"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 40: Fat Men Wrestling

Asia Fest was on this weekend, bringing with it Adelaide's first ever genuine Japanese sumo tournament. I saw the commercials for Sumo Mania on TV and the posters stuck up all around the city and decided I had to go.

Now, since starting this new experience challenge, I've gotten a lot of interest about it from friends. They've been suggesting new things for me to try and inviting me to try stuff. Some have even asked me if they can tag along. But what I've found is that people's excitement seems to end the moment there's a decent amount of money involved. I found this out when I tried to recruit someone to come with me to Sumo Mania. The first person I tried was a friend named Michael, who's a fellow stand-up comic and producer at Fresh 92.7.

'Sorry, I can't make it to open mic. I've got salsa class,' I told him.
'Hahahaha! That's one of the best things I've ever heard! What's made you start doing a salsa class?'
'I've been trying a new thing every week this year and blogging about it.'
'That's so cool! Can I join you on your next one?'
'Yeah absolutely! I'm seeing a sumo tournament this weekend.'
'Oh that's even cooler! I'm there, man!'

Sounded like it was locked in, but a few days later, I tried to get in touch with him about buying tickets. It took me days to get a hold of him and when I did, he'd hit the brakes hard.
'Oh man, I think I might be working now. I need the money. Sorry!'

That's okay. I'm sure there are others who'd love to see some sumo. I tried a new friend I've made recently named Charlotte. She was keen.
'It's a bit pricey though,' I warned her. 'The ones I'm looking to get are in Gold class. It's $76 concession. There are cheaper options, but it looks like they're practically in a different postcode.'
'Oh... Well then I may have to pull out. Sorry.'
Okay then...

I tried Mitchell. He's always up for a good time. Plus, he'd agreed to come with me to Avcon.
'How much is it?' he said.
'$76 concession, but there are cheaper options... There's Silver and Bronze too.'
'I'll pass. I'm not doing that again after Avcon. Sorry.'

I was beginning to lose hope. A little while later, I got a text from one of my best friends Dimi.
'Hey, are you doing anything Saturday? It's been a while since we caught up.'
'Hey, yeah I'm busy Saturday. But on Sunday I'm going to see a sumo tournament. Do you want to come to that?'
'I dunno, does it cost much? I have no money.'
'Never mind. Sorry.'

That's it, I was just going to go by myself. Going places by yourself isn't that hard, is it? What was I worried about? It's not like I'd have a big sign over my head saying "Hey, I couldn't find anyone to go with!" It's not like people will stare at me with that sign and think. "Huh, what a loser." It's not like I can only enjoy myself if I've got someone there to enjoy it with. I had to face facts. Those were the exact reasons why I was scared to go on my own.

I turned up to Rymill Park where Asia Fest was happening. The lineup was enormous. I got to the front of the line and said
'One adult, please, with a ticket to the sumo.'
'Just one?' said the girl behind the counter. Was that judgement in her voice?
'Yes... Just one,' I said.
'Which section do you want?' I chickened out of going Gold class. I'm not a student, so it would have cost even more for me - $96.
'I'll go Silver thanks.'
'That'll be $69.'
She gave me my sumo ticket, a little Asia Fest booklet and what looked like a plane ticket. I joined the cue to get in. When I got to the front, the lady tore my stub and said
'Have a nice trip.'

That was nice. They were painting this as a whole "taking a trip to Asia" thing, rather that just a bunch of stalls set up in the middle of Adelaide. I found it cool. The first thing I needed to do was find food. I'd just come from work and I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I had $20 in my wallet and a quick investigation revealed that there were no ATMs or eftpos machines. I'd have to choose wisely.

The area was split into five sections, labelled Vietnam, Japan, Korea, China and Thailand. Each section had its own entertainment and food options. After a lot of deliberation, I found myself in China Town. There was a girl at the entrance who was wearing traditional Chinese clothing and seemed to be stamping people's passports. What was that about? I looke at my own passport and noticed the following:
"For your chance to win flights for two to Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand or South Korea, get this passport stamped at all five of our checkpoints located at the entrance to each country."
What a great idea! I got the girl to stamp my passport and went inside.

Now, food... Let's see, it was out of salt and pepper soft shell crab or something called peking chicken. I was interested in the chicken, up until then I'd thought that duck was the only thing you could peking. But the soft shell crab was more expensive and therefore more filling. If I only had one shot, I didn't want to be hungry later. It was probably also healthier, being seafood. Maybe I should-
OH, DEEP FRIED ICE CREAM!
I've only had deep fried ice cream once, but it was amazing. I had to have it again. I got out the money and approached the counter... Then sighed and made the grown-up choice.
'I'll have the soft shell crab, thanks,' I said sadly. What I got turned out to be deep fried anyway. It wasn't actually a healthy as it should have been and nowhere near as filling. I'd made a poor choice.

Back outside of China, I went searching for things to do before the show started. I walked past another restaurant and noticed that out of the speakers that were tied to the trees, they were playing a tune that I recognized as Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack", except the singers were singing in Asian. I had a little chuckle to myself at how foreign it made it sound, then I noticed something else that made me grin - the music was coming from a stage, where Fresh 92.7's own DJ Riley was standing at the decks. Riley's the guy who comes in after my news shift on Tuesday afternoons. He's got a great following and is a very interesting guy to talk to. I went up to him to wave hello, only slightly self-conscious about being on my own.

Just as I got there, someone else stepped in front of the stage with a microphone.
'Hi guys! I hope you're having a great afternoon! It's time to play our final eating contest for today. We're going to need six people to come up and race to see who can eat a banh mi the fastest. The winner will get two gold tickets to tonight's Sumo Mania. which starts in half an hour. How good does that sound?!'
There was a soft cheer from the small crowd that had assembled by the stage. Four people immediately jumped forward to take up a spot in the contest.
'That's great. Now we just need two more people!'
I looked around. No one was taking up the challenge.
'Come on, it's not hard. Two Gold tickets to see the sumo tonight!'
I thought about it. If I took part in an eating contest... I could win two Gold tickets... I had a silver ticket... That would mean, I could see the sumo in Gold... for the price of Silver... twice... at the same time!
'I'm in!' I said stepping forward.
'There we go, just one more!' said the girl with the microphone. On stage, Ryley saw me and gave me a wave. I waved back. There's that job done.

Once the sixth person came, we were each given our banh mi - a sort of bread roll with stringed vegetables and shaved meat inside - and lined up facing the crowd.
'Ready... Go!'
I took a huge bite. Argh, too big! I couldn't get my teeth onto it to chew it up properly! It was so hard to swallow I'm surprised I didn't choke on it. I decided to go for the opposite approach. Every bit from there was small, quick and manageable.  I nibbled through my banh mi at surprising speed. A quick look over to my competitors revealed that I was winning. Not that everyone was trying. The guy next to me had started showboating for the crowd, dancing to Ryley's eating music and high-fiving the kids. I thought I could relax a little - that was one less competitor that I had to deal with. But then he turned back around and I realized he had eaten twice as much as everyone else.
How in the...

I sped up even faster, but it was no use. Either this guy was an experienced speed-eater or there's something about drinking copious amounts of alcohol that slackens your throat muscles. He put the last bit of banh mi in his mouth and I threw the rest of mine away in mock anger.
'Hey dude, that was a free meal!' said the girl with the microphone.
Oh shit, you're right! I hate wasting food, why on Earth did I just do that! For a cheap laugh? That I didn't even get? This wouldn't have happened if I had a friend here with me,

I went around to other countries getting my passport stamped at each one. When I went to Vietnam, it was sitting over a lake, with bridges connecting each part of the country. There were couples in row boats  sitting on the lake and floating under the bridge.
"Ooh, row boats!" I thought, looking down from the bridge. "I wanna try one-"
My face dropped when I realized. Oh, that's right, I'm alone. Forever.
I shrugged and moved on, exploring the place until it was time to head to Japan for the Sumo.

When I got to the Sumo, I was faced with some surprising news. Signs had been posted up around the entrance saying
"Due to logistical reasons, tiered seating is no longer available. If you'd like a refund of your tiered seat, please see staff at the ticket booth."
Hm, that's interesting. I had to see what they meant by that and what they had instead. I stepped inside and found a small sea of plastic garden chairs. My ticket was practically around the outer ring, and I could barely see the Sumo ring through all the rest of the chairs. As the tent filled up and seats got taken, I noticed that nobody was sitting in the Gold chairs in front of me. Hm... Could I just take a closer seat? Staff weren't doing a particularly good job of guarding the levels. If the match started and there were still seats free, I might duck out and take up a closer one. Lucky I was on my own...

But it became clear that wasn't going to work. Not because there weren't any spare seats, just because as people sat down in front of me, my short-ass frame was blocked from seeing the stage by much bigger bodies. Not even inching closer would have helped. I needed to try something better.

I walked back outside the tent and approached the people at the door.
'Hey, you guys are offering refunds, right?' I said. The guys' faces dropped as they said
'Yeah' I smiled warmly at them and looked into their eyes - they were sales techniques that I'd learned during a short stint as a door-to-door salesman.
'That's okay, I was just wondering if instead of a refund, I could be upgraded to a higher level.' They brightened up and looked at each other.
'Ooh, I don't know, can we do that?' said one.
'Tell you what,' said the other. 'Ask the girl at the ticket booth, she would know better than us.'
That meant I had to psych myself up again. I took a deep breath as the boys ran around the corner and warned the girl I was coming. I walked around the corner myself...

'Hi, the boys told me you had a question,' said the girl. I flashed my smile again.
'Yeah, I was wondering, because I can't see at all, instead of getting a refund, could I be upgraded to a higher category ticket that hasn't been sold?'
'What category are you in?'
'Silver.' She looked at a layout of tickets in front of her.
'...Alright, here you go. She said, handing me a ticket.' I looked at it, and for the tiniest of moments I almost lost my cool.
'Platinum! That's so awesome, thanks!' I said excitedly.
'Enjoy the show!' she said with a smile.

The seat was so much better. I was like three rows from the front and could actually see the floor of the ring. The show was kicked off by a man who looked like a monk. He came onto the stage and beat a drum, and the whole arena fell silent. The monk finished and Tom Rhen from Channel 9 news appeared on a side-stage to MC the night.

So it turned out that the whole first half of the show was to be a demonstration on what Sumo was all about and the intricacies of it. The head of Sumo Australia joined Tom on the stage and she began to talk about the spiritual, religious and historical aspects of the sport. She explained how there were different ranks and that the people we would be seeing tonight were at the level just below professional. So I think it's the same level as high-school basketball in the US and A-Grade amateur footy in Australia. But I don't think people were particularly interested. They just wanted to see fat people wrestling. I had to admit, I found the parts about having to purify the ring with salts and prayers interesting... But I also had to admit that I wanted to see the fat people.

So eventually, out they came, being introduced as they stepped onto the ring and lined up around the edge.
'This is Ooisato. He's 32 years old, 180cm tall and weighs 82 kilos.' Ooisato stepped on the stage. He was awfully skinny. I think I had more fat than him.
'This is Yotsugamine. He's 25, is 173cm tall and weighs 96 kilos.' Bit better, but still a bit on the skinny side. I could hear the crowd murmuring through their applause.
'This is Wakahizen. He's 18 years old, 168cm tall and weighs 116 kilos.' The crowd's voice went up as one at the joy of seeing an 18 year old with such substantial blubber. Now they were getting what they came for.
'This is Ugonoumi...
'This Hikarujenji...'
'This is Miyakojima...'
Everyone was waiting for the next big thing, so to speak. Could anyone beat Wakahizen's 116 kilios? They went through one more man called Miyakojima, then out walked an enormous man with huge sideburns. He looked like the Japanese Fat Elvis.
'This is Oowaka. He's 22 years old, is 185cm and weighs... 121 kilos.'
The crowd erupted. They'd found a new champion. But then one last person came out and the crowd fell silent. He'd caught their attention.
'This is Shiroyu. He's 25 years old... 179cm tall... and weighs 136 kilos.'
Well... I almost had to block my ears. The crowd loved him. He was their new star. The competitors lined up around the edge of the ring and bowed to the audience.


They all walked off except for Shiroyu and Yatsugamine, who took up places at opposite ends of the ring.
'Now, we'll show you some of the techniques that are used during a sumo match.'
Shriroyu and Yatsugamine took turns smacking each other into the ground with various thrusts, hooks, pushes, pulls and throws. As each man hit the ground, the resulting thud drew gasps from the audience. Afterwards, they stood up and bowed, leaving the stage.

Next, they brought on Oowaka and Miyakojima to demonstrate the protocols and manners of Sumo. They made it really funny and endearing to watch. Oowaka (the Japanese Elvis) showed us everything about what not to do, doing things like smacking Miyakojima to the ground before he was ready, giving him a giant wedgie and running around the edge of the ring, giving the front row high fives. After every mistake, the announcer would jump on the microphone and yell 'Oowaka, no! That's not how it's done!' And Oowaka would turn to her and appeal his innocence as if to say "What? What's wrong with that?" On the last demonstration, Oowaka threw Miyakojima to the ground and then jumped on top of him and layed into him with a flurry of punches. Then he jumped off the ring and someone handed him a pool noodle. In the style of WWE wrestlers and their folding chairs, he lifted it over his head and brought it down on Miyakojima's back. Then he turned to the coordinator and shrugged "What?" That was my favourite part of the night.

Finally, they brought on some children they'd invited earlier to take part in the festivities. The five kids came on in sumo diapers and skins and took turns taking on one of the bigger boys, Ugonoumi. An older Japanese man came out to referee the match, and he messed with each of the kids. He'd mime the starting position he wanted the kids to get into, then yell "No!" in his stereotypical Japanese accent and mime the same thing again. Eventually the match would start and the kid would always win. Then they tried putting all five on the kids onto him, and mysteriously, Ugonoumi won. So four of the sumo wrestlers came out and joined forces with the kids and they all worked together to push him off the stage.


There was a 15-minute intermission before the tournament proper started. After coming back, we were treated to a display of how the Sumo wrestler's top-knot is made - something that apparently a lot of Japanese people don't even get to see. The 18-year-old Wakahizen sat in a gown while a hairdresser combed camellia oil through his hair with a boxwood comb that apparently cost $500 to make. Behind me, a girl with very high heels and an impractically short dress gasped.

Then finally... the tournament. It was to be a sudden death knockout tournament with four rounds. The winner would get 30 000 yen prize money. I looked it up - that works out to just over 315 Australian Dollars. First out were Ooisato and Shiroyu. Shiroyu had apparently won both of the tournaments they'd had so far and was a VERY promising up-and-comer. He was aiming to win all five tournaments so he could impress all the officials back home and move up to the professional ranks. The much-more-ceremonial-looking referee started them off and they stood up and started having a sort of slap-fight. They flailed their arms like pistons into each other's chests, trying to knock the other person of balance. In just ten seconds, Shiroyu had pushed Ooisato out of the ring and disqualified him.

Next was Yotsugamine versus Ugonoumi. This one was much longer and didn't have as much, um... slapping. They held each other and tried to tipped the other person to the ground, and this one lasted closer to 15 seconds. Yotsugamine - despite being one of the two skinny guys - won.

Hikarugenji faced Wakahizen next, and the crowd was definitely behind Wakahizen. He had a baby-face and was of course one of the heavier ones, so the crowd liked him. He won. The same was true for Fat Elvis Oowaka, who beat Miyokojima by falling on top of him.

So in the semi-finals, Baby Face Wakahizen faced Champion Shiroyu. I wasn't sure who I wanted to win, and I don't think the crowd did either. Shiroyu was the heaviest and the most talented, but Wakahizen had the most adorable chubby face. Shiroyu ended up winning in a forceful bout that made the crowd gasp again. That meant that French Fry Yatsugamine was to face up to Fat Elvis Oowaka. Looking at them, you wouldn't think that Yatsugamine had a chance - he was much shorter and certainly skinnier than Oowaka. But apparently Yatsugamine was a "technique specialist" someone who used his brains rather than his brawn. It ended up being the longest battle of the night, lasting a bit over 30 seconds. Fat Elvis won.


So... the final. It was probably the best possible match-up for what the crowd wanted. Fat Elvis was the crowd favourite, but Shiroyu was the undefeated champion. They were also the two heaviest competitors, so the battle was rough. They grappled for 25 seconds, getting closer and closer to the edge of the ring, until they both tipped over, twisting in the air, and Oowaka hit the ground with Shiroyu falling on top of him. Shiroyu was crowned champion for the third time.


But that wasn't where it ended. It was time for the celebrity portion of the show. I've talked before about the two football teams in South Australia and their decades-long rivalry. Well, they'd gotten one player from each team to step into the ring and have a go. From the Power (my team), they had Kane Cornes, the veteran midfielder who was about a thousand years old and the only player remaining from their one and only premiership-winning year. From the Crows was Taylor Walker, the superstar forward who was loved by practically everyone in South Australia - even a lot of Port fans. Walker had the height, the youth and the popularity on his side. Cornes had... I dunno, sympathy? They brought back that first referee who had dealt with the kids and he messed with the football players in much the same way. Then he told them to begin, and rather than the slamming of big bodies there had been with the pros, there was just a couple of false starts and hesitations before they haphazardly dove into each other. Walker had the best position, getting the lower ground and pushing into Cornes' chest while Cones held him in place and tried not to be knocked of balance. There wasn't much movement for a while, but then Cones finally lost balance and had to drag Walker down with him. It worked. Walker fell under Cornes in the same way that Shiroyu had won a few minutes earlier. This was turning out to be a great night.


When I left the tent, it had gotten dark. I wondered if there was still anything going on and was immediately met by a Japanese band that was playing on top of a small tower. There were women in kimonos doing some sort of slow step on a platform around the tower. And on the ground around that were people from the crowd who were playing follow the leader with the girls on the platform. I joined the crowd of people watching for a while, and then the song ended and the group of dancers on the ground dispersed. As the next song started, a smiling Asian girl came around handing out rice hats and inviting them to dance along. She came up to me and held out a hat. I stared at her. She smiled at me. I stared at her... She smiled at me...
'Oh, alright.' I said, grabbing a hat. I joined the back of the line and started trying to copy the moves of the girls to my right. I felt pretty comfortable - not self-conscious and awkward like I thought it would be. I even handed my camera to someone in the audience and asked them to take a photo of me.


After the song finished, I handed my hat back to the still-smiling Asian girl and left to see what else was going on. Huh. Turns out all the attractions were closing down. I realized that I still needed to get my passport stamped, so I rushed over to Thailand to see if I could get it.

'Nah, the girls have packed up for the night,' said the security guard. 'Sorry.' Bugger. Thailand was the only thing I needed! Oh well. Maybe I'll head over to Vietnam and find out how to spell banh mi for my blog. I headed over and found a food truck with a guy packing up outside. He was happy to stop working for a bot to sit and talk about "How hard I've fucken had to work today". His big bearded workmate came to join us and we sat there chatting for a while. Half way through, a security guard approached us.

'Are you all staff? It's after hours, are you all staff?' She questioned.
'Yeah, we're all staff,' said the first guy and the lady was satisfied with that and walked off.
'Thanks,' I said.
'No problem,' said the bearded guy. 'I'm gonna go light up, wanna joint?'
'Oh! Well, um... no. No I don't. '
'Suit yourself,' he said and he walked off.

I thanked the other guy and made leave myself. I crossed that bridge that went over the lake and found a couple that was still there, kissing romantically over the water, under the moonlight. Now I was back to being shitty at being alone. "Fuck you guys," I thought to myself. "Go be romantic elsewhere." I kept walking, and just up ahead, two ducks were standing by the water, preening each other's feathers. "Oh come on! Fuck you, little ducks," I thought and stomped out of Vietnam.

I know how I should end the night. Fried ice cream. I've gotta have me some fried ice cream. I fished around in my backpack for a little baggie of one & two dollar coins that I keep there for emergencies - if I need money for the bus, or the parking meter, or when I'm trapped in a place with no eftpos and a sudden hankering for Chinese food. I pocketed it and headed over to China, only to be met by a burly security guard. Next to the guard was a kid-sized whiteboard with the scrawled message

"China is closed."

Well screw this. I'm getting some fried ice cream, even if it kills me. Which, considering how little junk food I actually eat, it just might. I phined three Asian restaurants before I found one that was willing to keep their kitchen open long enough for me to get there. I got one for myself and one for my sister and we ate them at home, telling each other about our day.

It's nice to have someone to share stuff with.

12 comments:

  1. Wow, you packed so many new experiences into one night that you're probably weeks ahead of your "new things" schedule now! And good for you for going on your own. Never miss out on a fun time just because everyone else is too busy or cheap to go with you!

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    1. I agree! Although It did end up making the post a bit long, well done for getting through it ;)

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  2. You are an awesome, handsome guy, Michael. I love that you go for it and jump into new things - solo or not. I'm so used to doing things alone (though I often shy away from going out for new adventures solo) - it's always worth it. It's the best way to make new friends too. I hate the "JUST one?" comment too. I'd join you for fried ice cream, though not likely to see fat men wrestling, anytime - if I could. Glad you had your sis to share your adventures with, and now us.

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    1. Aw, thanks Robyn :) Although this turned out pretty well, I think being with people is always more fun than being alone.

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  3. Hats off to you for paying 76 bucks for a new cultural experience! Going alone shows you're a cut above the average Bruce or Sheila! I enjoy a good sumo bout myself. I don't think they would have appreciated the pot noodle gag back in Japan - sumo is treated with religious reverence in the land of its birth.

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    1. I know, that's what made it so funny! It still had religious importance to them, but they were willing to make light of it.

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  4. People in your neck of the woods are willing to pay almost $100 to watch "fat men wrestling"?? How much is it to see Lady Gaga... a Gorillion dollars? Welp, don't feel bad. I doubt I could get anyone to come with me to see the sumo...not even if I paid them : / (Though I actually would love to go.)

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    1. I'd pay almost a gorillion dollars to see the sumo with you :)

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  5. I've always really been intrigued by sumo wrestling. Sumo Mania cracks me up, for some reason. I am actually shocked I haven't seen anything like that here in the States.

    That was REALLY smart of you to ask for an upgrade in your seat in lieu of a refund. I wouldn't have thought of that, but it worked perfectly.

    Glad you got your fried ice cream! I haven't had that in forever and now you've made me crave it.

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    1. Yeah come to think of it, sumo mania is a pretty crazy name for something so serious :P

      Thanks, I was proud of myself ;)

      Do it, it's amazing!

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  6. This was so cool! I especially loved the last paragraph.

    I love wrestling! Not so much fat men wrestling but the WWE! I never miss a episode. I know it's all staged but it pretty entertaining with their storylines.

    I've yet to try fried ice cream. How was it?

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    1. That surprises me, I didn't take you as a wrestling fan! Don't worry, I get the entertainment value, it's no different to reality TV.

      Fried ice cream is awesome, you should try it!

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