PHNOM PENH – From a dinosaur park to shopping mall and state-of-the-art stadium, the SEA Games can sometimes throw up some surprises for the unsuspecting visitor.
Here at the Games in Phnom Penh, indoor hockey and floorball players are greeted by the sight of a brontosaurus as they walk into the Dinosaur Park Hall and cricketers do battle in a field surrounded by a construction yard. Contrast that with the showpiece of the Games – the spanking new 65,000-seater Morodok Techo National Stadium built at a cost of US$150 million (S$200.6 million).
Some of the locations may be quirky and unusual, but it is all a part of the novelty that is the SEA Games.
Unlike the national stadium, some like the floorball venue at the Chroy Changvar Convention Centre will return to its original purpose – an indoor playground – after the Games close on May 17.
The sprawling 2.68-ha facility has also hosted intense action for sports like silat, ju-jitsu and fencing, though post-Games, things will be more sedate as it will go back to hosting weddings and receptions.
This is no Olympics, nor the Fifa World Cup or the Asian Games, where organisers hand out freebies like mobile phones to athletes. Here at the SEA Games, one cannot expect world class venues, high speed Wi-Fi or a well-stocked media centre pantry. Forget luxury, reporters and photographers are happy to have a table to work at.
But everyone shrugs and carries on, because this is the SEA Games.
Athletes play cricket on sand, rather than grass but the Singaporeans go on to win gold. At the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Ngo Lan Huong teaches a masterclass in xiangqi (Chinese chess) as she overcomes stuffy conditions and opponents to become the Republic’s first women’s champion.
Grab a donut or two before heading into the billiards hall at the Aeon Mall Sen Sok, it is all a part of the Games experience.
The SEA Games, known somewhat affectionately as the “kampung Games” is where one sees things from a different lens.
Moving cranes loom at the National Olympic Stadium Swimming Centre, where water polo is being contested. Shirtless men, presumably construction workers, stop work on the housing structure to watch the crunch match between Singapore and Indonesia.
The view is not only different, things can also function in fun, haphazard ways too.
At the Morodok Techo National Stadium, my colleague David Lee and I were able to walk a full lap on its blue-rubber tracks on Monday.
In fact, David even attempted a quick dash to the finish line – there were no security officers in sight – the same one sprint queen Shanti Pereira crossed first twice to claim her 100m and 200m double.
She ended up with two golds, David had a sore hamstring to show for it.
The lights may go out suddenly and once in a while, you may find yourself stranded outside a remote stadium with only stray dogs for company, but these are moments that live long in the memory.
And that’s what makes the SEA Games truly unique.