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.

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Walking Through September

I am starting and ending this month with walking. At the beginning it was hiking through Colorado with a Japanese tour group; at the end walking through Japanese forests on a 10-day journey up the Nakasendo Way. Neither trip is new, yet I love each and continue to learn about myself as I journey. Both trips feel like stepping stones, essential experiences required to move on to bigger and better things.

Hiking up Mt. Elbert with my mom and the Japanese group

Hiking up Mt. Elbert with my mom and the Japanese group

I also did some running in the middle of the month, namely in the form of the Tournament of Champions pickleball tournament held in Brigham City, Utah. I was fortunate enough to win a singles and a men’s doubles title (and accompanying cash), although it wasn’t quite the accomplishment that my dad’s triple crown victory was. Thanks to my partners, the tournament organizers, friends, and everyone else who made the tournament stand out. Even last year, I never could have imagined I would be doing what I am doing today.

Looking ahead, October is going to be insane – but good. Finishing my current walking tour on the 3rd, I begin another one on the 7th in Kyoto. I end 10 days later, when I take a bullet train to meet my college roommate and his wife in Ueda, the town where I spent most of my childhood. We will do some hiking in the area, before I return to Tokyo to meet my parents and the participants of the first ever pickleball tour of Japan (with many more to come). I am so excited and thankful for this year’s participants for believing in us and being willing to spend the time and money to plant the sport in a new country. It makes a huge difference. On the second to last day of the tour, I return to Kyoto to begin a final Walk Japan tour, before flying back to Phoenix to play in the USAPA national pickleball tournament in Arizona.

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Rice Fields and Cosmos Flowers in the Kiso Valley

Let me say a final word and contemplate a bit on life where I am at the moment. It’s Autumn in Japan, my favorite season. The leaves in the mountains are just starting to show a hint of color. There is a coolness in the evening air and a dampness to the fallen leaves. Massive Fuji Apples are appearing in the grocery stores and every day as I walk, I secretly nab at least one ripe persimmon from trees weighed down by them. I hope no one minds. I love this seasonality. I’m sure living in the tropics (or Arizona for that matter) has its perks, but there is something about making it through the summer that makes you appreciate the coolness of the Fall so much more.

It makes me think that joy can’t be experienced fully without some pain and that perhaps life isn’t about avoiding the pain. Maybe it’s about taking in these short moments and deciding to find good in everything – because it’s there if you look for it. The last few years have not been without their difficulties. Even though I don’t show many things on the surface, I often had doubts about where I was going, didn’t have a great attitude and was angry that I wasn’t as successful or with it as other people my age. But with some wisdom that comes from making mistakes and the help of people around me, I am discovering that no matter what I’m doing, there is joy to be found and pride to be taken in doing something well. It helps that I am discovering what I love doing and have the resources to pursue it, something that very few people can say. That’s my philosophical thought of the month, some of the things I think about as I walk many hours through the Kiso Valley

The Chicken Fiasco and Thoughts from My August

August has proven an interesting month. It’s the only full month I will spend in the United States this year. It’s also been full of business trips, pickleball tournaments, Japanese tourists, hotel management, and yes, house sitting for chickens.

The month began in Omaha, Nebraska where I played in the State Games of America pickleball tournament. I participated in both singles and doubles – being fortunate enough to win a gold medal in each. The city of Omaha and the drive there underwhelmed me, but I had fun. Check out a couple of the videos from the tournament.

After the State Games I returned to Colorado to begin my job as a Japanese translator/tour guide. The groups and people I encounter during these days make the job exciting. I do everything from Junior High camping trips to investors researching $3 million homes. Interesting things always happen as evidenced in my last blog post, I work long days and receive meager pay, but it gives me a lot of freedom and I’m working towards my 10,000 hours necessary to become an expert.

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Between these trips I did a couple of other things. First, my friend and doubles partner at the Tournament of Champions Matt came to check out Colorado and play some pickleball. I also listed my parent’s house on Air B&B last year, thinking we could make use of our 5 empty bedrooms. I have had several inquiries but the timing never worked out until now, when a college student from CC in his last couple weeks of school needed a quiet place to write his senior thesis. Check out our listing if you’re ever interested in a B&B in Colorado Springs.

Finally, part of my August consisted of house sitting for a friend on vacation. Predictably, the house part was easy: the 3 Chihuahuas and 6 chickens proved to be more complicated. When taking this assignment, the chickens didn’t seem like such a big deal. You feed them in the morning and evening, make sure they have enough water and collect their eggs. Or so I was told. Little did I know, an unidentified predator (that I have some choice words for) chose this very window of opportunity to launch his attack on my chickens. In the middle of the night I hear a commotion outside. By the time I look around, it’s quiet and I can’t see anything. Having to leave for a business trip the next day at 5:00 am, I entrust my mom with their care and making sure all 6 remain. I receive the worst new possible, she looks in the yard and finds the mutilated carcass of a chicken. I also find out that I have locked the dogs in the house and taken the key to Indiana. She has to collect the chicken carcass, climb onto the porch with a ladder to get into the house, and attempt to herd the chickens into their pen to avoid the previous night’s disaster. At this last task she failed, stating quote, “I don’t do chickens” at which point another chicken is doomed to coyote food status. Being in Indiana for business, I could do nothing but contemplate my miserable failure at the simple task of keeping 6 chickens alive for 1 week. The next day, however, my mom and brother did return, successfully conjuring up the courage to catch the chickens and place them into the coop. We pressed on with no further losses, and my friend was understandably disappointed but realistic about the situation.

The incident did make me think, however. Things like organic farming conjure up all kinds of positive images in my mind. Living off the land, getting back to nature, reducing environmental impact… all good things. But when it comes down to it, I’m actually terrible at farming and hate manual labor. Same with camping. I have this idealized view that rarely if ever is satisfied. I like campfires but there are usually way more mosquitoes than I remembered and there’s a rock under my sleeping bag. Sometimes there is a gap between who we want to be and what we actually enjoy. There are also things like working out that only make us feel good after we have done them. Maybe part of being happy is doing the things you love and overcoming discomfort to find enjoyment in the things you want to love.

That was my August so far. Next week I take a group of Japanese hikers around the State for a week-long trip. We go to Rocky Mountain National Park, Pikes Peak, Mt. Elbert and Aspen, among some smaller stops along the way.