Columns, Opinion

GIESLEMANN: China’s national pastime

Waking up without the sound of my alarm jostling me from sleep is a wonderful feeling. Sleeping in is something I took for granted during my obscenely long winter break. Now I look forward to weekends when I can finally recuperate and gain back the hours I lost during the week working on Chinese homework and commuting to downtown Shanghai. On this particular Sunday, I yawn and hop out of bed, wrestle on my clothes and head to my window. Looking out from the 12th floor in the morning is quite possibly the biggest moment of my day: I get to see if the weather will allow for any games of basketball.

Basketball has been an interesting fixture in my life for a long time. I used to spend hours on the broken hoop in front of my house hoisting shots, pretending I was a young Tracy McGrady or Allen Iverson. I was the terror of my middle school teams, but not in a good way. Scratch that — I was terrible. Despite my adoration for the sport, I was relegated to B Team after B Team. I became bitter that my love for basketball was not reciprocated in success.

As a discouraged 11-year-old, I decided basketball simply wasn’t for me. I began wearing my khakis to practice, neglecting my hoop and eventually telling my Dad I wanted to quit. He later told me that hearing my first real admission of failure was one of his favorite moments of parenthood.

I mostly shunned basketball until my best friend in high school convinced me to play a couple of pick up games after we graduated high school. Due to a growth spurt and increased coordination I realized that I was slightly less terrible than I remembered. This improvement rekindled my passion, and I began to follow professional basketball (Go Warriors!) while playing pickup games with increasing regularity.

Boston University only stoked my interest in basketball further, as the majority of my friends also engage in the sport. While panting my way up and down the courts at FitRec, I became somewhat convinced that every one of my friends is better than me. This discrepancy motivates me to get better while playing, only helping to intensify my basketball fever.

Now, as I look out of my window and see the sun shining on the building opposite mine, I eagerly text a couple of friends, hoping to head out to play soon. I go through my morning routine: reading, checking my email, brewing instant coffee and generally loafing about my apartment. An hour passes and I hear nothing from my friends. Still determined to get a couple of games in, I throw my shorts on, lace my Nikes up and head outside.

The five-minute walk to the basketball courts is filled with things that I’ve begun to describe as “typical China,” things that used to make me double-take but now seem as common to me as Uggs and leggings on BU’s campus. I pass by stray cats, carts full of fruit and a sleeping, street-side bicycle vendor on a street lined with signs written in a foreign language I am only beginning to understand.

The green, turf-like surface of the Fudan University basketball courts is covered with students, from casual ballers in jeans and dress shoes to lanky kids in long athletic shorts and several wristbands. Regardless of the variety of players on the court, a quick look around reveals that I’m the only obvious foreigner.

Overcoming my timidity, I walk up to a group of Chinese kids that look to be playing at a level near my skill set.  I stretch out a bit and try not to look conspicuous. During a break in the game, I muster up my courage and ask the group in Chinese if I can join next game. They kids look at each other, nod at me reassuringly and tell me something that I can only take to mean I’ll get my opportunity.

Our games go smoothly. Surprisingly, the most interesting facet of the whole day is trying to interpret what everyone around me is saying in Chinese.

I figured out how to say everything from “nice shot” to “my bad” and even some less appropriate phrases. One of my opponents yelled at me to shoot the ball every time I touched it. I taunted him in the same manner the next time he got the ball; unfortunately for me, his shot went in.

Basketball has become huge in China in recent years and the surge is made apparent on the streets of Shanghai. There is a huge mural of Kobe Bryant near the train stop I take to work and I recently watched a Warriors game live on Chinese TV. As a basketball enthusiast, all I can do is sit back and appreciate the expanded ability to connect with the people around me.



Tate Gieselmann is a College of Arts and Sciences junior studying abroad in China. He can be reached at[email protected].

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