Lesson Number 4: Sports

Before we left the U.S. we enjoyed all sorts of co-ed group sports. Among them were softball, beach volleyball, bowling, and curling (the kind where you slide really heavy rocks across a sheet of ice and sweep to control the speed of your shots). When we left, we knew most of these group sports opportunities would be hard to come by, but with more space left over in our shipment than expected we stuffed in three bowling balls and called it good. Little did we know some tennis rackets and soccer cleats would have come in handy as well…

Tennis courts right outside out apartment, down and to the right.
Tennis courts right outside out apartment, down and to the right.
The first pieces of equipment we bought were tennis rackets. David has only ever played 3 or 4 times before, so I was surprised he was interested in trying it again. Our apartment complex has two tennis courts in it which happen to be right outside out building. This may have had something to do with it. We went to Decathlon (the best sports equipment store in town), navigated our way through the masses of children playing on every piece of equipment imaginable and bought halfway decent tennis rackets and two cans of balls to get us started. No one was seriously injured during this trip to the store, though I did get hit by a child wielding a badminton racket and not paying any attention at all to his surroundings. Next step was reserving the court. David called the number he was told might have someone who could speak English, and when the other person picked up he immediately asked if they could speak English. No. So in broken Chinese he managed to say tennis and the person on the other end of the phone asked in perfect English when we would like to play. Um…your English is much better than our Chinese, why did you say “no” earlier? Later in the week we got to play for a bit, but our play was cut short after David managed to lose an entire can of balls over the fence. I was able to rescue one from the bamboo forest surrounding the fence, but he immediately put it right back over and we were done. There is even an instructor here who gives lessons, David thinks he will look into this option before we play again.

Far more popular in China than tennis, though, are badminton and table tennis.

Badminton courts at our apartment complex.
Badminton courts at our apartment complex.
A few weeks ago I met a Chinese woman at the gym. We started chatting and she ended up inviting me to play badminton a few weeks later. Badminton, I learned, is a very serious sport in China. Even the most average looking Chinese person could probably crush you at badminton. I am of course generalizing, I’m sure some of you reading this would put up a good fight. When my friend arrived she had brought her daughter and another friend to play. While we did not officially keep score, I am pretty sure I did not win. These unassuming looking Chinese women suddenly became slightly terrifying on the badminton court! The sheer amount of force they put into every shot was quite surprising. I got much more of a workout than I anticipated and they tried to teach me how to not make so many mistakes. I had to explain I was used to a tennis racket, so the fact that I was missing so many shots was because the rackets were so different (obviously). The whole while I was there I wondered if they like this sport because you can put all the power you want into a shot and your chances of seriously injuring someone with the shuttlecock (yes that’s it’s name) or birdie is almost non-existent. Being that I was not quite up to their standards I spent over half the time there playing with her daughter, who was considerably younger than me.

We ended our play with a game of “who can catch the most birdies the storage tube” and went for dinner just behind my apartment. All in all of was an entertaining experience, but I am now a bit intimidated to play any more Chinese people in a real game of badminton…and I’m even worse at ping pong.

The last sport we are attempting to learn is Rugby. I just bought my first pair of soccer boots, as the Brits call them, and David and I joined in an afternoon team building session with our co-workers who play on a co-ed touch rugby team. Trying to hash out the differences between football and rugby was challenging at first (no forward passes, touch down literally involves you touching the ball to the ground, and you have to get back 5m on defense before you are allowed to “touch” the next player to name a few), but after a few drills and some play time we sorted out the basics. Being that the Rugby world cup has just started we were invited over by David’s boss (aka our only expat co-worker who is even close to our age) to watch the opening ceremony and game along with breakfast followed by an evening in Shanghai. We asked lots of questions, only understood about half of what was happening, and enjoyed some delicious omelets in the process.

David & Mark
Represent: South Africa and Michigan State. (Also, meat pie and beer)

I found an Aaron in my travels!
In other news, we found renters for our house in the states, so we are quite relieved that our house will be occupied for at least the next year. We celebrated with sushi and drinks and are looking forward to a little extra income to add to our travel budget. Next week we will start our travels in Vietnam!

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