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Taiwan’s First Antarctic Expedition – Journey Revealed

December 13, 2018 might have been just another normal day for you. You probably couldn’t recall what you did that day. But for the Gamania Cheer Up Foundation, it was the day when the unforgettable Antarctic adventure started. Gamania’s founder, Albert, was the team leader of this adventure. He recruited his good friends, the documentary director Yang Li-Chou (楊力州) and his photographer, Chris Wang (宥勝), Tommy Chen (陳彥博) and two other expedition team members Sherry Lin (林語萱) and Gary Wu (吳昇儒) to embark on the journey. After 3 months of relaxation and rest, Albert and Director Yang started an open conversation to share the unforgettable adventure with Gamania’s staff.

Q1: What was the biggest challenge during the Antarctic adventure?

A1:

Team work and the weather.

Albert said that the expedition was the result of the cooperation between the Taiwan team and the Iceland team. However, due to the harsh weather and misjudgment of food supply, the two teams found it difficult to cooperate and create common grounds, leading to escalated tension. During the 60-day journey, there was a blizzard for more than 80 percent of the days. This is why Chris Wang decided to quit on Day 2. Albert was also feeling unwell in various parts of his body such as the spine, the right shoulder, and the left knee. On top of that, because of misjudgment on the Iceland team’s side, it turned out the planned 30-day food supply would deplete in just 13 days, striking a huge blow in the two team’s mutual trust and challenging the coordination ability of Albert’s team.  

Director Yang pointed out that on the second day, the tension between two groups were so intense that it could snap at any second. It made him so anxious that he unloaded all of the video equipment off the Antarctic vehicle. Albert also even went as far as to unload all of the communications equipment. “At the time, we were most worried about being backstabbed!” The two were super worried that the Iceland team would be driven by emotions and drove away all three Antarctic vehicles and hang the Taiwan team out to dry. Faced with the uncontrollable situation, Albert decided to call a group meeting, reminding everyone of their beloved “family” and that their common goal was to return alive. It was on this basis that the adventure could proceed safely. Albert said that if there is a next time, he would want to train even the back-up team himself.  

Director Yang, who followed Tommy Chen to the North Pole to film the North Pole Marathon, said that the South Pole was even a greater challenge than the North Pole. “When we were in the North Pole, there was a blizzard around 3 to 5 days out of the 21 days we were there. But out of the 60 days in the South Pole this time, there were only 3 to 5 days that it did not have a blizzard.” Apart from the extreme weather, the team had to finish their expedition in merely 16 days due to the shortage of food supply. Also, Albert chose to take the highland route, which was extremely cold and low in oxygen. All of these reasons made the adventure increasingly difficult. One would need tremendous resolution to finish it; otherwise, they would be tempted to give up.

▲The team members of the Antarctic expedition (Photo from https://www.nownews.com/news/20190216/3227305/)    


Q2:  Regarding the daily life in Antarctic, is there anything you would like to share specifically?  

A2:

When it comes to sharing the experience of the daily life there, Albert and Director Yang would hate to leave anything out. But since time was limited, they shared a “very detailed” story regarding food and excretion.  

According to the Antarctic Treaty, no one can leave any waste on the Antarctic, meaning even the urine and feces the body produce will have to be taken away. This sounds rather reasonable at first, but is extremely difficult to carry out. The team brought three barrels to contain the members’ excrement. Whenever they arrived at a camping site, someone would need to set up a camping toilet. Within the toilet, two holes would be dug out, one for standing, the other (which would be two meters wide) was for placing the barrels. One would have one minute to take off their equipment and use the bathroom, which was even more rigorous than being in the army. Not to mention that females members would even have a harder time at it. If one needed to use the toilet while hiking, they would be looking for trouble, because there was a huge snowstorm and the plastic bag used to hold urine would be totally uncontrollable. Plus, it needed to be done within just one minute, or you froze or you chose to pee on yourself.  

On the flight back from the Antarctic to Chile, the three barrels full of excrement were situated very close to the team. As the temperature was getting higher, the barrel, which exuded hardly any smell previously, were now smelling. The “overdue smells” were coming back to haunt the team. Director Yang said, smiling, that there were times when the flight was bumpy and if the barrels were not sealed properly… you know what to expect.  

Regarding food in the Antarctic, there were two kinds: the action food and the dehydrated food. The once a day action food packed in extremely high calories. The dehydrated food, nicknamed the “red package,” was poured with hot water made from ice by the team members responsible for cooking. After soaking in the 60-degree hot water for 10 minutes, the food would be ready. In the beginning, when the members were still feeling generally well, eating wasn’t a big problem. However, towards the latter part of the adventure, Albert was the only one who would not keep throwing up what he ate. Director Yang said that riding in an Antarctic vehicle was like riding in a bumper car. It was okay in the short term, but when you were riding in it 12 hours a day, it was another story. Often, a jolt would send the food from the stomach up to the throat. Since you could not throw up out of the window, you would have to swallow it back. The considerate Albert knew that members were losing their appetite, so he would choose food that were less popular, such as natto, and leaving chicken curry or brisket-flavored food for other team members.  

Although Albert and Director Yang were literally “savoring the moments” when they recalled these events, bringing roaring laughter among the Gamania staff, it would not have been funny at the time. Having to force themselves to eat despite not having appetite just to maintain body functions could not have been pleasant. Director Yang also noted that Albert was considerate to have prepared ginger tea. In the minus 30-degree Antarctic and having ginger tea to drink brought such joy. (Albert also recommended bringing good thermal flasks. The ones provided by the Iceland team were useless. The drinks were all frozen. But a drink in a Thermos would still be steaming hot!)    


Q3: What was the most unforgettable part?

A3:

“The most unforgettable part for me was the second day. It was the longest day during the adventure.” Albert could still feel it to this day. As his spine was hurting unbearably, the accompanying personnel were worried about his health and even suggested that he should quit. But Albert just gritted his teeth and bore it. Having skied for 11 km, Albert was completely numb from the waist down. When he tried to walk, he realized he couldn’t. This was when the vehicle was called for support. But the snow was deep and the vehicle had a hard time moving. When the wheels turned, it dug and sank into the snow.  

It was on the same day, when Albert was at his weakest both physically and mentally, that he started to have illusions. He felt there was a cliff in front of him. In the Antarctic, the ice sheets could indeed have cracks, or crevasses, that are as deep as a few hundred meters. If anyone falls into it, there’s no doubt they would definitely lose their lives. When Albert saw the cliff, he took off his skiing goggles to try to take a clearer look. And suddenly the ground became flat again. So it was an illusion indeed. In order not to affect the team’s morale, he swallowed it and mentioned it to no one. Even Director Yang only learned it at the Gamania convention.

▲Faced with all the calamities, when the beloved “family” was mentioned, no one was able to hold back tears (Photo from https://www.nownews.com/news/20190216/3227305/)


Q4: What is the indispensible value of this adventure?

A4:

Albert believes that adventures fuels the power for improvements. All improvements result from adventurous spirits. Yet, adventures and recklessness are not the same. Adventures require comprehensive planning and the courage to step outside the comfort zone to achieve a better state. Many people question whether the Antarctic expedition was an adventure or an act to challenge danger. Albert believes that he is not intentionally challenging danger, but that when you challenge yourself to achieve a goal, danger is usually an inherent element.  

On the other hand, Director Yang shared an anecdote of his son. When his son was still learning to walk, in order to get a toy he really wanted, he would let go of his dad’s hand and adventured to take steps towards it. It did not matter when he fell down after he had gotten the toy. He just stood up again. Director Yang thinks that everyone has a natural adventurous spirit. However, as people get older, it is usually forgotten or lost. In the end, they could only look back on those wonderful times they used to have, which is a pity.    

“I had faith in Albert. I knew that even if it meant he had to crawl, he would do so to reach his Antarctic goals,” Director Yang, who knew Albert well, said vigorously during his speech. Albert thinks that whatever adventure one chooses to embark on, they have to know their goals clearly. Rather than intentionally putting oneself in danger, one should try to work towards his/her goal. He used his adventure philosophy to encourage all Gamania staff to strive to become their better self, both in life and at work.  

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