April 6, 2008 * China Tour Journal #4
Different cultures breed many “why” questions that eventually lead to the same answer. For example, why do the sounds of a marching band blare outside of my window every afternoon like they are doing now? Well, Tracy, that’s just the way it is in China. Okay, but why are there slits in the back of little kids’ pants exposing their undercarriages? People tell me it’s only while the kids are being potty trained, but a flurry of more “why’s” follows. Inevitably, the answer is still, “that’s just the way it is.”
Or consider this perplexing issue: the driving habits of the locals. Traffic lanes are a suggestion rather than a rule, while pedestrians risk their lives to cross a street. Though, they’re not the only ones. Aside from trying not to plow over the people on foot, a driver must be very aware of the impatient pig truck that’s merging into the occupied lane without waiting for an opening. And no one can escape the hazard of the bazillion (yeah, bazillion) bicyclists swarming the intersections and darting in all directions whenever they please. Is there any standard? Why are they allowed to travel like this? …Can you guess the answer?
My musings aside, allow me to fill you in, for the last time, on what’s been happening with Team USA. In my previous entry, we had just dined with our upcoming opponent Jiang-Su in Nanjing, China. The next day, they beat us soundly in four sets. Their offensive speed was the fastest we’d seen all trip, and they also delivered stellar defense and serving. All I wanted to do after the match was watch video!
And we did eventually, identifying key adjustments for each position. My hands were sweating and my eyes narrowed as I thought about stuffing their middles’ wrist-away shots---ARGG! Their level is higher, but the style is just like what we’ve been seeing over and over again on this trip. And what’s a better way to end the volleyball portion of our adventure than to go a second round with the team that challenged us the most!
The next day we owned that challenge by making those key adjustments and relishing the competition together! I think our three-set victory was a beautiful illustration and climax of young Team USA putting into action what we’ve learned over three weeks in the thick of Chinese culture and play. We won that last match, but even if we didn’t, I think our team can walk away satisfied with our efforts and improvement. What a feeling!
After a farewell banquet from the generous folks of Nanjing, we bused back to the airport the next morning for our last domestic flight! Our final three days were to be devoted to sightseeing, shopping, and such!
We arrived in Beijing on Thursday, did some quick shopping (I-pods for $25, what?), and created a sort of faux pas by dining at TGIF that night. Friday, according to our tour guide Jack, we became “heros” by climbing the Great Wall of China. The wonder wasn’t lost on this group. In fact, Nellie and I, having ascended the wall before, concluded that to do so twice in a lifetime (let alone once) is a very cool blessing.
Next we stopped for a peaceful walk through the Ming tombs, where J and I frolicked beneath the “singing” willows, and we all posed with the great stone animals. We then got our shop on at the famous silk market where it is key to bargain and necessary to expect the constant, “Hey lady! Hey! What you want? I got special price for you!” as they death grip your arm and try to lure you into their corner. Good times. Knockoff everything was had by all, which bodes the new challenge of trying to fit it all in the suitcase while still being under the pound limit.
As if that USA bound plane didn’t have enough weight to worry about, we were then treated by some of Jenny’s friends to a famous Golden Jaguar Buffet where they have Indian, American, Japanese, Chinese, etc. selections to choose from. Overwhelming indeed! Saturday, we had a surprise lifting/cardio workout at a fancy facility before exploring the Forbidden City. Heather and I almost got lost as I tried to remember all I had learned when I was there two years ago with the Huskers. It was strange to be flooded with the great memories of my old teammates while walking the same ancient streets with my new ones.
Now I am propped on this typically hard Asian bed in room 8305 in a humble Beijing Inn. My stuff is strewn about in all its pre-packed glory. I hear girls laughing down the hall, telling stories and doing fashion shows. Thoughts drift wildly to the people and events that await us upon arriving back home Sunday afternoon.
I can’t accurately convey what this trip has meant to each individual, but I imagine the satisfaction of our team’s effort that I mentioned earlier is part of it. I am very thankful for the privilege to have intertwined with these lives for this time, for the chance to learn, and for the honor it will always be to represent USA. I think Therese said it best for all of us during our team prayer before our final match. She thanked God for the hands we were holding and for this great opportunity to play with these people at this time—that this will likely be the last time all of our individual paths collide.
On behalf of this collision, I want to throw out a round of thanks, because our great China adventure would only have been a “nice idea,” without immense generosity from many people and organizations. You see, it is typical for a training team to only train (hence the name), but Jenny and her sister Sandy, USA Volleyball, and many Chinese sponsors put a lot of time and money into allowing us a chance to compete! The USA Volleyball budget is certainly not limitless, and we so appreciate what was given for us. A special thanks to Jenny for “selling herself,” as she called it, by taking on all the publicity for our benefit. Thanks to Diane, Sue, Coach James, Coach Li, Tom and Shawna for being so patient and organized—for leading us in our growth. Thanks, too, to Bill Kauffman for all his hard work in distributing our information so family and friends could keep tabs on us.
And so this journey ends, as our individual (and collective) ones keep going. We step onto that plane today, having eaten the pork, survived the traffic, and peaked in the finals, as different people than when we left. Why, you ask? Because doing it any other way would be a waste of opportunity—which also happens to be…just the way it is.
Thanks for reading….
Tracy Stalls (Denver, Colo.)
U.S. Women's National Team Journal