Internet in China

It has been a couple of weeks now since I returned from China. The people and country surprised me almost daily and I am excited to go back, whenever that happens.

But I feel obligated to present the yin and the yang so to speak, the enjoyable parts of travel and the “learning experiences” a country provides. The internet in China is one of those for me.

It’s not that China doesn’t have internet access. Connectivity is actually fast and there are tons of internet companies. The problem is the government blocks certain international websites from infiltrating into the public eye and replaces them with their own, government approved sites. The official reasons for this are threefold: blocking competition, sensitive content and national security. I have no comment on sensitive content or national security, but with eliminating competition I have something to say. I hate it, but I think it actually makes sense for China. Here’s what one blogger wrote:

Without blocking Google, Baidu cannot succeed. Without blocking YouTube, Youku cannot succeed. These huge International Internet Companies do not need to pay taxes to China’s Government, but the Internet Companies in China pay taxes. In addition, they want to “protect” Chinese websites and hence block successful International websites.

China has enough people and resources to find successful internet companies around the world and copy them, keeping revenues and tax dollars in China. If you want to communicate with people in Mainland China, you have to download WeChat, a Chinese version of WhatsApp that you can use anywhere in the world. It’s the perfect protectionist policy. Brilliant.

Now if the blocked sites were obscure Dalai-Lama sponsored hackers calling for Tibetan independence I would not care. I can live without reading up on my Free Tibet news for a couple of weeks. Not that the Dalai Lama would hack anything anyway…that’s besides the point. The websites that China blocks are much more intrusive to the average social-media reliant millennial like myself. As mentioned, Google (and all its branches like Gmail, Google Maps etc.), YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Instagram, Amazon… you name it, there are over 3,000 websites blocked.

I had no idea just how reliant I was on these websites until they were suddenly, mercilessly yanked away. 90% of the websites I use became non-existent to me overnight. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t whittle away the time watching people wiping out on YouTube, I couldn’t stay updated on the comedic happenings at the White House. I felt like I could suddenly relate to the “land before time” series. Okay, I exaggerate. But it really is crazy how much I NEED the internet to exist in the modern world. I don’t even use it as much as most people my age. Maybe that’s just what I tell myself. I definitely don’t even support giant companies like Google, I think they need some competition or they will monopolize the industry. I’m just enslaved to they’re conveniences.

This is how I felt the first few days in country. It was the first time I seriously contemplated crossing an international border exclusively for internet hunting. Then I discovered a magical thing; the VPN or virtual private network. I’m not smart enough to describe how it works, other than saying it lets you use blocked websites in China. I was back in business, at least for the sporadic instances it worked. At least I could reassure the world of my existence via Facebook.

I would love to conclude this post with some meaningless saying about how I learned to rely less on the internet during my time in China and that as a result I became a better person or had some light bulb ah-ha moment. I can’t say that. What I do know is that the internet connects people but it can’t be our sole connection. We must use it as a means to an end of interacting with real people. It should be a catalyst, not a crutch. Yes, we need it in today’s world but it should never take the place of the real, face to face interactions with the always interesting, sometimes bizarre, often hilarious thing called humanity.

Thank you so much for reading.

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Pickleball and Language in China

I made it to China! I will be here for the next week and a half teaching pickleball in Dongguan (close to Hong Kong) to a group of coaches, college students and teachers. It’s exciting to be a part of starting a sport in a country as big as China and although it’s at the very beginning, I can see it growing fast.

I’ve been observing recently how language changes experience in another country. In Japan, I feel comfortable to the point of not knowing what to write about in this blog anymore. That might sound strange but living in Japan is normal for me. I can say anything I want, I have close friends, I can tell jokes and am confident that I can do things. I even sleep talk in the language. China is a different story. Today I bought food at a convenience store and asked the front desk for chopsticks. Unable to say “chopsticks”, I resorted to demonstrating my noodles and acting like I was eating them. Later, a student in the pickleball course insisted on taking me to McDonald’s (a cultural discussion for another day). I ordered a cheeseburger with no french fries, but he thought I wanted it without vegetables. On top of being a McDonalds burger, I ate it dry sans condiments… with fries on the side. Admittedly these are first world problems. I’m not saying “woe is me for not getting exactly what I ordered”. It’s just that communication is fascinating. In just a short flight, I have gone from literate and knowledgeable to basically having the oratory capacity of an infant. Maybe less so… when a baby cries we have a basic understanding of what it wants. When adult humans utter unintelligible gibberish to each other, they most often have no clue. Nothing is so humbling as this experience, but I believe it’s a good thing. When language disappears as a means of communication, I find my creativity and observation increases proportionally.

Somewhat related to this, a funny event happened to me while snowboarding before I left Japan. My friend and I like to find powder snow outside the boundaries of the ski area. We find some, but the ski patrol sees us and waits for us at the bottom of the run. I come down first and assuming of course that I don’t speak Japanese, the ski patrol says I’m not allowed in that area. I respond in English, “sorry”, wanting to remain a stupid foreigner and not someone who actually knows they aren’t supposed to be in that area. Then my Japanese buddy comes down and because he is with me, the ski patrol assumes he doesn’t speak Japanese either. My friend knows pretty much zero English so I know that if he says anything, we are busted. And I know that he knows that I know all this. After the ski patrol’s speech on back country safety (he was actually nice about it), my buddy just says “ok” and the ski patrol lets us go! He followed us the next run to make sure we didn’t get into any more fun… I mean trouble and I realized how convenient it is sometimes to be a foreigner. It goes both ways.

All that to say, I am seriously contemplating learning Chinese. The opportunities are huge. Even if it’s not with pickleball, Mandarin is something that will be beneficial forever. But it’s a daunting task filled with visions of trying to say ma 4 different ways and insulting someone’s mother by calling her a horse. Or something like that. Of course, my customers say that about Japan, which is not true, so maybe I am wrong. I find that things are always the most daunting before you start them.

The pickleball club here is serious about spreading the sport. I attended a media day the other day where almost a hundred people attended including the mayor, owners of companies and university professors. Other attendees came from Hong Kong and Singapore to take part. Li Na’s tennis teammate got silver in the competition: I have been teaching her this week and might play with here in a tournament in Taiwan. Things are moving, Asia is coming on the pickleball scene. It’s an exciting time.

The last thing I want to say is that China makes me feel tiny. I still can’t wrap my head around a number like 1.3 billion people. Colorado Springs where I went to high school has 500,000 and there are 800 cities in China with over a million people. I drove from Hong Kong to Shenzhen the other day, and for over an hour straight I saw tower after tower of apartment buildings and businesses. Dongguan where I am working is considered a “medium-sized city” with a paltry population of 8 million. China is mind-boggling and while I don’t want to live here, I want to learn more.

Around the World for Pickleball

It’s been a crazy summer filled with travel in the US, Europe and Japan. I’m finally back home, where I have a few moments to catch my breath and reflect on everything that happened this summer.

I started in Japan, from where I flew august 6th to Redmond, Oregon for an advanced pickleball boot camp. From there I flew to a still intact Houston, where I did clinics, lessons and played some of the most fun (and drunk) pickleball ever in Victor and Natalie’s backyard. I also ate entirely too much Vietnamese food and survived Chinese torture – I mean massage – with Joe and Agatha. From there it was off to Vail, Colorado for more camps and clinics. Jerry Stevens and the Vail pickleball club put me up in an awesome condo and hosted me so well. Back in Colorado Springs, my Japanese friends Makoto Sato and Tomoko Takami visited for a few days, before competing in the Tournament of Champions, helping at another bootcamp in Colorado Springs, and going onto Europe.

My first stop in Europe was London, but it took me two days to get there because of a cancelled Aer Lingus flight (this is going to be a reocurring theme). So after nights in Chicago and Dublin Airport, I arrived in London, beleaguered but grateful to Louise Stephens for picking me up. An afternoon of sightseeing, evening pickleball session with the Slappers (South London Area Pickleball) and fun pub party later, I was off the Nice, France the following morning. Southern France, where it never rains, had an epic downpour so heavy that our flight diverted from Nice to Marseille. Eventually we arrived though and were treated to two great days with Pierre and Cyril of Pickleball France. A big thank you to my sponsor Paddletek for sending us over to London and Nice. From there it was off to Madrid (after another delayed flight) for the first ever Spain Pickleball Trip and third annual Spanish Open Pickleball Championships.

The tour to Spain was not without its hiccups but everyone was accommodating and we had a great time. The tournament too was not without its scheduling issues, but the multinational participants created great energy nonetheless. I met players from the US, Canada, Mexico, England, Italy, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. There were probably even more countries represented. The Bainbridge Cup featuring North America VS. Europe proved a huge success and I was fortunate enough to win the men’s open doubles with Marci Rozpedski. After the tournament, it was off the beautiful Toledo and Barcelona for touring around the country and learning Spanish history. A demonstration outside our hotel in Barcelona for Catalonian independence provided some added unexpected excitement. I should say at this point that we are planning the next Spain Pickleball Trip for September 2018 and would love to see you on the trip!

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The Spain Pickleball Tour ended in Barcelona where we went our separate ways, myself to Japan via Singapore. After of course another delayed flight that caused me to miss my connection, I arrived in Tokyo, traveled home to Nagano, and back to Tokyo the next morning to start the 3rd annual Japan Pickleball Trip. We traveled around Nagano, Tokyo and Osaka visiting pickleball clubs, being hosted at wild karaoke parties, playing pickleball with local players, staying in traditional Japanese inns and eating too much food, among other activities. I was happy how the trip came together and am looking forward to the next edition in May, 2018. It’s so cool to see how pickleball has grown in the 3 years we have been doing this trip and how it has contributed to the development of the sport in Japan. There is excitement for pickleball around the world and Japanese players are starting to talk about traveling to the US to compete. It is an exciting time and I’m lucky to be at the cusp.

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From now, I have a month in Japan where I do a couple of walking tours, planning for next year, and time off before heading to nationals at the end of October, followed by our Pickleball Trip to St. Croix. There is a possibility of me going to Shenzhen, China at the end of October to help a local club there first so we will see. It’s been crazy and I’m glad for a break this month but please stay tuned for more information about upcoming trips and events at pickleballtrips.com!

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