I never dreamed I would return to South Korea in May after having already incorporated a visit to the country in my travel itinerary in January this year. The purpose of my return to this fascinating country was different this time. It was to visit the Asia Pacific Deaf Games (APDG) held from 26 May to 2 June in Seoul.
I made the decision to go after some friends mentioned they were going there. My original plan was to volunteer at the games. Simply put, I wanted to make myself useful and develop new skills. I emailed the organising committee offering to help but apart from an automated reply I never heard from them again. So I departed Australia knowing I would just be a spectator.
The opening ceremony was nothing short of spectacular. There were impressive martial arts demonstrations, modern and traditional dances, taekwondo and sign language performances.
The most outstanding part of the ceremony was when the athletes from the different countries marched into the stadium each carrying their own national flag. It was fascinating to watch because it was a scene of different nations coming together in unity. It was lovely to see the joy, pride and excitement on the athletes' faces.
President of APDG Dennis Tan addressed the crowd saying,
This Asia Pacific Deaf Games will also contribute to disseminate the values of sports, excellence, respect and friendships, between not only athletes but also spectators around the world.
As a spectator I experienced what this statement truly meant.
During a badminton match between players from China and Japan I marvelled at the skill and adeptness of the players. A group of Japanese spectators cheered on their athlete loudly and enthusiastically. They boasted a strong national spirit which was hard not to notice.
I made my way to the basketball semi-finals on the very last day of the games. The first basketball match was between Australia and South Korea with Australia leading by a wide margin. Australia beat South Korea with a score of 81 to 32 points. Well done Australia.
The other basketball game was between Japan and Taiwan. The two teams were equally good and took turns leading by one or two points throughout the entire game. We spectators watched with great anticipation and bated breaths to see which team would emerge the victor. Taiwan won this match and then went on to win gold in the final. Kudos to them.
I had the opportunity to chat with Australian table tennis players Simon Conroy and Mikey Louey. Out of 10 countries competing in table tennis, Australia came in at number five. The players said they were proud of their achievement and had made a big improvement since the 1996 Asia Pacific Deaf Games where Australia placed ninth out of 11 countries.
Another games highlight was chatting to Deaf South Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese spectators. I enjoyed conversing with them and learning some of their sign language. It was wonderful to exchange contact details and networks.
As someone who loves meeting people from various countries, this was one of the most memorable parts of my stay in Seoul. If there is ever another chance to go to such an event again, I will go.