Sun, Pavement, Hoops: Outdoor Sociology Class in China

Dear readers: yes, it’s about basketball again, but it’s not really about basketball, and besides, there’s more to basketball than just basketball. And who doesn’t like basketball?

I remember the first time I heard the beating drums and high-decibel chants. I thought, What? There are sports at Chinese universities? I found out that, yes, the Dongbei University of Finance and Economics suddenly sprouts, when spring comes, crowds of shouting fans ringing the outdoor courts, sometimes five and six deep, for something that looked suspiciously like basketball. They’d had them at my previous school, too, but games never happened at my end of the campus and what do I know? I pick up the gist of some conversations now, but none then, and I remain nearly as clueless in reading hanzi as when I came to Dalian five years ago. Illiteracy hurts.

The traditional Chinese drum rolled out of its first-floor closet at the School of International Business at quarter to noon today. I strolled out of my fifth-floor hideaway at about the same time, my pretence of marking papers and reading my writing students’ journals gratefully abandoned. It was SIB’s third game of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it intramural basketball tournament at Dongbei U, and it was one of the brightest, warmest days we’ve had. I’d missed the first two games through linguistic obliviousness, but such is the appetite for hoops in an ex-pat coach-without-a-team that I detected extra bounce – I’m thinking, at least half a centimetre — in my stride as I hustled toward the “playground”, as the Chinese call the asphalt courts for basketball, volleyball and (soccer) football. Every university has ’em, in abundance — especially the basketball courts. It can be a worn-out hoopster’s paradise. Sometimes.

SIB, in white, on a blue-sky day.

SIB, in white, on a blue-sky day.

Listen: the quality of play isn’t very good, but the kids are nice and the sun was shining and I’ve played with a few of SIB’s best and besides, basketball is like pizza, or ice cream: even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

Continue Reading >>