My Time with the Windy Pandas

One year has come and gone so and I still remember the first week I was down in London last summer and I texted Simon ‘I’m Worth it’ Chang to see if Dragon Boat was on. I’ve seen so many wierd and funny pictures of this that Sai’s been talking about for about the past five years and I was really curious to see what it’s all about. It was amazing weather and I must admit when I first tried paddling, it was a disaster! I was out of time, I couldn’t stay paddling for more than 20 strokes at a time and my arms were aching! (Yes, my technique was wrong!!)

I could already tell from the vibe that these were a great group of friends that come together every week to train and have fun. I envied that, at the time not knowing if I was going to be staying in London. I paddled another session before I went away for a month teaching and working in the Olympics. This last session I came to happen to be Jez Cheung‘s bday and everyone had to be dunked! First dunk!!! Thank god it was scorching hot that day and the dunk although was scary at first become a nice refreshing end to the training.

The next time I would meet the Panda’s would be at their Xmas awards. It was both funny and emotional. I’ll never forget how Alan Lam told everyone not to address him as Alam Lam if they were to send him an invitation lol. Then when Jez announced that WP will be ending, I felt my heart sank. I was really looking forward to being part of this fun group of people but the chances now seemed slim.  But deep down even only having only met the team twice at paddling I felt maybe, just maybe Vo Su would be stepping up to captain.

Finally we get the announcement that WP is officailly going ahead and this is also where my 2.5 hours commute on Saturdays began! At our very first social at bowling Jez asked me ‘so Edith, how many training sessions you looking to do?’ and I replied, ‘erm, I’m thinking every other week to start, it’s quite far for me’. ‘wahhh!!! So much???! That’s what they all say but they all end up coming every week!’ replied Jez and he could not be anymore right. I ended up coming to more than just every other week. It is fun to paddle once I managed my technique and timing but it was really the friendship and seeing you all that gave me that drive every weekend to get up early and make the commute.

Our first training session was on a really cold day and since it was just Vo and my bday a few weeks back there was no way to avoid a dunk. I thought the cold weather might have been enough to put it off, but then Vo said ‘Rules are rules’, I thought this is it, should I keep my thermal on or take it off so I don’t let the weight of the soaked clothing drag me down. Thank God Phil told me to put a life jacket on, he was right when he said the cold might shock me and I wouldn’t be able to stay afloat! I certainly wouldn’t be floating without it. I was dragged out of the winter, shivering and Ting came up and said ‘hurry up and get in and get showered!’ The shower was not that much warmer -.- I was still shivering through Dim Sum and the inevitable happened, I was ill that evening and came sniffing in the next training session with a cold.

Marlow came, my first ever race, two teams. The weather wasn’t amazing but the atmosphere was, having set up our marquee, we were all huddled up, blankets out trying to keep warm. Coming up to race against each other, our boat already knew we’d lost out on the final but we had to wait to see if the other WP boat had gone through. My heart was pounding, and it was amazing because it just felt as though we were waiting for our own boat’s result and when they finally announced that our second boat had gone through all the WP cheered. It really felt like we were a family.

Second race, Lions! It was amazing to see how our training ground was completely transformed to a massive festival ground. People, marquees and food stalls everywhere, sun blazing, I’d gone a few shades darker. A few days before I had won my netball tournament, coming away with a medal and I’d posted on facebook wishing for another medal from Lions and it happened! The heat on the day at times was almost unbearable but once on water it felt refreshing with the wind against my face and the splash of the water. Race one started alot quicker than I expected, with a lot of adjusting, I was physically down and ready but mentally I wasn’t as ready as I could be. Race two felt great! I was READY, every stroke felt right, powering through the water till the end. My arms would ache with lactic acid towards the end of every race, the thing that spurred me on was something Vo had said to us at Marlow, ‘if you can’t paddle with stength, then paddle with your heart, paddle for each other’, I would always think of this whenever I feel I cannot paddle anymore.

One of the memorable things was coming off the boat after a race and Quy hands over a pancake and asks ‘you want some?’. It felt great having won every heat and coming away with some pretty good times, and now the final. We sat for at least 30 mins at the end line, not wanting to move in case we lost our positions. It was truly amazing to see the power of the Expendables powering through every stroke, pulling further and further away from the rest of the boats. I held my breath as they came closer and closer to the finishing line and finally in a position where I could see the WP was in place of a medal and I let out my held breath. I felt proud coming away with a medal amongst so many teams.

It’s been a quick year, and Ray was right when he said ‘time waits for no one’, and we should really cherish the time and the people we have. I fulfilled what I settled out to do when I joined the WP, I met the most amazing people, people that I’ve been searching for all my life and having met disappointments in the past I gave up on finding true friendships but I was wrong, amazing friends DO exist. I sat there last night at Karaoke in an absolutely packed room, sweating from the heat and felt a moment of gratefulness when I sat back and watched you all and realising that I have such an amazing group of friends. We sang together, we laughed together. One of the saddest things about leaving London is to leave you guys behind, but as Ray said, ‘you have a passport, come back anytime!’ and Jez, ‘I’ll see you in 2 weeks, after your holiday’ lol! You guys really make me laugh.

I will keep my picture frame on my desk in HK and will always remember this year and I hope I will be back one day to paddle with you again! I will truly miss you all and DON’T forget to let me know when you’re in HK, OR ELSE…….!!!! 🙂

BYEEEEEE for now :p

Edith ‘The Jukebox’ Kwok