With so many competitions under my belt this season, it seems funny to be writing about my first ones. In a normal year, the first competition is lackluster and just a chance to see where you are in your training cycle. However, as I have said time and time again, this is no ordinary year.
As a member of the National Team, I was invited to compete in one World Cup Circuit ( click here to learn more about the circuits ). The one that best fit in with my training schedule was the trip to Tokyo, Japan and Doha, Qatar in late October, early November. All of the events are swum in a two-day trials and finals session at one site. Then athletes are given one day to travel and one day to adjust before the second meet begins. Cash prizes are awarded to the winners of individual events, as well as the top performer, for the cluster of meets. The best part about the meet is twofold. First, the athletes tend to be professional swimmers and so the meets are incredibly fast (those that are not pros who join the circuit are also very talented swimmers). During the Short Course meets, it is not uncommon to have a world record or two broken in a session. Second, everyone travels together. For the most part all athletes stay together in the same hotel, travel on the same flights to the next location, which allows for camaraderie between athletes of different countries.
Given that our first stop was Tokyo, we were given an extra day on the front half of the meet to acclimate to the time difference. At other international meets, which fall at the end of a season, it is frowned upon to go site seeing in order to conserve energy. However, at these meets almost everyone at the meet tries to get out of the hotel to see a little of their surroundings. Our first outing was to a temple, Sensō Ji, which is the oldest temple in Tokyo. There are many small stands before the entrance to the temple where people can buy offerings, such as incense and candles, or goods to eat. We were unable to withdraw cash before our adventure, which supposedly is a common problem for tourists, and were unable to buy any of the items, which were all cash only.
The following day we also did not have to race and went to the Tsukiji Shijo fish market for a fresh sushi lunch. This is a wholesale market that is famous for its tuna auctions, but in order to see the action you have to arrive before 5am. We agreed that, while it would be a fun experience, waking up that early might not be in our best interest. Below are all of the images from the market as well as my fresh made sushi platter. The market is currently moving to a new site, and apparently according to Food and Wine the old market will be used for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Of course, site-seeing is all fine and dandy, but we were there mainly to compete. The meet was so well organized that during the first morning session we actually ran ahead of schedule. I surprised myself with a personal best time in my first swim of the meet. I was able to final in a both of my butterfly races and swim a very decent 400 IM. It was a very promising start to my long course season.
At the end of the meet there were two general options for travel to Doha. The first option left right after the end of the meet to head to Frankfurt and then onto Doha, whereas the second option left the following evening and was a direct flight to Doha. The major catch with the second flight is that you arrived at 4:40 in the morning, with only one day and a half before the meet started. That being said, I thought that one long flight would be easier on my body than two long ones and opted to stay in Tokyo one last night.
After the meet, those of us who stayed took the famous Toyko metro, which really is not as complicated as it appears, to Shibuya. Shibuya is the largest pedestrian crossing in the world and has been featured in many movies, such as Lost in Translation and The Fast and the Furious. Since it was Halloween eve I took a photo with the Disney Princesses and after walking through the district took a cab back to our hotel. I was absolutely exhausted after the day’s competition!
Even though we went on excursions the first two days in Tokyo, I still didn’t feel like I understand the city and with one full day left in Tokyo I decided after my loosen swim to make the most of it. In order to get a better comprehension on the cultural tendencies that produced such an amazing city, I visited the Edo Tokyo Museum on my last day in Tokyo. The museum traces the history of the city Edo from its founding (16th century), transformation into the capital city (1603), and then into the transformation into the Tokyo that it is today. Normally I would write a brief summary of each photo included below. However, instead I am going to summarize a few of the features that I found particularly interesting and leave the link to the museum website where there is an interactive feature of each part of the exhibit for those that are interested.
The Portuguese first arrived in Japan in 1543. Through this initial contact, trade with the far east expanded. For example, Biombos, which are Japanese screens, or room dividers, were soon found in all parts of the Lusitanian empire. There are even examples of Japanese artists making Biombos in and of Mexico City that were later sent to Madrid, Spain, after the ban of Christian traders on the islands. Other examples of Namban art (that of Japanese influence) finds its way into inventories throughout Spain, including that of Las Descalzas Reales in Madrid. Therefore, I found this entire period fascinating for explaining different cultural aspects that I had not previously examined.
The next porcino of the museum that caught my attention was the various representations of firemen, the earliest dating from the 16th century. Today Tokyo is bursting with inhabitants, many of whom live in what Americans would call tight quarters. I, erroneously, believed that this was a modern invention, something that occurred only in the last quarter century. However, as the models of homes in Edo prove, there has always been a propensity for living in small quarters. These tightly packed wooden homes also lead to higher probabilities of firmes, which plagued the city, and therefore, led to their depiction in cultural objects.
I was also struck by the religious status and representations of processions, given my interest in Spanish religious rituals and demonstrations of belief. Although there are many many diferences in their religious beliefs, there is at their core, a common thread in the manifestation of ritualistic sites found in Japan and pilgrimage shrines found in Spain. Not to mention, this monumental sculpture likens to a carro that would have been carried through a Holy Week Procession.
Finally, the last portion of the museum dealt with the 20th and 21st century changes that have occurred. It was a sobering tribute to the people who fought in the Second World War. Wandering through the display, I felt as if my previous history courses had not done justice in explaining all sides of the war. We focused on Hitler and Nazism and the destruction and loss in Europe, but grazed over the effects in Japan. To be quite honest, the only reference given was the destruction at Pearl Harbor. I am glad that I was able to see this exhibit and reflect upon my own cultural biases that have led to gaps in my historical knowledge. To its credit, Tokyo rose from the ashes of the many bombs and fires, to host the 1964 Olympic Games, (it almost feels like I’m trying to make it the theme of the year).
After my tour of the museum, I had a chance to unwind in their traditional tea garden with a cup of green tea and mochi, which was far superior to the Trader’s Joe’s version that I loved as a small child. I am so thankful that I was able to spend one extra day in Tokyo and visit this museum because I feel like I have somewhat of a grasp on the culture and environment that produced this spectacular city. I cannot wait to go back and visit again in the near future.
After a fruitful day, I headed back to our hotel where we gathered our things and boarded a flight to Doha. We landed over an hour early (3:45 am) and were accidentally taken to the wrong hotel. Thankfully, I was not in charge of any of the logistics and therefore did not have to worry about getting to the right hotel. Once we arrived, it was closer to 6 am and I decided to stay up and adjust properly to the new time zone. Therefore, when the afternoon hit I was utterly exhausted and missed the trip with the junior team on the boat. From all the stories and photos it appears that everyone had a fabulous time, but I must admit I really enjoyed that nap.
Since I traveled last year to Doha for the Short Course World Championships, I did not feel the same need to site-see as I did in Tokyo. The only thing that I had not previously visited was the Souq Waqif Market. After an afternoon practice, I decided to venture forth and see the market. Women cooking various dishes filled the main square. I did not dare eat the food because I am allergic to gluten and was afraid of cross-contamination before a meet, but it smelled incredible. The stalls were filled with various colorful goods according to the section. There was a section for woven goods, spices, birds, falcons, ect. After perusing the stalls, I settled upon “authentic” curry mixtures for everyone in my family and then headed back to the hotel to rest and relax before the meet (I have no idea how authentic they are, but they looked pretty and smelled good and thus far have made delicious dishes.)
This meet was much more chaotic than the meet in Tokyo, however, I was able to improve most of my times. Having both meets so close together allowed me to honre in on what mental and physical skills needed to be addressed in order to reach my personal goals. I left feeling exhilarated that I could compete with the best in the world and that feeling has yet to disappear. Moreover, I was exposed yet again to new cultures and beliefs, which regardless of the circumstances, helps us to grow as human beings. I am so grateful for this experience and know that I will always cherish my first world cup.