Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hockey Afternoons in Western China

Here I am.  I am in the middle of China.  I am surrounded by Chinese people and Chinese things.  Yesterday night I saw a man try to fill up the tire of his Volkswagen with a bike pump.  He chose a speedy method, up and down really fast, but I knew that it wouldn't work.  Strawberries can be bought on the street, a long with puffed rice and milk being scooped out of an old, dirty iced tea bottle.  Although it only takes one idiot to kill a pedestrian, I must comment on the fact that the traffic light in front of our complex is getting more attention these days; cars are actually stopping at it.

Yes, here in China you mix the good with the bad.  No matter how much a guy like me tries to blend in with things, I will always be a tall, bald, white guy from Canada.

One of the ways people have figured out how to live here is to do stuff that they are familiar with.  We now have coffee shops and pizza and Thai food.  It's the little things such as these that help Westerners like me enjoy a little break every once in awhile from my imaginary life as a Chinese person.

All that to say, ladies and gentlemen, we now have street hockey!  A few years ago I tried to get hockey going and it kind of worked for a bit, but after the sticks started breaking and the interested people started leaving town, the early morning street hockey games died out.

At the first session.  Photo by D_Hendersen

These days, I have what everyone needs... a man on the inside.  My man is the basketball coach at the University I used to go to.  He saw me carrying some of my home-made hockey sticks down the road and stopped me in my tracks.  He grabbed a stick and moved around the sidewalk, sliding this way and that, and finally taking an imaginary shot at the bus stop.  He asked if we could play sometime.  I said pretty please.  Fast forward a few months and here we are.

I am now teaching street hockey every Tuesday afternoon at the University.  Last week was the first week.  We had 6 sticks, a tennis ball and 2 pylons for a goal.  6 guys showed up, representing 5 different minority groups!  It was quite a diverse group.  Yet, I know that after a few more weeks we will all share the same language... the language of love... the language of Hockey!

After our first class I knew that I needed to build a net.  So, I scavenged the Internet and found out that people make nets out of PVC pipe all day long!  So, I got some pipe and made a net.  It's a little wobbly, but it will work.  Next week I will have some foam cut to make into goalie pads.  My father-in-law is sending out some more stick blades and street hockey balls.  Things are happening.

Of course, what I would really like is real equipment.  I plan on writing in to a few companies to see if we can get some donated.  Basically, I am in a town completely ignorant on hockey.  Supporting this cause would go a long way in supporting hockey in China.

In fact, the coach told me that they used to play ice hockey down by the river on the fishing ponds.  Seriously.  He said that they started in the 1960s, but eventually all of the equipment broke and since getting hockey equipment out here is nearly impossible (it's expensive and hard to find even on the Internet) the games they were playing eventually died out.  What an opportunity we have to bring it back!

It's all quite romantic, really.  This dusty, forgotten town out on the Tibetan Plateau, full of soccer and basketball players, introduced to the sport that their hearts have loved all along without them knowing it.  The sport of dreamers.  The sport of hockey.

As of now, China's hockey team is ranked #39 in the world, just behind New Zealand.  Ladies and Gentlemen, together with me, you are about to take the first step on the way up to at least #36.  Can we make that our goal?  Together?  Dreaming?  Me and you?

During our first class the coach pointed out that hockey is great for your heart.  All that running around, with the sun shining down, is very good for you.  I agreed, being out here away from my culture, hockey is very, very good for my heart.

So, this week, with the NHL season winding down, I will be posting about the new Spring hockey class starting up here in Xining.  I'll take you through the steps that it takes to make hockey happen here in China, from collecting the supplies, to whittling away at wood to make the sticks, to walking out onto the basketball courts and asking people to play.

Stay tuned.


Lois said...

I love this!! xo

molojones said...

Brett, let me know if I can bring you some stuff.

Brett G 英 明 said...

Thanks, Morgan.