Visa on Arrival: Take Us Out to the Ball Game

At the Taiwanese Major League World Series, Daniel Adler observes 10,000 baseball fans dancing, clapping, and singing in unison.

Collectivist, hive mind, team-oriented—these words commonly spring to mind when describing the so-called “Asian” approach to doing things. Yet the “group mentality” label has often been used without regard to the complex realities within Asia’s many changing countries and societies. To paraphrase a statement from many classes and readings: when Asian countries fail, group mentality is the reason. When Asian countries succeed, group mentality is also the reason.

So, hasn’t the group mentality model become passé?

I sure thought it had. Then I attended the first game of Taiwan’s Major League World Series.

Noisemakers

I’ve never been fanatical about baseball, but I’ve certainly been to enough sporting events to understand the typical dynamics of a live professional game. The fan support for the home team trumps everything else. There will be cheering for the home team and booing at the guests and their small cohort of fans. There will be deafening euphoria after a game-changing shot. There will be a few half-assed attempts at “the wave.” And there will be corn dogs.

At least Taiwan nailed the corn dogs.

On every other count, the Taiwanese style of attending a live game was completely, well, foreign to me.

Crowd

First, instead of the physical stadium acting as shrine and sanctuary to the home team, in Taiwan it was quite egalitarian. The stands were divided neatly in half, with orange-clad Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions (the team from Tainan) supporters on the first base side of the field, while those dressed in yellow to support Brother Elephants (Taipei) filed into the half facing third base. Gone was the menace felt by the intrepid visiting fan as he sits amongst local season ticket holders. Instead, equal numbers of fans cheered back and forth in perfectly nullifying harmony.

I mean harmony literally. Instead of the scattered, atonal dirge of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which in America we are lucky to only suffer once per game, the stands in Taiwan were filled with an unending series of chants, orchestrated by an official cheering squad.

The squad itself reminded me of a high school pep rally team—a kind of embarrassed, self-conscious enthusiasm rang through the men’s singing, and the women’s dance moves were not eager as much as they were overly cautious for fear of screwing up. But the crowd didn’t seem to mind, as inning after inning was filled with a menu of perfectly executed songs, chants, clanks of plastic noisemakers, and distracting disco-esque hand gestures. How 10,000 people all learned to simultaneously dance, clap, and sing is beyond me, but suffice it to say, they are light years beyond the stomp-stomp-CLAP from “We Will Rock You.”

Thank you

The only players who were granted any special recognition by the crowd were the Lions’ two non-Taiwanese players. An African-American pitcher and a Puerto Rican outfielder were treated with their own special theme songs whenever they stepped to the plate, and in the stands, a supporter swung giant flags of the two players’ countries. While I have no doubt these men were adored as great players, that they did not fit in with the rest of the team reinforced the boundaries within the team itself.

A stadium-wide balance of fans. Amongst fans, impeccable coordination. Within teams, public reminders of whom is truly in and out. After witnessing all of these, I reckoned it was time to reconsider the validity of the Asian group mentality.

A view of the field

To be fair, major changes are underway in Asia, which may well undermine the group mentality. Consider region-wide economic liberalization and financial integration over the past three decades, demographic trends (the so-called “graying of Japan”), and social controls (China’s one-child policy), which all may contribute in some way to more individualistic societies. Of course, in contrast to these broad trends, a corruption-riddled, skill-deprived collection of teams like the Taiwan Major League is just peanuts. But as I walked away from the stadium with ears still ringing, standing out like a sore thumb in the homogenous throng, I couldn’t shake the feeling: in Asia, at least for now, the group still rules.

In late 2008, Daniel Adler traveled between South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China, and Vietnam to study the effectiveness of Sister City relationships. As he left America, he was told that "Sister Cities don't do anything," but having traded shots of ginseng liquor with the mayor of Gunsan, South Korea, he believes he has disproved that theory. Images from Daniel’s travels can be viewed at his personal photography website, Adlerography.