When I told friends I was going to Chaozhou, my coach’s hometown, I usually got this response:
Them: Oh! The food in Chaozhou is so good!
Me: Oh yeah? What kind of food?
Them: I don’t know. I just heard that.
Chaozhou is a familiar name in this part of China, as it is kinda close, but no one really knows much about it because it’s not particularly famous or anything. It’s a small, not very modern city in Guangdong province (China’s southernmost province).
My coach was back there for a week during the Spring Festival holiday, China’s biggest holiday of the year (you may know it as Chinese New Year) and invited me for a few days. Why, to show off the culture and introduce me to his family? No, it was to play badminton of course. And I couldn’t say no to that.
True to everyone’s impression, Chaozhou does has a lot of delicious food as I quickly found out. Without even dropping of my stuff my coach took me to “The Most Famous Restaurant in Chaozhou” a small grubby hole-in -the-wall dirty place with a lady upfront grabbing raw beef and *something* (perhaps tripe?) throwing it into a giant pot of boiling water and pulling it out a minute later with some noodles and serving it up.
After a long wait, and a fight with a few old people for a table, we got our bowls.
Then we went directly to his friends tea shop. Now, I’ve always known how much my coach likes tea. He always is pouring it in his shop and court (in the style called “Kungfu tea”) but I thought it was in a friendly welcoming kind of way.
Turns out my coach loves tea almost as much as he loves badminton. And drinking copious amounts of tea out of tiny cups would be the thing I did the most during the visit.
This was a cool tea shop, and all the little pots were handmade by the boss (my coaches friend). Turns out he’s a master potter and when we walked in, he mentioned that he had an American friend too.
The friend was Mary, an 20-something girl from Austin, Texas who has been studying tea, and tea pots for almost a decade now. She came to Chaozhou to learn the unique style and practice at making the Chaozhou pottery (apparently a semi-famous style in China).
Afterwards I asked my coach if him and his friend ever get together and talk about “their really annoying American students.” He laughed and said no, but I do think it is an incredible coincidence that these two old friends, who don’t speak English and have never traveled far from where they were born, both have American female students. Life!
We did some touristy stuff, I met his family, we ate dinner and finally at 9 o’clock we arrived at the main event: badminton.
“People in Chaozhou play badminton late,” he told me. And it was true. Some people didn’t even show up until 10pm to start playing.
I knew my role during this trip: faithful little foreign badminton-playing pet, and I played my part well. Not only playing badminton with anyone and everyone my coach wanted but winning as well! (To mine and my coaches surprise. Usually we play miserably together.)
I also met my coaches very first coach, or as I called him my “shifu’s shifu.” (In Chinese Shifu means master. So I met my master’s master.)
My coach started playing badminton late in life, around 19-years-old, and I met the guy who started him on his path of success. I kinda expected him to be a top level player as he was not only my coaches master but owns a badminton court. So I was surprised when he turned out to be a very average player.
Later, in the car, I asked my coach if that guy was really his shifu, and my coach said yes.
“But you’re so much better than him,” I said. Much to my chagrin my coach then repeated this conversation to that guy the next day when we went back to play. Yeesh.
“I taught him when he didn’t know anything,” the shifu said. “Now he’s better.”
“I’m gonna be like that too,” I said smiling evilly at my coach. “One day when my student is gonna meet you, they’re gonna say to me ‘he’s your coach?! But you are soooo much better than him.'”
“Sure. Good luck with that,” my coach said smiling back.
The next day we played host to a family of 10 traveling through Chaozhou. I kinda hung back and just followed the group, I HATE families in China traveling together. They love to see all the lame, very touristy things, and walk soooo so slow. Also, I was kinda on parade as the “foreigner” which I don’t like. As host, my coach brought all of them, again, to every single tea shop we passed. I love tea, but at this point I was done. Just done.
The fun part was the food. We ate lots of it and it was all awesome.
In the early afternoon the guests left and we still had several hours before my train back.
“What do you want to do?” asked my coach.
“I don’t know. It’s your hometown, not mine.”
“Want to drink tea?” he suggested.
“Nooooooo!” I mock screamed while pretending to pull out my hair.
“How about badminton?” he suggested. That I could do.
We played for hours but I kept my eye on the clock. My train was at 7:20pm, and I’m a bit of a worrier. I don’t like to be late. So at 5:30, while my coach started a game, I changed my clothes and got all my stuff ready. He finished at 5:45.
“We have plenty of time,” my coach said starting another game.
“We do NOT have plenty of time!” I fumed on the sidelines. I stood there, arms crossed, tapping my foot telling them to “hurry up and lose already,” which my coach thought was hilarious.
Finally at 6 we left, with the train station being about 30-minutes away. We pull onto the first street, and bam. Traffic.
“Don’t worry, it’s just the light,” my coach said.
We get past the light and bam…more traffic.
“See?! This is why I wanted to leave early!” I said exasperated. “The boarding will start at around 7, and I have to get through security…”
“Yeah,” said my coach looking at the clock. “I don’t think were gonna make it.”
“What?!” I said looking over at him. “Are you kidding me?” It was 6:10, which meant I had an hour and 10 minutes to get there. Even with traffic that should be enough.
“You said it’s not that far!”
“But look at this traffic,” he said pointing out to the sea of cars. “We don’t have enough time.”
Now, in Chinese the word for not enough time, is lai bu ji. The word for enough time is lai de ji. They sound very similar and to make sure I understood I kept saying “enough?!” and he kept saying “not enough.”
“Just get a ticket for tomorrow. We’ll go somewhere and have dinner.”
“You know all the trains are sold out tomorrow!” I said panicked. I had originally planned to stay another day but because of the trains I couldn’t. I pulled out my phone and started checking the train ticket apps.
“If we miss this one, there are still seats available on the later trains,” I said. “It’s fine, just go.”
“But we will get there too late. Let’s just go eat.”
“I can get a later train!” I said shoving my phone in his face. “See?! Just go.”
Meanwhile we get past the light and suddenly there is no traffic. Just a huge expanse of a big empty road.
“Oh my god, you totally lied to me!” I said all huffy. I really hate being late to things like trains and airports. At the next light my coach turned off his car.
“Uh-oh, something’s wrong with the car,” he said.
“Go!” I ordered as he laughed and re-started the car.
“We don’t have any gas,” he said. I looked over and read the dial, almost full.
“I don’t believe anything you say anymore,” I said crossing my arms angrily. We would make it with plenty of time.
“Actually,” he said quietly, “I don’t want you to leave.”
“I guessed that,” I said laughing. I thought I was kinda annoying because I didn’t understand a lot and he just had to drag me along everywhere, but I could tell that he meant it and I was actually touched.
I know I gush about my coach all the time on this blog but I really can’t express how much he has meant to me and changed my life in so many way. Right from the start I gave him my trust and obedience and he has never abused that privilege. Our relationship is much more “I take, he gives” and I’m not exactly sure what he gets out of it, but this trip showed me that despite all my antics and frustrations at being my coach, he’s having fun.
Now, enough sentiment! Back to training!