Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sometimes painful things can teach us lessons that we didn’t think we needed to know.

2016 May 26 

     I should have known something was up when I was the only American at breakfast at 7:30 am. After an hour, a couple players strolled in. We have nothing on the schedule this morning and I suppose some extra sleep was chosen by many over breakfast. I understand and appreciate that as I would probably have made the same decision in my early 20s. 

    I exit the elevator and start toward my room. Robert calls me into his room and tells me some players had a situation last night. My heart sinks. He gives me the details of a fun night gone wrong. It’s the same story throughout time. Tourists go to a drinking establishment. Feel like they have been deceived. Gets angry. Makes bad decisions. Enter cops. I live in a college town and know how rowdy things can get, but the added element here is the strict code of discipline of China.  Robert and Mr. Gao have done masterful job of keeping our people out of jail apparently. Things are still not completely settled as of our conversation, and Robert and Mr. Gao are pissed. Rightly so. They tell me I must control the players when they are out. That I must yell at them. Not just talk to them. Yell. American players don’t respond to kindness, I am told. It is sad that this is their impression of American players. If you know anything about me, I am not really the yelling type. Even my kids will tell, I need to be pretty worked up about something before I yell. And,as for controlling players on their free time, well that would quite difficult as I am a force of one as they scatter into the night.

     I go to lunch early and wait. Mad. Disappointed. Frustrated. This is a conversation we have had numerous times. I keep the players at the table until all 9 are assembled. I tell them the concept of free time has change. Our once mature approach has been changed to restrictive policy which does not allow for any alcohol or evenings out of the hotel. As you can imagine, this was not received well. I did not throw the offending players under the bus. The other players looked shocked at why this conversation was even happening. I told them we need to act like professionals. We need to be accountable for each other. To which, some balked at the idea of a change for all because of some. They wanted to know the 5 W’s. I told them to ask their teammates. I knew the embarrassment the players would feel detailing their story was better than anything I could have said. (Not to leave you hanging, but it boils down losing face and about $50 USD) Caveat Emptor.

     We have an appearance at 2:30 at a local college. The Hu Bei Normal Institution. It’s a teachers college with about 20,000 students. I am first told, we will be holding a clinic there. I plan for 6 drill stations, personalized shooting instruction from yours truly, a version of full court basketball that involves 15 players at once, and my favorite camp game “The Dash for Cash.” I don’t know how many attendees there will be, or what the ages are, or if they are both guys and girls. There is a lot I don’t know, but I know I will be ready for anything.

     It has been raining all day. We slog through the parking lot full of puddles to enter a lobby with beautiful marble flooring. No mat to wipe our feet, no caution sign to indicate danger. I think back to the sign I saw earlier in the trip: BEWARE OF SLIPPERY. I smile and move carefully. We are lead upstairs to aboard room. As I enter the room, Robert tells me to tell all the players to just smile when they are greeted. Apparently, the same bogus list of player names was sent here. Each seat has a name card in front of it. Without hesitation, I turn and direct players to very specific seats. Each of them is quite impressed with my ability to read Chinese and I am pretty sure the college people were also. Robert knew I was totally bluffing and smiled more than I have seen him do so all trip. We are greeted by the Chancellor, and several Deans. Each gives a welcome to our school speech (interpreted by students who speak English) and we are off on a tour of the facility. We go back down a staircase, past a hallway with dancing dragons at parade rest awaiting their charges and go into a large room. We are about to see a display of martial arts and several large swords and weapons are going to be involved. The display of athleticism is impressive. Quick running, high jumping, twisting and turning in the air, and the swoosh of metal through the air. However, the whole time I was thinking, “Someone really needs to vacuum that carpet.”

     Then it was our turn. We are escorted up several stories of fine marble stairs to the gymnasium. It is nothing special as gyms go: floor needs to be sanded and varnished, backboards need to be cleaned, and there are puddles dotting the floor. A roofer could make big, big, money in this country. The guys are not happy with life in general right now and they attack this promotion with the enthusiasm of a 7th grader doing homework. But there they are: four line passing, three line shooting, and then the fan favorite layup line dunk-a-thon. Three guys volunteer to play three college guys for a couple minutes and the crowd cheer evenly for every basket. A few minutes later, it is all over but the pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. I am pulled to do interviews with the school paper and the TV station. The guys are pulled in million directions as every student has a cell phone and a desire to get a selfie with an American. We aren't back on the bus in just over an hour. I put the well scripted clinic itinerary into my back pocket and breathe a sigh of relief.

     We get back to the hotel and Robert and I have a long conversation about American culture and the attitudes of youthin our society. Sounds like a doctoral thesis if I ever heard one. I am also quite careful not to paint in such broad strokes that every tall, athletic, 20 something is a poor decision maker. His experiences running tours tells him it’s true. I assure him those experiences with some, overshadow the positive interactions he has had because of the stress they cause. If he counted them, the good would far outweigh the bad.

     Dinner and Chill. That is our agenda for the night. At 5:30pm, there was nothing left to do but wait for breakfast. Our new reality. There is a Wal-mart down the street and a few of the guys talk Robert into allowing them to run down there and grab some snacks and movies for the night. I am shocked when he agrees. He sets a one hour limit for the trip and tells them don’t be late. Another player asks if he can go to the indoor basketball court right across from the hotel. Robert agrees to that for one hour. (In my mind, I am thinking apparently nothing bad can happen in less than 60 minutes) Everyone makes the deadline and we settle in for quiet night. I hope.

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