5:20 am, my alarm goes off and it’s time to get up. I wash my face, brush my teeth put on shorts, rubber shoes and an old jersey. As I sit in my kitchen waiting for my friend to pick me up I can’t help but to feel nervous. Today, I was going to train with the Ateneo Rowing Team. We headed out to Makati along the Pasig River and arrived in the Manila Boat Club. Just as I got there I was already greeted with pleasant good mornings by other teammates. I looked around and saw an old 1950’s clubhouse (where the boats were kept), and outside the club, there were chickens, cats, flies all over the place, mud on the ground, and drunk Europeans who ironically owned the club.
The place wasn’t bad I thought, but something else caught my attention, a sort of glimmer… it was the Pasig River. I honestly imagined the river to be grimy and full of garbage and dead animals rotting with stench but what I saw was the complete opposite of what I expected. It didn’t stink at all but rather smelled a bit like the ocean. The sun gleamed on top of the perfectly smooth river. It was so smooth and calm that you could see your reflection clearly. The place was surrounded by a multitude of white birds (the kind of white birds you only see in the province) It felt as if we were completely separated from the city, the jeeps and buses could not even be heard, it was so silent, so peaceful.
A good five minutes passed by and it was already time to row. I only learned then that rowing consisted of different events such as the singles, the doubles and the quads. There are also two distinct kinds of boats, the lights, which were usually the thinner kind of boat which they use in competitions and then there was the heavies which was a much wider boat and easier to balance, usually used to train the “noobs”, as they call them. Today, I was given the chance to “cox” (the navigator of the boat) a heavy boat with four rowers. I had my own personal seat facing the rowers. My job wasn’t difficult at all I just had to sit there and direct the boat, pull the cox on the left side and it will turn left, and pull the cox on the right side and it will turn right, simple logic.
At first, I was anxious getting on the boat because I was afraid to fall in the river but as we started moving it was a rather pleasant ride. We started out a bit shakey but after a while we rowed smoothly. They told me that they usually row a good 2000 meters reaching the first bridge then back to the dock but on a good day they can reach all the way up to eight kilometers passing through five bridges including that of the famous Guadalupe bridge. The rowing experience was chill maybe because I was just sitting there watching them row and looking out for obstacles that may possibly hit us but I could also tell that the rowers were just as anxious as I was, they have a first timer directing their boat!! Why wouldn’t they be?
Before getting on the boat the rowing veterans warned me not to daydream because that is what usually happens which causes the whole crew to lose their balance. Despite the fact they told me to do so, it was hard for me to keep focus because I couldn’t stop watching what was happening around me. I witnessed the morning life in the Pasig River, we would pass by all other bigger boats docked on the side, there were children swimming, bystanders waving at us and people who were even fishing. It’s funny how people think that the Pasig River is one huge dumpsite although from what I saw it still provides livelihood and sustenance for others.
Going back to the row, being side tracked by the events that came our way, our boat would usually go to the side nearly hitting other boats but thankfully the rowers whom I was with would tell me what to do. I felt kind of guilty for ruining their rowing streak but then they told me that it was all right. Another thing I noticed was that at the beginning of the row, the rowers would still make kwento and tell jokes but at the time we reach the bridge and we were half way through, it starts to become more quiet and more serious. Sitting there and listening to them row made me learn the different terms they use for the strokes, when they say “long and hard” it refers to the graceful strokes which use length to row to prepare for the hards, when they say “hard 10” it means 10 strokes of full power, then there are the bow side and the stroke side which are terms used to signify which way to go, bow is to go right while stroke is to go left.
After a good 40 minutes we finally reached the dock. What a sigh of relief! We made it! I thought it was over but I was wrong. Apparently the rowing team has a tradition of making new comers wash the boat! I thought they were kidding, but sadly they weren’t. I along with other rookies, washed off the sebo-like liquid (like that of bulalo) from butt of the boat. After this it was finally time to go home.
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
With participant observation I was able to gain more knowledge about my experience because instead of just observing the daily training of the rowing team I got to experience it first hand. Instead of asking the team how rowing felt I was able to feel it too. With this, I learned that rowing can be a really difficult sport because it takes a lot of effort and dedication. When you’re out there to row you have to give your 100% and push yourself until you can no longer go on. This experience gave me a lot more respect for the sport and the team.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Having my key informant with me almost the whole time I was able to gain explanations on things I couldn’t understand. Like if I wanted to know what the terms they used meant or the reasons why they perform such activities I was able to just ask him. Also, his presence helped me become more comfortable with the rest of the rowing team because I got to see them all as friends and not as strangers. Because of this I didn’t have that awkward feeling and I was able to relax, and by being relaxed I was able to gain more insights and observations
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
A questionnaire or interview will miss the sight seeing and getting to know the team. You would not know how it truly felt rowing in the Pasig River. You wouldn’t get to know the training rituals or the sequence of training. With participant observation I was able to observe how the team was in their training environment rather than out of training. Moreover with just an interview you can’t really describe how difficult or chill the rowing vibe is once you experienced it yourself. Something cannot be described in words, but better in feelings.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
In an interview or questionnaire sometimes it is easier to gain access on private information if it is by random. Moreover, by conducting interviews and questionnaires you can get straightforward answers to your questions. Since it can be in paper form you easily gain access to statistics and both qualitative and qualitative data. Also, a disadvantage of participant observation is that it may have the “observer effect” where in the people that surround you act differently because of your presence. In my case, they didn’t get to fully row because they had to watch out on what I was doing.
Arabela Angliongto SA21:Y