Tuesday, January 06, 2009


The girl's basketball teams here in Sanming City, deep along the south east coast of China, play an interesting brand of b-ball. It is rough and tumble, full of mindless violence, like a brawl or riot, without the over turned cars or torn out store fronts. The teams move as packs around the ball, swirling around it like the dirt and horrid smell twirls around Charlie Brown's friend, Pig Pen.

I often see the girls from my ESL Classes practicing. Their coaches, usually some boys from the P.E. Department, try to get the girls to execute basic skill drills. And for the most part the girls do OK with the drills. Well, they do well as long as they are simple lay-ups or fast break drills. Otherwise, it is pandemonium, and the practice becomes an 8* person stampede to capture the ball.

At game time, it breaks down into anarchy, with nary a foul called. Of course, it fouls were called with any consistency, the game would never be played. Well it would never be played in a fun, meaningful, way. Rather the game would consist of the opening tip-off, a foul, free throws, and either a mad scramble for a rebound or an inbound pass, either of which would result in a foul. Repeat these steps-without tip-off-until time runs out or all the players foul out.

Seldom is a girl far from the pack. If a girl is alone, standing away from the violent horde, it is because one team is about to score and she is setting up to either start the fast break, or try to stop it. Just as likely she is taking a respite, gathering a moment of peace, away from the flying elbows, dagger like hand strikes, or the bone crunching slaps; all of which are intended to secure the ball, force the other team to relinquish control, or just as likely to add to the violence of the scrum. She will stand there breathing heavy, eying the riot. Perhaps she is regarding her chance of success if she reenters the swirling madness. Perhaps she waiting for the optimum opportunity to pay back whom ever launched themselves into the pack last. Or maybe she seeks to avenge her inglorious spill on to the concert
floor of the semi-covered outdoor court. And if in the process, she knocks the ball loose or wrestles it away, then all the better.

Often times before the lone girl decides to crash into nucleus of sweating, writhing bodies, a teammate spots her and attempts to launch the pill through flailing limbs and the twisting mass of hands, faces, hair and bodies. The ball is pushed up and over the throbbing mass. Sometimes the rock makes it to the intended destination. Just as likely it is to fall short and be re-consumed by the mob.

If the lone girl does get the ball she makes a mad dash towards the basket while trying to remember to bounce it. Sometimes she is able to enact the lay-up she has spent weeks practicing. Yet, more often than not the mob catches her and the ball before she makes it half way to the basket. It envelops the girl, moving like a swarm of some supernatural menace in a bad horror flick. This madness continues until the game is over.

Through out the game, I am yelling at the refs to call fouls in my bad Chinglish. And after awhile I give up wanting them to call fouls for my team, I find myself begging for any foul to be called. For the love of humanity, for the sake of the girls' health, for all that is good and Holy, call a foul. Yet they seldom do. The girls end up with black eyes, bruised limbs, scraped knees and lips. And I end up horse and thankful I don't have to play against my students. And the students don't mind when I get horse, that means they get to watch movies in class. I don't mind that myself.

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