Even within the grounds of the campus I live and work the Chinese night is a hive of frenetic activity with people jogging, kids riding bikes, canoodling students, you can even get a haircut at 10pm should you need. Over the last few months I’ve witnessed all manner of sports taking place: basketball, tennis, volleyball and bowls or boule. It is like watching a party with no invite. So my exercise has come in the form of running around a track, and some minor arm and leg stretches. Another great thing about China is it has free facilities in its parks, no need to join over priced gyms.
Being as I’ve not had much luck in the badminton department this semester, I elected to gatecrash the elders boule game. Sure enough after loitering around on the sidelines one of the gents eventually offered me a throw. I was dreadful; my throws were either too long or woefully short. I had no idea what the rules were and there seemed to be no logical order of play.
As the night progressed many faces peered through the fence probably curious who the laowai (westerner) was playing with the locals. Even the security guys from the nearby hut came to peruse proceedings. It occurred to me that at home in the UK bowls is seen as a game for the elderly and I wondered if that were the same here in the middle kingdom; certainly my new-found mates were all easily into their fifties. I later found they were in fact in their seventies, all friends, and my new comrade (Xi Shen Chuen) told me he had been gymnastics instructor at one of Wuhan’s universities. Despite their age, some were feisty throwers – particularly the ladies.
Some of the rules became a little less murky during the two hours or so I spent with them. The balls were blue (for guys) and an orangey red for the women. It seemed that whoever got closest to the jack had right of way. A ball that touches the wall en route to the jack is disqualified but some of the others remained arcane as China itself. Xi tried to explain via a tatty piece of paper he pulled from his back trouser pocket that a ball that hits or ‘collides’ with another is a bad ball yet if it does this on the mark of 70 the point counts. I remained lost in translation, it was most likely the boule equivalent of trying to explain off-side. Another mystery was why every ball was measured even if it came to rest a considerable distance from the jack.
At the end, the same guy told me I was very good – although it was abundantly clear this was far from the case. I played it down of course but he went on in pidgin English their meetings were on days 1, 3 and 5. In other words Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8pm. ‘Ba dian’ I threw in clumsily trying to bridge the language gap. ‘Doo-ay’ (yes) he nodded. The ice was officially broken, they were inviting me back!
At last, a party with an invite!