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Michael Fincher: A weekend at UC Merced

There was plenty to do for students who decided to spend a recent weekend at UC Merced. Usually, students leave on Fridays at the earliest time possible, sometimes skipping lectures or labs, but the campus remained crowded throughout the weekend.

Friday night featured the 2009 Dance Off, sponsored by the Hip Hop Movement, INTRO and the Dance Coalition, all rival dance clubs on campus. Applause and cheering from the event could be heard across campus, as over 800 students who attended packed the school's gym to watch and cheer on their favorite teams. Many students spent the night or stayed the entire weekend just to attend the event.

The fun ended after two hours, at 10 p.m., and most students went back to their rooms. About 100 feet away in the canal, several UCM residents were just beginning to have fun finding food for the night. I am not talking about students, but the local family of raccoons, who seemed perfectly content splashing around in the algae-covered water scrounging for food. Catching sight of the furry creatures running single-file around campus is a common sight for those who have classes at night, and is quite humorous.

The next day a truck full of students went snowshoeing in Yosemite, one of many trips the Outdoors Adventure program offers during the semester, for fairly reasonable prices. These events are open to non-UC students, though the fees are higher.

Also taking place on Saturday morning was a Northern California Collegiate Volleyball League men's volleyball mini-tournament, which included teams from Humboldt, Cal Poly, Sac State, UC Davis and Berkeley. Unfortunately for the UC Merced men's volleyball team, a player was injured during the warm-up session when he landed wrong and had to be taken away in an ambulance for what many said was a broken fibula.

Elsewhere on campus that day was the Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of Japanese culture. It also commemorates 1912, when the mayor of Tokyo sent a gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, D.C. The event, planned by the Nikkei Student Union, featured many displays, including intricate origami, and Japanese food, such as donburi (fried chicken and rice).

The 100-plus crowd had plenty to do, such as visiting the SOA Brigade, a student group for those interested in anime, which featured a display of the Japanese cartoons. There were also various games to play such as bean bag toss tic-tac-toe, human Tetris and a ping-pong toss. Several martial arts demonstrations took place, along with a taiko (Japanese drums) performance. Also present was a group of community members who sang traditional American and western songs, both in English and Japanese.

What was most intriguing to me was the table that featured calligraphy and a display of Japanese coins. Visitors could have their names written in Japanese on a paper attached to a coin from early 1900s Japan. Some of the coins were from Japanese-occupied territory, such as Korea and Manchuria, during World War II. Also in the collection were several coins cast during the war, and U.S. military currency issued during the occupation of Japan.

The owner of the coins, who donated them to raise funds for the Nikkei Student Union, was Eldon Perkins, a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific Theater. As I spent time talking with Perkins, I learned that his collection of coins began when he was a 19-year-old soldier stationed in Japan after the war. What was most interesting was that he was fluent in Japanese, and he conversed in the language with many students and community members, much to their surprise.

Later that evening students and guests were invited to eat dinner and view a luau staged by Ohana, a Hawaiian cultural club on campus. Those who attended had the opportunity to make their own leis, have their faces painted or participate in a tug-of-war. The dancers wore authentic hula skirts, shipped from Hawaii. Several of their performances were the Story of Hula, Story of the Luau, the story of Ohana and the History of Tahiti.

All events were huge successes for UC Merced, as they were able to keep students on campus during the weekends. The events also welcomed members of the Merced community to campus. Hopefully, there will be more events this semester where students will invite community members to spend time and have fun here at UC Merced.

Michael Fincher is a student at UC Merced.