When one travels in strange lands among foreign cultures, it is always a good idea to set oneself a goal of taking in a new cultural experience. Fortunately, the locals in the country we’ve visited are more than happy to provide instructive cultural experiences on almost a daily basis.


As an early Christmas present, Kim’s brother and sister-in-law took us out for a cultural exchange. It was a social ceremony known in the local dialect as Haaki, which translates roughly into English as “Ice Hockey”.

We made our way inside the arena. Thanks to the utterly unreasonable climate in North America, it was actually warmer inside the ice hockey venue than outside, probably also due in part to the number of people packed in. It wasn’t a top league game or anything, but I guess the citizens of Grand Rapids really love to get behind their local league hockey team. We were all set to watch the Grand Rapids Griffins (sic) take on the Texas Stars. I’m not sure what business Texas has in having an ice hockey team, but there you go.

The Griffins and the Stars go at it.

Actually I'm not sure what business anyone has playing this sport. For all I could make out, it was two constantly rotating squads of ice skaters beating the living snot out of each other, while allegedly trying to propel a small plastic disk around the place. The only time we ever could ever see any evidence that a puck was somehow in play was when it settled in the back of a goal or crashed into the protective plating, which didn't seem to stretch nearly high enough to guarantee anyone’s safety. I asked a kindly spectator about this obvious safety risk, and he replied that most of the time, it’s fine. Occasionally someone will lose a tooth or an eye to a loose puck, but that’s just part of the game.

The Griffins and the Stars team up to take out the umpire

The main action was divided into three periods and during the breaks a number of alternate forms of entertainment were provided. Lucky youngsters were given rides on the zambonis, which are a kind of tractor designed to smooth the ice over after the preceding period of ice hockey has thoroughly destroyed it (in this game, even the playing surface gets roughed up). Meanwhile, griffin mascots skated around the rink with a device which propelled hotdogs and souvenir t-shirts into the crowd. It was here, rather than in the game itself, that the true cultural exchange took place. Could there be a more quintessentially all-American experience than having a man dressed as an eagle entertaining a crowd with a gun that shoots junk food?

What a way to earn a living

Once I got my head around the rules, the game itself was actually quite exciting. Despite my scepticism, the Texas Stars acquitted themselves well, and at the two-thirds time break they were actually leading 4 goals to 3. The crowd had gone ominously quiet, but they certainly perked up when the Griffins equalised late in the final period and they went absolutely bananas when the Griffins scored again to take the game. Apparently it was a record setting 13th win in a row for Grand Rapids.

I have categorically no idea what's going on here...

We had a great time. I still don’t really understand the game, but then, I like to watch test cricket and play sepak takraw, so maybe I’m not the best judge of normal athletic pursuits.

Make of that what you will.


Garry with 2 Rs

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