Running (or Shopping – let’s get real!) My Way Through Asia

by

Shannon O'Donnell

Laura and I were joking around on the air the other day about how hard it is to get motivated to go running. There was a story on about fulfilling one’s ‘dreams of running a marathon,’ and I responded that for me, that would more likely qualify as a nightmare. However, I actual DO like running quite a bit. Maybe not 26 whole grueling miles, but a nice 3 mile jog a few times a week is actually my exercise of choice (mostly because one can also strap down and contain one’s children in the jogging stroller for 45 minutes at the same time, thus at least enjoying mental peace while engaging in physical anguish). And believe it or not, I used to be a competitive distance runner way back in the day.

Not that I was any good. Very middle-to-back-of-the-pack. However, unable to find much success playing tennis like my more coordinated friends, and subject to scorn on the softball field (I can still hear the junior high boys screaming, “easy out!” when it was my turn to bat in PE class), running was actually something I could DO. Not much coordination required to run long distance—just a strong will to keep on going.

I participated in distance running via ‘track’ in the spring and ‘cross country’ in the fall. Our high school coach was involved in a program that took U.S. runners abroad to Spain and Southeast Asia to compete. Now, you didn’t have to be any good, mind you (or I never would have been chosen). You just had to raise the cash and you were in! So after hitting up enough relatives for money instead of gifts around Christmas, I had the needed funding to join the team. Just before New Year’s 1990, I was off to the races—literally!

Now, I mentioned that this was way back in the 20th century, right? So my memory is a little fuzzy on the racing part. I recall running through the streets of Hong Kong before sunrise each morning, but it was my sense of smell affected more than anything–Hong Kong is pure olfactory overload. It seemed that with each turn down a different street, a strange, thick new odor would waft your way and practically knock you over.

The shopping is still supposed to be amazing, but it was INSANE back in the early 90s before China took Hong Kong back from the British. The American dollar went very far in that day. With the Gap and my then beloved ‘Limited’ retail chain having their factories in Hong Kong, you could buy the same sweaters you’d just seen in the malls back home, but for only 10 Hong Kong dollars. This was the equivalent of ONE American dollar. Needless to say, I honestly had to buy two more suitcases to bring home all my loot.

The big race for which we were training was an 8K through the streets of Guangzhou (Canton), China. I remember two things about it…1) I paced myself with an elderly Chinese man and ran with him the entire race (again, I’m not claiming that I was any GOOD), and 2) afterward, our American team was mobbed as if we were movie stars. I had the lightest hair in our group, and I was honestly scared for my life as the crowds squeezed around me and hands came in from every which way to touch and yank at chunks of my light hair, which apparently many in this part of China had rarely seen.

The other part of visiting southeast China that has stuck with me all of these years is the tour we took of the open-market. Not only was it full of beautiful, fresh produce like the markets we have here in the U.S., but it was also well-stocked with meat to suit every taste. This included snakes, squirming and slithering madly over one another in a big wash-tub, waiting to be picked out and then skinned alive for any interested party craving a reptilian dinner.

Our last stop in Asia was in Seoul, South Korea.
The Summer Olympics had recently been held there, so we participated in a race that ended in one of the stadiums that had been used for the track and field events. Shopping in Seoul was even more fun, as it was all about the bartering, and I was getting better at it as the trip progressed. In fact, having gone out on my own one afternoon to bargain my way through the back alleys, I was apparently gone long enough for the coaches to worry and start searching for me. Looking back, it was pretty stupid of me to go out alone like that, but I was just having too much fun gathering more goods. Ignorance was bliss!

Shannon O’Donnell
NBC11 WeatherPlus Meteorologist

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