Racing babies at RT-Mart

I was in the mood for some microwave pizza (yeah, I don’t know why either, but sometimes you get weird cravings), so I went down to the one and only local department store, which in my town happens to be RT mart (大潤發).  As I entered the foyer of the building, I heard a commotion around the corner.  Walking over, I saw a crowd gathered, standing shoulder to shoulder.  Excited chatterings washed over me.  It was reminiscent of an illegal cock or dog fighting scene, except that this was in a well lit department store, not a dimly lit, smoky basement somewhere.  Oh yeah, and no one was looking all gangster-ish and waving around wads of money.

Since I had some time to kill, I wandered over to see what was going on.  Shouldering my way in, I saw this:

Start

Huh??!  I was a little confused at first, but then it dawned on me – Baby racing!!!

Really?

Ok, so I’ll admit I was pertty interested – I’d never seen baby racing before.  Hamster racing – check.  Dog/cat racing – ok.  Even saw elephant racing once, but never baby racing.

Immediate ethical issues jumped up at me, but I put them aside just as quickly, reasoning that this is probably a once in a lifetime thing – these parents didn’t look like they were trying to train the next World’s fastest athlete.  And I doubt there is a mafia run, underground baby racing circuit in Taiwan.  Besides being mind-numbingly slow, there are issues with pooping and crying that I just don’t think mafia types would be too keen on dealing with.

Anyway, back to this new spectacle.

So, once they were lined up, the crowed tensed with anticipation.  The parents were focused, the kids on the mat.  Everyone was waiting for the race to begin.  The lady controlling the race raised her hand…counted to 3…dropped her hand and….well, it’s a baby race…nothing really happened:

They're off

Besides the keener in the pink lane, who crawled a few steps, nothing changed.  Parents were urging from the start and other relatives were waving toys/enticements from the finish.  Didn’t look like the babies really cared.

As the time clock ticked, there were a few reactions.  Our  keener in the pink lane hesitated upon spotting his opponent’s teddy bear.  Go for gold? or go for that nice toy?

Misstep2

One of the poor tots just wasn’t having any and made it abundantly clear:

Scared2

Next to poor scaredy cat, the contestant in the far lane was just plain confused – looking at the officials for guidance, while number 52 in the blue lane started eyeing up her (his?) opponent’s bright yellow ball.  Notice that scaredy cat has been pulled out and is being comforted by her coach:

Confused, distracted2

Finally, it was number 52 (momentarily forgetting the ball) and her (his?) nemesis in the pink lane that made a break away, charging down the lanes in fierce competition:

Going for gold

Unfortunately, being a baby and all, number 52 got distracted and decided to do some sightseeing instead.  Our determined athlete in the pink lane was all business though – he powered through for the win:

Distracted again2

This whole thing took about 10 mins.

I brought this up with my girlfriend when I got home, and apparently it’s something that does occasionally happen.  Considering Taiwan’s enduring fascination with all things cute and cuddly, I can see why they might find this type of thing appealing.  Also, she said, that it gave young kids an opportunity to develop their self confidence by interacting with other kids in a busy environment.  Hmmm..not sure if I buy that – isn’t that what school’s for?

Part of me was thinking that these parents are using their kids as monkeys in a cage to perform tricks, while part was thinking – hey…it’s just a fun thing to do.  The only obviously negative thing I saw (little girl scared who didn’t want to do it) was quickly stopped as her mother pulled her out and started comforting her, so I’m leaning more toward the “fun little game” side.

Oh man – have I been in Taiwan too long?

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