I have a new lover. Its name is Badminton. Although it has not fully revealed its feelings for me, I can’t help but being completed infatuated with it. I started flirting with badminton 3 weeks ago, shortly after I bought a set of rackets and a few birdies. Since then, I have played four times. The first two times were with other foreigners. Together, we were not that good. This week, however, I had a date with one of my former students. Let’s just say that if they had a badminton team here at our University, she would be the captain of it.
We meet on a Wednesday afternoon; she waits for me after my office hour. Another student from the office time asks if she can play too. We agree. We head over to the gym on campus. The gym is dimly lit with only a hand-full of people inside. This level of the gym consists of 2 weight machines, a row of about 4 ping pong tables, and three courts for playing badminton. My student and I take the court closest to the door. We play the best out of five before the other person rotates in. At first, I am unbeatable. Playing the best out of five, I have already beaten the two students, or so I think. But, then the former student, (badminton professional) puts on her game face, and I know the winds are changing. She explains a few rules that I have been breaking when I serve. She starts to play as though competing for a spot on the Olympic team. As she whips that birdie at me, I realize how difficult badminton really is. She doesn’t let up. I am hot and sweaty, sometimes whacking at the air, sometimes jumping up to hit the birdie that hovers a few inches above my racket. “You need more exercise” my former student counsels me. “I don’t need more exercise,” I huff. “It has nothing to do with exercise; it has to do with skill.” I whack the birdie in annoyance. Slowly, I start to get the hang of it. I have to use my arm almost in a whipping motion. And I can’t stay so far back on the court or the pro will gently tap the birdie and it will fall right behind the net. By the end of the hour, I have made great progress.
An older professor approaches us and gives me some more random advice about how to hold the racket. (This professor quite oddly resembles one of my American girlfriends.) He asks if I can tutor his son English in exchange for him teaching me how to write Chinese calligraphy. “I don’t have that kind of free time” I tell him realizing how pathetic this excuse sounds as I clearly have free time to play badminton. Oh well. We play a little longer, and then I ask if we can leave—scared to be asked for more tutoring help. We make an appointment to play next week. I have potential with badminton; I don’t need to be tall, skinny, or have amazing dexterity. Badminton just might be my game.
I hope you don’t tire of hearing about my romance with badminton because the romance lives on. This Friday, I had another date. I had just finished my tutor time. I check my watch…4:30, enough time to walk my tutor to the back gate, and rush back for a game of badminton. For some reason, there are only some times during the day when it’s appropriate to play badminton..one of them being in the early morning and the other being before dinner. I take a chance on this date…I grab my racket and run upstairs to my neighbors’ apartment. Sai, the Japanese wife of the Japanese professor answers the door. She’s wearing some flannel pants and looks as though she’s been inside all day. I motion to the racket, then point to her, then to myself, and make a thumbs up. She smiles real big and motions that she needs to change. I say in Chinese that I will wait for her in my apartment. We’re not sure how to communicate with each other yet, but we’ll figure it out. We go right outside our apartment. The weather is perfect, a lot of the neighbors are also getting home from work. Some of them watch us. I motion to Sai that I want to switch arms and try hitting it with my left arm. She does the same. At first, it seems impossible, and then we get the hang of it.
Some of the neighbors watching us ask if we’re from the same country. They ask us how we communicate with each other. “We also don’t know” I tell them. Another neighbor gives me advice on how to hit the birdie when it flies directly at my chest. “You have to quickly back up and then hit it,” she says. She asks to join. I hand her my racket. Although she’s still in high heels from work, she puts both Sai and I to shame. She’s clearly had some practice before. Sai and I play a little bit longer and then I say that I’m tired. It’s true. I don’t want to overdo it on our first badminton date. Sai thanks me in Japanese and says in English, “I’m very happy today.”