Works and Days

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"badminton"


Take Me Out to the Ball Game...

For the first decade of my life I was raised, shall we say, sports-agnostic. My family didn't hate sports, we just paid almost no attention to the usual lot of them—basketball, football, baseball. We were a remote island from the great continent of American sporting life, and those bits of scandal-ridden sports news that did float our way were enough to keep us distant and disinterested—even disapproving.

When I was about ten though, an unexpected bridge to a wholly different continent—and a totally different sport—opened up and my family stumbled upon badminton. The truth is my dad had a Chinese girlfriend at the time and she introduced the sport to him.

As the story goes, my dad, knowing that his girlfriend liked the sport, bought a cheap two-racket-plastic-bird-volleyball-net badminton set and presented it to her one summer day. She promptly laughed. “That's not real badminton,” she said. Wondering what she could have meant by this, my dad decided to bring her to our local junior college, knowing it offered open-gym play for just a few dollars. There my fit, well-coordinated dad proceeded to get clobbered by girlfriend and company. He took big hammer-swings at the bird, but it was no use—he looked like a fool to the delight of his more skilled opponents. But he relished the challenge, committed to playing at least once a week, improved his technique, and soon brought myself and my brother along to play as well. In no time it was our weekly tradition.

“??????????” (“They'll play games, you do footwork.”?

Bas-relief of badminton player.

Those words more or less capture the story of my life for the past several weeks.

I am here at Beijing Sports University, staying in the international students dorm, waiting and writing as my clothes dry. I have no drying rack and the dorms have no dryers, so I've improvised a little bit with the curtain rods hanging around the window.

The room is nice. And the conspicuous absence of a dryer in these otherwise well-outfitted dorms is normal for Chinese colleges and households—where clothes hanging outside rooms is the rule and not the exception. You can bet that even if a Chinese person had a dryer, and all the money in the world to use it, many of those clothes would still be stubbornly hung up for Mother Nature to do her thing. Call it frugality mixed with convention, plus a dash of environmentalism Dorm room and hanging clothes.for those looking for it.

Through the window I see the red-brick, white-trim facade of the adjacent student dorm block. In a way almost reminiscent of Reed, these red bricks adorn most all of BSU's buildings, giving them dignified uniformity. But unlike our Eliot Hall's Gothic crown, these buildings are garnished with everything from Greco-Roman colonnades (a nice nod to the school's Olympic enthusiasm, I thought!), to elaborate futurist super-structures, to the traditional Chinese roof, with its signature corner-curl. Gymnastics hall. Overall the campus sports a comfortable ambiance and beauty, and I've come to love it here. Huge trees and nature diversions line the university's main roads. Outside tennis, volleyball and basketball courts abound. Bronze statues of athletes in-the-act are dedicated outside training halls (although much to my chagrin, I have yet to find the badminton statue). And of course, a great white Statue of Chairman MaoChairman Mao greets all those who enter.

White Net Under a Red Flag: A First Look at one of China's Most Popular Sports

If you have been watching the World Cup, or keep tabs on any other sport, it should come as no surprise that sports play a very meaningful roles in our lives in the 21st century. Here is a PSF project about a sport you may have never thought seriously about, but which is ubiquitous across Asia and especially in China.

"Everybody is crazy about badminton here," my new friend says as we sit along side East China Normal University's badminton courts. His name is Varun and he is an Indian graduate student who started playing badminton when he matriculated to ECNU two years ago. Varun plays with the Chinese regulars at the gym almost every day, and knows most everyone here. "I never played in India, although it's quite popular there," he tells me. "But now," he says with a smile on his face, "I'm addicted."

What Varun said about ECNU's badminton craze is not hard to see when we look out in front of us. It is Wednesday late afternoon and most of the gym's eight courts are full. And this isn't counting the five courts in the adjacent gym, or the school’s small indoor stadium, which features eight courts. The stadium isn't always open, and the gym isn’t always as full as it is now, but I can put it this way: I have never come here and not seen at least a handful of people playing. At peak times it can be hard to find an open court at all—players need to pay for their court time and join a queue.