the heart.

There must be a moral in this. Given that Tony Kan displayed considerable leadership in the process and given that the Committee and the two Rotary clubs worked flat out to put together the Swimming Gala, it is a tremendous feat to bring over 400 people to Ma On Shan on a hot Sunday afternoon. The question is what the Committee had touched. The answer is simple. They designed a program to attract the spouse and children of Rotarians. Maybe that explains why District Tree Planting are always well attended, even though it invariably rains. Maybe we should from now on plan more activities for families.

Talk to you soon.

John Wan

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