Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Welcome to my basketball team.

I'd never played basketball in my life before coming to Fudan, but I wanted to meet new people and stay fit, so I just signed up for the international women's team. It turned out to be one of the most awesome decisions I made, and thanks to me being unnaturally tall, I was a 'natural' - even though I was totally rubbish. After four months I still can't get the round thing through the metal ring. 

Skill level aside, my involvement in basketball unlocked a new sphere of Chinese life for me, which in turn has taught me a lot about this country and this culture. It's a damn big sport here in China, and aside from badminton (lol, I know, badminton) it's pretty much the only thing that the guys play. Chinese girls don't really play, I'm not sure why, but it might have something to do with the insane levels of gender inequality around here. Also, girls with 'muscles' are ugly. I'm not even talking about big guns and killer thighs and a six pack, I'm talking about a healthy physique - not cool. Here in China, young ladies should be the kind of thin that isn't healthy. I'm so sure that one of the reasons I get so many genuinely incredulous stares when I go jogging, is not only because I'm white, but because I'm female. The locals don't stare at the international young men who jog, only the young women. I am starting to learn that a lot of prejudice I experience in China has just as much to do with my gender as it does with my nationality and skin tone.

A relevant example from my basketball experiences, is the constant struggle we face with trying to get free local courts to practice on. All of the off-campus courts are free for women, and at first I thought this was a great sign of encouragement! But the slow-burn realisation was that because we cannot pay for the courts, we also cannot book them. If boys turn up to the court and pay, they have place over us because we did not pay. See what happens there? Yeah. It's a bitch.

There are open-air, free courts on the university campus which are always, without fail, full. The main area has about 20 half-courts, all full of players, stretching so far along that with all the pollution in the Shanghai air you can't see one end if you're standing at the other. Groups of boys wait for at least an hour on the sidelines before it's their turn to play, and these areas are just as much about the socialisation process as they are about basketball. Everybody knows that boys love to gossip and chat just as much as girls, and because basketball is such a massive part of everyday life for young men, the factors naturally come together to create a court environment perfect for connection and friendship. Whenever we try to play on these courts, either as a team or just a few of us wanting to shoot hoops, I can almost feel the animosity - as though we are somewhere we shouldn't be. We are encroaching on their turf. We are getting all up in their grills. Whatever.

The only female Chinese people we can see on these big multi-court areas appear in a ratio of maybe 1:100 female to male - and they are never playing. They are, without fail, dressed in lovely clothes, often high heels, and playing that perfect girlfriend-as-cheerleader role. They are there to support their boyfriends and buy them Gatorade and then go home with them whenever they are finished.  I'm pretty sure girls in Australia get laughed at for that kind of thing.

To them, we must appear abhorrently masculine. With our gigantic bodies and outlandish notions and swearing. We get hot and sweaty and when our faces turn red we just laugh at how freaked out they are. At first it upset me, but I don't let it get me down any more. I go running after dark and ignore the stares (read: the glares). There isn't anything I can do except continue to behave in a normal manner for a young western woman, and hope that maybe in a few years time after many more girls like me have come and gone, our behaviour and attitudes might not be considered so outlandish. 

I digress, this post wasn't actually meant to be so serious!!! I just wanted to show you some pictures of my team "The Strangers" because I'm so proud of us. When we are all together as a full team, we represent 12 different countries. When we get coach tips, we translate them into several different languages, and on court we communicate primarily though positive facial expressions and gestures. It's great. I feel like sport and music have this in common. Whilst I'm not a big sports kid back home, there is something universal about people coming together to appreciate sports or listen to a band. For me, basketball with my team in Shanghai has been one of those things that just transcends location and language and race amongst friends. It's great.

I highly recommend getting into some kind of sport the next time you move to a different country.

Yet again, I am learning new things from entirely unexpected places.

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