Because I’ve been playing everyday until around 11pm I miss the last bus home. So my coach has taken to driving me home.
The first week we started this tradition, I hated it. Like I said in my other post, I was exhausted from so much training, and mentally tired, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in a car and have to speak Chinese. My coach also has a local accent and doesn’t speak standard Mandarin making it that much harder to understand him when I’m exhausted.
But after the first few days I started looking forward to our rides home because it’s my time with him alone. Now that’s he’s the boss of a badminton court, we don’t get a lot of one-on-one time. If we are alone it’s because we’re training. We aren’t chit-chatting. And if do sometimes sit and talk, it is never alone because at the courts so many people want to talk to my coach.
But in the car it’s just us, and I can ask him for his honest opinion on how I have been playing and what he has seen as my weakness and strengths. Sometimes we talk about the pro players, who we like the most, what pro games are best to watch, and sometimes we just have a gossip sesh. (“So that guy has a kid but he never talks about his wife. Is he married?” “How old is that other guy?” “What’s the name of that older woman I always play with?” My coach knows the lowdown on everyone.)
Sometimes we don’t even talk. My coach has surprising taste in music: rock. And not just rock but like “Bad to the Bone,” style classic rock. Think riding a Harley with a leather jacket and a stars and stripes bandanna while listening to Springsteen and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Yep, that’s what he likes.
So imagine my surprise when I get in the car, he turns on the CD player and Wonderwall by Oasis starts playing.
“You like this?” I asked.
“I love it,” he said. “Do you know it? Sing it!”
So we belted it out together. Despite him not understanding the words, he memorized the sounds and we arrived at my house just as the song was finishing.
“You sing so good!” He said. I don’t, but I’m enthusiastic and that counts for something. As I was getting out of the car the next song started, some classic 80’s song and I laughed when I heard it.
“This song is from my childhood!” I said.
“From my childhood too!” he replied. I keep forgetting that actually I’m a year older than him so we had the same childhood era. Since that night he’s tries to get me to sing every time we get into the car. (Luckily it is often Chinese bands that I don’t know so I’m spared.)
Sometimes he gives other people rides as well. Since I live really close to him I’m usually the last one to be dropped off. One night he gave a new player a ride home. I hadn’t seen this player much, just two nights (“my wife is away right now so I’m more free to play,” he explained) but he was awesome. In fact, another player in the group got my attention when this guy started to play so I could watch the master at work. He was fast and quick and managed to beat my coach.
But there was something about him I didn’t like.
“Coach,” I said as my coach dropped him off and we headed to my house. “Did you see that gross thing that guy did at the courts?”
“No,” said my coach leaning in at my conspiratorial tone.
“He blew his nose directly on the side of the court!” I saw the guy, several times, walk over to the edge of the court, close one nostril shut with his finger and blow the other onto the ground, sending snot flying everywhere.
“He did?” said coach equally grossed out. In China, blowing snot rockets isn’t that uncommon, but my coach built his courts with the best materials and doesn’t want them ruined.
“I also saw him spit on the ground.”
“On the ground? You mean inside or outside?”
“Inside. Onto the wood.” My coach shook his head and said he would talk to him. Nobody messes with MY courts that way.
When other people are with us they usually see riding in a car together as an opportunity to ask me questions and get to know the laowai (foreigner). Luckily I can usually just sit there quietly and let my coach do all the answering. (It’s more polite in China to ask someone else questions about you. And it saves me from having to answer questions I’ve answered a million times before.)
Sometimes he rides his motorcycle and we ride it back together. I can’t hear him very well so he usually lets me chatter away, answering me when we stop at lights.
The car is also a great time for me to get revenge for him making fun of my Chinese. The other night we stopped to get gas and I was lamenting how badminton isn’t cool and how I wanted to help make it cooler (blog post on that coming soon).
“That’s a great dream!” he said. But he said “great dream” in English. I was looking out the window at the gas guy but when he said “great dream,” my head whipped to look at him. I could tell from his suddenly weird pronunciation he had attempted to speak English and I mentally reviewed the sounds he said to see if I could figure out what he meant. But it was just too weird and he could tell from my expression his English wasn’t right.
“weidade mengxiang,” he said quietly in Chinese, embarrassed that I didn’t understand his English.
“Oh, great dream,” I said figuring out what he had tried to say. We both laughed and I over enthusiastically slow-clapped while he blushed. “Your English is SO good.” Revenge is sweet.
I feel a bit like a kid getting a ride from her dad, and I don’t want to bother him every night. But the other day, when I packed my bag and was heading out to catch the last bus my coach seemed almost offended that I didn’t want to go with him. “I’m almost ready, just wait a minute,” he said.
So I sat and waited.