When I came back from my summer travels I wasted no time getting back into the badminton game. And by “wasted no time” I mean, devoted myself entirely.
I decided to not see my friends, not go out for lunches or dinners or late-nights at the bar. In fact, I decided to spend the mornings at home and then head out to the court at around four or five in the afternoon returning home sometime after 11pm.
Yep, 7-8 hours of badminton a day. Everyday. No break.
And sometimes that wasn’t even enough.
“Xiao Bing? Where are you?” Asked my coach at two in the afternoon.
“I’m looking at my new house,” I said sending him pictures of my new apartment. I was supposed to move in a few days and I had planned on spending the few hours before badminton cleaning it up.
“Okay,” he said. “I can pick you up now and we can go to the courts.”
“Now?!” I wrote back. I knew I would be there until eleven at night and 9 hours was just too much. Even for me. “I’m looking at my new place. I was planning on arriving at 4.”
“It’s okay, we are drinking tea. We’ll wait for you to finish, but finish quickly.” He was with one of my teammates and they would both wait for me. Talk about pressure!
“Fine,” I said sighing and giving up on getting any cleaning done. “I can meet you in fifteen minutes.”
“Okay,” he wrote back cheerfully. “We’ll come get you now.”
“You are such a bully!” I complained. He laughed.
Each day was like living three lives. I would always arrive early, and there weren’t a ton of people to play with, so I either got some training from my coach, or he’d find someone to play with me (sometimes a teen) until more of my normal group showed up. So that part of the day was fine. Kinda a warm-up.
Then, the middle part was play, play, play against people I knew. Xiamen is a tropical climate, and there is no air conditioning so some days I would go through 4 shirt changes. It was so hot and I was going non-stop they would just become too heavy, clingy and drippy with sweat. I would need to change them or I would drip all over the court making it slippery. This part of the day fluctuated between fun or depressing depending on who I played against and how well I was doing.
The last part was the soul crushing part. Sure, by 9-10pm I was pretty tired, but also the “normal” player would leave and the players that remain were the crazy ones like me, only with more talent. So I was tired AND playing with experts. I would end the day broken and wasted, feeling like a total failure. My body too tired to play and my mind too tired to speak Chinese, I would spend the last 45 minutes watching the experts play while I considered how bad I sucked.
Then I’d wake up the next day and do it all again.
My first week back I was also meeting a lot of people. You see, I was one of the original members of my coaches group, back when there was just 20 of us. Now there are 200 in the group (though typically 15-30 play each nights), and when I was gone a lot of new people joined and would play together often.
I got a little annoyed when I was away because every time I would chat in the group chat, the new people would say things like, “Wow! I didn’t expect a foreigner on here,” or “Unexpectedly there is a foreigner in this group.”
“I’m not new!” I’d protest. “I’ve always been here!” I was one of the, if not THE most dedicated group member and yet they were treating me with kid gloves like I was a newbie. It kinda rankled me. So I set myself to the task of playing with others and meeting as many people as I could.
I took every opportunity I could. One night I had to go see some friends who were leaving Xiamen so I told my coach I would come play in the morning. But most people worked and mornings were not a good time to play. I asked my coach what to do. “Come to my kids class,” he said. (He taught a summer camp for kids every weekday.)
“I should come to the kids class?!” I asked again, not sure I was totally understanding him.
“Yeah, you can train with them.”
These kids were like 5-14. Not elite or even very dedicated players, preferring to run around the courts than practice drills. But my coach wanted me to and so I did. He then ended up making me do footwork drills on my own, and when the kids took a break he would work on my training. It turned out to be some of the hardest training I’ve had yet. So much for me thinking it was a kiddie class.
I played 13 days non-stop before I finally had a painful shoulder and took a day off. (My coach had be hang from a bar on the ceiling, which somehow kinda popped my shoulder and spine bones and all was good after that.) All together is was about 20 days that I devoted entirely to badminton. Nothing was gonna stop me. It felt like my full-time job and I can’t say I minded!
Now, how can I make that come true…..?