Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Golden Dragons

on May 21, 2014

Papa had been able to enter beyond the gates because of his special badge for Foreign Affairs employees. The rest of the family had been waiting in the regular lobby. I met for the first time — well, in my memory at least it was the first time, for they remembered me as a little toddler — my maternal grandfather Chang, Ping-Nan, and my “dry” father (Chinese godfather) Wang Jie-San.  Mama held two multicolored leis in her hand, and placed them around our necks. Abdul Kerim and Iffat were there too, though  Iffat was a bit shy with us. I don’t think she really remembered us since she was barely a year old when we had left. We all packed into a van someone had rented, and off we went.

Le Hua Night Market in Yong He

Le Hua Night Market in Yong He

Aunt Lily and Uncle Lung owned a little villa in YongHe, a district on the south side of metro Taipei. Mama and Aunt Lily had discussed the matter and agreed that our family could live there during this period. As the van pulled into the narrow lane and stopped at a red gate, a long string of firecrackers hanging by the door was lighted.  I nearly fell off my seat at the loudness of the pops and cracks. Before I even got up from my seat, Grandpa Chang hopped off the van and fast as lightning, tore into the house. Slightly bemused, I wondered whether he had a bladder problem. When I entered the sitting-room, I found him crouched in front of the TV, intently watching a baseball game.  My brother was there already as well, and they were soon joined by everyone else. Saadia and I stood awkwardly on the side, not sure of what was happening.

 

The Chinese love setting off loud and smoky firecrackers to celebrate happy occasions.

The Chinese love setting off loud and smoky firecrackers to celebrate happy occasions.

I was slightly disappointed. So, that was how eagerly everyone welcomed us back? Then I understood. It was the game of the year, the game that made us, Taiwan, shine again in the world. I had read in the Torch of Victory, a magazine circulated among the overseas Chinese community, about the unexpected and amazing victory of the Golden Dragons, a kids baseball team from Taichung, Taiwan, who came out of nowhere, in a game where Taiwan was unheard of, to win the Little League world championship at Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I certainly had never heard of the game before reading about it, and still was in a fog about how it was played. But did it matter?

The Golden Dragons return triumphantly to Taiwan as  world champions.

The Golden Dragons return triumphantly to Taiwan as world champions.

Later, my classmates told me stories of how the team had been noticed by the expatriate American community who loved baseball. When the Golden Dragons won the national title in a game that was then little known in Taiwan, they had to scrape the money together to go to Japan for the Regionals. After winning the Asia-Pacific title, they were stuck. No funds whatsoever. How were they to travel to the US for the world finals?  They appealed to the government who did not even bother to reply. Finally, it was the US marines and the rest of the American community who fund-raised for them, and helped finance their trip to Pennsylvania. When they returned with the World title, they were a bit surprised to find a red carpet welcome at the airport, along with an open-car parade along the streets of Taipei all the way to the Presidential palace! The government had realized that in the then atmosphere of growing international isolation, country after country breaking relations with us and courting Communist China instead, this was a bright shaft of sunlight.

1969 little league champions

That was in 1969. This now was 1970. Was the miracle going to repeat itself? The winning team this year came from Jia-Yi, and was named the Seven Tigers. Their heated competition against the Golden Dragons, dubbed the “Dragon-Tiger Struggle”,  had sparked impassioned fan movements in Taiwan. Having made it to the Asia-Pacific Regional, they were right now fighting for the title, on that silver screen in our living room.

The Seven Tigers team

The Seven Tigers team

I forgave my grandpa for ignoring us.

Although the Seven Tigers defeated the Philippines and Japan to clinch the Regional title, they eventually lost to Nicaragua and placed fifth at the World finals. However, the golden era of Little League baseball in Taiwan had been ignited, and Taiwan went on a string of victories, winning ten years out of thirteen from 1969 to 1981. The streak continued at a lesser pace through 1996, with another seven world champions in 15 years. Taiwan withdrew from the Little League in 1997, following new restrictions of rules. From the introduction of Far Eastern teams in 1967 to 1996, Taiwan won 17 of the 30 championships, and was twice runner-up.

Seven Tigers, upon their return to Taiwan, shake hands with Chiang Ching Kuo, son of the President Chiang Kai Shek.

Seven Tigers, upon their return to Taiwan, shake hands with Chiang Ching Kuo, son of the President Chiang Kai Shek.


One Response to “Golden Dragons”

  1. Saadia Mai says:

    I remember the shock of being greeted by the string of firecrackers! And catching on to Little League Baseball fever. Many years later, I happily watched my own son Omar play Little League baseball, from age 7 to age 15!

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