Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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Travels in Asia

Author:  Boel Hammarstrand
Last Updated:  05/03/2020
The view from the top of a Taiwan cow-tail fir

The view from the top of a Taiwan cow-tail fir, one of fewer than 1,000 individuals left in Taiwan. This tree has seen a lot during its approximately 800-year lifespan, now including the planning for the WACT. (photo: Weng Heng Bin, Taiwan)

I spent most of December travelling around Asia, meeting arborists in four different countries and participating in three climbing competitions as well as making plans for WACT – Women ’s ArbCamp in Taiwan.

WACT will be held on 6–8 March at ShuiTou Villa in Nantou, Taiwan, and is being organised by Sylvia Hsu and Climbing Trees. The themes of the workshops for the event will relate to strength, health and beauty, and we are planning to include workshops on yoga, stretching, training and healthy eating with the female body and climbing activities in mind, as well as climbing workshops on moving rope and static rope systems for both beginners and those at a more advanced level. The event is open to any woman within the field of arboriculture who wants to travel to Taiwan to be part of WACT: you can find more at www.womensarbcamp.com as well as on the Women’s ArbCamp in Taiwan Facebook and Instagram pages. This will be the first time an event like this has been held in Taiwan and we are super-excited to be able to support and help out at the event.

Just another day hanging out at work for Sylvia Hsu of Climbing Trees

Just another day hanging out at work for Sylvia Hsu of Climbing Trees, teaching students how to climb and sharing her passion for trees to inspire new climbers.

Climbing competitions

During my time in Asia I also participated in three climbing competitions – in Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia. All three competitions were great and very different, and the organisation of the events was amazing. Hong Kong hosted its 10th-anniversary competition and had a really great turnout for the event: there were a total of 37 competitors of whom 12 were women. Competitors travelled from all over the world, including Sweden, the UK, Taiwan, Macau, China and Singapore as well as Hong Kong.

Thailand hosted its second event and attracted 31 competitors of whom eight were women. This competition had a great turnout of international participants both as competitors and judges, with people travelling from Sweden, the UK, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, USA, Malaysia, New Zealand and Thailand. I thought it was great to see such a young chapter and competition being so well organised and already implementing some of the fundamental skills for tree care. Competitors always installed a friction saver before ascending on a moving rope system, even if this meant that they barely got off the ground in the Masters Challenge due to an unlucky throwline. The competitors still took the time to protect the tree and not just climb up without a cambium saver or such like – something that more established chapters and climbers could learn a lot from.

Malaysia has had different organisations running climbing competitions and I think 2019 was the fifth year it hosted a tree climbing competition. There were 40 competitors of whom at least eight were women (I can ’t find the exact number, but we were six women in the Masters and a few that didn ’t make the cut.) Malaysia also had international competitors coming from Sweden, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Are there more women climbers in Asia?

Some of the competitors at the 2019 Hong Kong TCC

Some of the competitors at the 2019 Hong Kong TCC. Left to right: Angel Huang (Hong Kong), Jessica Wen (Hong Kong), Ya Yun Ke (Taiwan), Boel Hammarstrand (Sweden), Sylvia Hsu (Taiwan) and Yan Ling Yu (China). (photo: Facebook)

Some of the competitors at the 2019 Malaysia TCC

Some of the competitors at the 2019 Malaysia TCC. Left to right: Jolyn Sim (Singapore), Clarice Xue (Singapore), Nabila Zulasmin (Malaysia), Nurulhuda Bt Zulkifli and Fath (Malaysia), Diana Chiu (Singapore), Boel Hammarstrand (Sweden), Noorezkey Zulkifli (Malaysia), Chen Ching Ying (Taiwan). (photo: Mohd Faridzi,TACTeam.my)

Boel and Sylvia Hsu next to one of the big ancient Formosan cypress trees in the Lalashan mountains of Taiwa

Boel and Sylvia Hsu next to one of the big ancient Formosan cypress trees in the Lalashan mountains of Taiwan. (photo: Weng Heng Bin, Taiwan)

I got talking with some of the women at the different events to discuss the difference between competing in Asia compared to Europe, as it seemed to me there were many more female competitors than I see in Europe and it wasn ’t just the same women travelling around all three events like I was: there were some who did two of the events, but the majority were only competing in one.

Is that because women in Asia are more competitive or encouraged to take an active part in different sporting competitions from a younger age so it ’s more natural to compete? Are there more women involved in arboriculture as it ’s such a young profession there? Or is it something else driving women to be part of the events? These were some of the questions that I had and was hoping to get answers to.

The conclusion that I reached in the end was that because arboriculture is a somewhat new profession in Asia everyone who has a passion for trees wants to be part of the event, to get the opportunity to network, see, learn and develop their own abilities, regardless of their gender or previous climbing skills. One of the women I talked to pointed out that she felt empowered by being part of the event – she felt empowered by everyone as we all came together to celebrate trees and each other: it was less about gender and more about bringing each other up towards a joint goal for the trees.

I also realised that a lot of the women I talked to do not work as full-time climbing arborists in the sense that we use the term in Europe, i.e. they don ’t necessarily work with pruning and maintaining or removing trees. A lot of the women were working in research, training, writing reports or other non-climbing arb-related jobs. This means that being part of the competition is an opportunity to climb for a lot of them. It ’s a chance to practise their climbing skills and to see and learn about other and new techniques. It ’s not all about being the best climber but more about spending time with everyone else and hanging out with all your friends.

I had such a great time travelling around in Asia and a lot of it is thanks to Sylvia and Climbing Trees who took me all over Taiwan to see trees and to climb big, unusual ones, as well as letting me see the different workshops etc. that they run for students. They took me to the Lalashan mountains to see the giant cypresses, as well as to see and climb a Taiwan cow-tail fir in a beautiful location and a 50m cypress in the Taichung city area. Taiwan is full of beautiful trees, mountains and great people and I would recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to go there and check it out.

Travelling in Asia also made me appreciate the effort everyone took to talk to me so that I could understand, with English not being their first language. I also realised how difficult it might be for them to travel to parts of the world where they might be expected to understand and talk English and how easy it is as an English-speaking competitor to compete internationally compared to a non-English speaking competitor, even inside Europe and North America.

Women’s ArbCamp Europe

Being away in Taiwan and Asia hasn ’t stopped the planning for WAC 2020 in Europe. We have been talking with BAAS ISA, the Belgian arborist association, and the event will be held in Belgium in August – venue and dates to be confirmed and published on the website, Instagram and Facebook as soon as things are finalised. If you want to get involved in the event, don ’t hesitate to reach out and contact us. As always, the WAC will include different climbing workshops, and we might try to find workshops to cover some of the topics included in WACT, for example, yoga, stretching and training to prevent injuries. If there are any specific workshops you want to attend or would like to hold, send us an email at info@womensarbcamp.com or a message on Facebook or Instagram at WomensArbCamp.

Boel Hammarstrand is the founder of Women ’s ArbCamp. She is a self-employed contractor (Boel Hammarstrand ’s Trädvård (Sweden) and Swallows Tree Surgery (UK)), an NPTC trainer and assessor, and a regular competitor and judge at climbing competitions.

This article was taken form Issue 188 Spring 2020 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.