This Saturday I flitted between two badminton competitions held in the city of Xiamen. One was a Victor Competition and I went to cheer on my friend Yang Ping. When I arrived I was shocked at how many people I knew and played with regularly. I’m no longer the weirdo in the badminton world. Well, I’m the weirdo, but I’m the weirdo with a lot of friends!
Yang Ping, Azhi and I were watching the games (and I was cheering on several of my club members who were playing) when Yang Ping turned to me with a glimmer in his eyes and said “want to see a REAL competition?” Of course I said yes.
Turns out a few badminton courts down the street there was a professional level invitational tournament going on. The players were all pro’s (both current or recently retired) and it was men’s doubles. All young guys, all at a pro level. We just stayed for a few games, but the level was dizzying. It also helped that we could stand right next to the court and feel their speed and strength. It was quite breathtaking at times. Even cooler there were several players that I knew and had played with at this level! (One guy I call “Handsome Coach” on this blog. I always thought he was a retired pro player but I didn’t know for sure until this weekend. Keep in mind guys retire in their early 20’s, so Handsome Coach is about 27? 28? years old. They played against two current players on the Taiwan national team.)
Then we went back to the Victor competition and watched the rest of the games. The more I watched, the angrier I got. Because I knew so many people playing. I had played with them. Hell, I had BEAT them, not just once, but regularly! Why wasn’t I playing?!?
Because no one had told me is why.
If the badminton world is the mafia, my coach is my Don. When I got into badminton, I knew no one. I met him through a friends recommendation and my coach dragged me into the badminton world. With my coaches protection I have been invited into clubs and competitions I had no right to be in. I know that I will always be included in my coaches badminton plans.
But what about when he doesn’t have plans? Because my coach was busy with his new baby he didn’t have time to enter this competition. Without him, no one thought about me. Many of my club members are college kids, and they had their own college team (which obviously I can’t join). And people in other clubs who I am friends with didn’t even think to ask me because they assumed I would be on my coaches team.
Also because of my “celebrity” people assume that many people ask me. I’ve seen interviews with sexy superstars like Rihanna complain they can’t get dates because no one asks them. “Everyone assumes everyone asks me out on dates, but actually no one does,” is something I’ve heard them say. Now I believe them because that’s how I feel.
And I know you are thinking, “Well, maybe she’s just not a good enough player to be asked,” but at the competition there were a lot of girls I play with, and BEAT regularly. They know it and others know it. So I know it’s not that. If people chose team member based on ability, I would have been in there. But they don’t. They base it on pre-existing relationships and teams.
This problem isn’t unique to me. There are several of my club members who also didn’t play because my coach didn’t arrange it and they don’t have another team, but still, it does point out the struggles I face as a foreigner. I am friends with my club members and see them all the time, and we really like each other. But I don’t chat with them outside of the courts, and we don’t go out for dinner or tea and gossip about life. I’m fine with that, I haven’t really fostered deep relationships because I just don’t have the time and I have other friends who I socalize with. But at times like this, I am reminded of being an outsider and have to work 3 times as hard not just on my game, but in the social aspects as well.
It’s also because I am not a native speaker. I’m fluent, but like, foreigner level fluent. Reading articles and reading all the chats in all the groups is a lot of work so I usually ignore them (because most of it is stupid chit-chat). And then I miss the competition notices. And sometimes when I notice it, I need to rely on other people to organize the team and sign up and they can take awhile or not do a good job. (The last competition I tried to get my team to join was filled up before we tried to sign up.) If my Chinese was super fluent I could just do the damn work myself, but frustratingly I need to rely on others. Azhi can help me, but he doesn’t really like competitions like I do, so sometimes I think he purposely doesn’t tell me about the competitions so I won’t hassle him to sign up.
So I gotta find my own methods. I saw a high level friend at the Victor competition and sent him a stalker picture of himself (as I was in the stands, the players couldn’t hear me yell their names.) He laughed and asked me why I wasn’t playing.
“No one asked me,” I said.
“Well, I played mixed doubles and lost. If you were my partner we would have won. Next time!”
Instead of just laughing or letting it go I pressed.
“I would really like to play this competition,” I said. “Don’t forget to ask me next year!” Because, you know, people say that kinda thing to be polite, but I figured showing I was desperate was better than playing it cool. Well, not better it made me sound very lame, but, ya know, would increase my chance of being remembered by someone else.
A few days later he added me to his club group chat and invited me to play with them. Unfortunately his group plays on a very inconvenient night for me, but when the semester finishes I’m going to try to go. Anything to get me included more.
I don’t need my pride, but I do need my badminton.