The summer when I was seven, I participated in my neighbourhood’s tiny summer festival hosted in the park near my house. It was the first summer I spent in this new suburban neighbourhood, and I wasn’t particularly excited. I was still missing my old community of tiny half-dilapidated apartments, and in my mind, nothing in this new place could beat any fun time I’d had in my old place.
Since I didn’t have close friends here yet, I went to the festival by myself. The park was right around the corner from my house. When I got there, I saw many stalls hosted by older children and adults. I recognized some familiar faces from school, too.
I did one draw to win a tiny, tiny toy, then walked around the park to see what else was there. That was when I learned about the ramune gulping contest.
Children were gathering around a table with bottles of ramune drink – Japanese bubbly juice typical in summer. When I enquired what was happening, somebody said that this was a contest.
“The person who can drink the most in 10 seconds wins the game!”
Bubbly drinks were my favourite thing to drink in summer ever since my maternal grandmother introduced me to them when I was three. Being a big fan of bubbly juice herself, every summer, she had a whole section of her fridge dedicated to her favourite sparkling juice cans. And I used to drink them with her whenever I visited.
“I want to join the game!” I declared to the game host.
I lined up with other kids in front of the table, and with the sound of the whistle, I started drinking my ramune juice. The strong sparkling sensation hit my entire mouth, but I pushed on.
Upon the host’s signal, we all placed the bottles on the table. The staff went around the table to check how much was left in each bottle. My opponents were all making strange faces. They said it was quite a challenge. Really? I didn’t share that sentiment.
“The winner of the first group is…YOU!” The game host turned to me and clapped his hands. “Congratulations, you’ll go to the final round!”
The final round was a direct match with the winner of the other group. We were each given a new bottle of ramune. I thought to myself how lucky it was that I could have two ramune bottles in one day. My mother wouldn’t allow that.
“Ready, set… GO!”
I picked up my bottle and started shoving the drink in my mouth. The sparkling sensation punched everywhere in my mouth, but I didn’t stop. In front of me, my opponent was having a tough time. His face grimaced.
As soon as the host’s voice rang, everybody came closer to see who won the game.
“WOW!” People’s eyes turned to me. “You almost drank the whole thing?!”
“Congratulations!” The host clapped his hands and beamed at me. “You are the WINNER of this ramune gulping contest!”
I had never won any festival game in my life. I certainly hadn’t expected that my love of sparkling juice would bring me under such a spotlight. But it felt wonderful to win a game, especially this game. I don’t remember what I got as a prize, but I was so proud of myself that the fact of my winning remained in my memory.