At various stages of my stay in Austria, I had to stop and make myself realize that I was in another country. It was surreal. Every morning as I entered the regatta venue, muscular Austrian security officers would utter, “Morgen,” (short for Guten Morgen or Good Morning) while checking the accreditation hanging on my neck. It was just one reminder that I was not in New Zealand at that time. It was strange that at several points during the regatta, the temperature would soar up to 35 degrees Celsius, when, back in Auckland, it was winter. It felt more like being in the Philippines and not in Austria. It was amusing that there was no air conditioning unit in my hotel room. There was only a heater.
The Umpiring Commission of FISA (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron in French or the English equivalent International Federation of Rowing Associations) chooses which umpires nominated by their national federations go to which FISA regatta. I was blessed to have been nominated by the national federation of the Philippines and then chosen by the Umpiring Commission to umpire (be a Jury Member) in the World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria last July 2013. In this regatta where athletes from 52 countries participated, there were Jury Members from the following countries: France, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Slovenia and Serbia. Add to this, the Philippines, which I represented.
Trips to Europe fascinate me because it is a combination of the old and the new. There is so much history and culture in Europe, yet it also boasts of technology and modernity. It was unbelievable. The hotel room they assigned to me looked over the Danube River and had the Ars Electronica Center Museum der Zukunft within its sights. This museum had changing lights at night, much like the SkyTower in Auckland.
My favorite part of going to Europe is when I sit on a cobble-stoned walk sitting by a café or restaurant while drinking or eating. The sound of an accordion really seals the deal! Hearing people speak in a foreign language intrigues and excites me as well.
For the duration of this regatta, I was able to try most of the assignments a Jury Member could be assigned to. It was exciting and challenging. One had to stay alert for every umpiring role. The athletes train for months or even years, so the umpires are expected to officiate to a level commensurate to the dedication and training of the athletes.
The gracious hosts of this regatta had prepared and treated us well. At one of the rooftops of the low-lying buildings of the regatta venue, there was a bar where one can drink all the beer you want for free! We would only drink here at the end of each day, though, as we needed to stay alert.
We were treated to a “Nations Dinner” which was held in a rural area which reminded me of the movie, “The Sound of Music”. As usual, wine was served all around before the sumptuous dinner.
My favorite meal was when the organizing committee hosted the members of the Jury and the media to a “roast pork” dinner. The roast pork was actually a variation of the Philippine lechon (roasted pork). Unlike the Philippine version, this pork’s skin was sliced but still crunchy. The Austrian version of the roast pork had a dark skin color and the sauce served was sour and more liquid. The meat part was tasty and its tenderness surprised me.
One of the moments I look forward to is when the Jury Members start arriving and meet at the hotel lobby. What amuses me is that the Jury Members introduce themselves saying their name and country. In my case, I mention two countries. I say, “Mark Dizon, from the Philippines but now living in New Zealand.” This is quite amusing to most people. Some Jury Members are old friends. Some will have just met for the first time.
The umpiring stints in the regattas are an opportunity for me to travel, meet new and old friends, try different drinks and food, learn different cultures and represent two countries. It is a chance to learn so much from people from different countries and, also, share what I know about the Philippines and New Zealand, two countries close to my heart.