Friday, March 28, 2008

Tournament time

Last night in Westminster the excitement was palpable. The one word zipping around the gym more than "shuttlecock" was: "tournament."
Oh, the heart races at the thought of it! The English word brings to mind ancient battles and jousts and tests of mettle, fair maidens giving away tokens to their champions.
In Chinese, the word for tournament is way more mundane: 比赛 (bi3 sai4), literally "comparison contest." We'll see how my skills stack up.
Today, Friday, March 28, is the first day of the Colorado Open Badminton Tournament. I will be playing singles, men's doubles and mixed doubles. The doubles events are Saturday, but tonight are the singles matches. My first match-up is against Steffen, a German guy who is pretty good. It will be a tough match, but it is good I am playing him early on. He's got more stamina than me so if I faced him tired I'd have less of a chance. My main hope is to overpower him early and bump him out of the way.
I am playing men's doubles with my friend Note, a kid from Thailand. Apparently lots of Thai youngsters have English nicknames that are random words. Note's real name is Pawis. His brother's nickname is Knot. He said most of his friends have similarly monosyllabic English nicknames, so I guess I would fit right in, although the names seem to be nouns.
Last night Note and I played against the pair who won Gold in men's doubles (B) last year, and we beat them 21-10. So we feel pretty good, but we'll have to be aggressive against the players we don't know.
Michala and I will be playing mixed doubles, and again, if we can make it past our first match-up (against Steffen - again - and this woman Addy), we should be OK. I think there are only 8 teams so we have a decent chance of medaling. We've been playing well together recently, and last night we both felt pretty confident.
M is guaranteed a singles medal since there are only 2 women playing singles at all! The winner will get gold in B, the loser will get a gold in C.
I'm excited. I'm wearing my shorts under my work pants. Stay tuned for an update!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Badminton street cred

Two weeks ago our good friend Gregory was passing through Colorado on his way to Washington state from Vermont. Two things to know about Gregory: he makes great bread, and he is a fantastic badminton player.
Having spent many hours in his Subaru driving across the country, the man naturally wanted to play some badminton. So we took him to our Thursday night badminton gathering in Westminster.
Westminster badminton is great, but there is a weird badminton hierarchy in place.
I've been playing there for six months, and had not played a game with the "A" players, of which there are about 6. I'm pretty good, but not A level. But still, you need to play up in order to get better. Which I suppose is why they don't mix with the riffraff. Anyway, Gregory shows up, plays one game and spends the rest of the night battling the various A players to fight for dominance.
It's kind of like a primal herd, with the strongest Alpha players constantly butting heads to try and maintain superiority. Then another Alpha shows up and they swarm down on him, to make sure they are still in control. It was amusing to watch. If I sound like I am exempting myself from the primal herd model of badminton clubs, I'm not.
Just like any other animal society, the smaller ones (B-level players) want to challenge up and take a shot at the big dogs, or elk, or sloths or whatever. So I figured, since I brought Gregory, (who proved himself firmly in the A category) that should garner me some modicum of street cred, badminton style.
In fact, it did.
Last week, the gym was crowded, with nearly 50 individuals vying for court space. Luckily, I was picked up by Steveboy, a player of decent abilities, to play in a match with two Alpha players: Paul and Rohit. (Steveboy picked me up after I noticed he was choosing people to play with, and I obnoxiously said "pick me pick me!")
I partnered up with Paul, a Canadian (I think), who was typically taciturn as I walked on the court. His only advice: stay up at the net as much as possible (i.e. stay out of the way). But, despite a few stupid shots and unforced errors, I held my own and we defeated Steveboy and Rohit (who is actually very nice.)
Later in the evening, Rohit and Paul and Brent (another Canadian A player) were picking a game, and their fourth was in another match. So I approached them and said cockily: "need a fourth?"
Rohit, being the nice guy he is, said OK, and I got into an unprecedented second A-level game! Inconceivable.
And guess what, this time Rohit and I defeated the Canadian dudes. Nice!
So, did Gregory's coming to visit gain me valuable credibility on the Mean Courts of Westminster Badminton? Well, at least it gave me the confidence to say to the upper level players: I'm ready. Let's play. Word to your shuttle.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ben's ming nian

....long hiatus between posts.....
Somehow, everything came together in March, shortly after the beginning of the Chinese new year. Coincidence?
First: I finally got a job! I am a reporter in a northern Colorado suburb. I will be covering the local government and business.
Also: My fiancee and I also found an apartment in a small city west of Denver.
This is the year of the Rat , (shu3), for those who don't know. That means it is my 本命年 (ben3 ming4 nian2), or "Year of Personal Destiny." (my translation) Everyone has one, and it occurs every 12 years, beginning with the year you were born, as the zodiacal cycle repeats.
I've heard that your personal Year of Destiny is either really good or really bad, no in-betweens. The year of the rat began in early February in 2008, and about a month later, things started to fall into place. First with a job offer, then an apartment offer.

WEIRD SIDE NOTE: Here's a little tidbit of information about Chinese years, not related to the Animal Years thing. In Taiwan, years are officially written as Republic of China Year X. Where the current (Western) year = 1911+X. So, if you see Republic of China Year 90, it really means 2001. Quiz! What is this year in Taiwanese years? Ding! 97.
This is because the Republic of China began in 1911, replacing the Qing Dynasty, and Taiwan recognizes that instead of the PRC which started in 1949. The PRC uses the regular year system.

In your Year of Personal Destiny, you are supposed to wear a 红腰带 (hong 2 yao1 dai4), or Red Belt, in order to secure a prosperous YOPD. I actually had one once, while I was working at China Today magazine back in 1996. I didn't actually wear it, but I did wrap it around my computer. It is basically a red ribbon or strip of cloth, or even a string.
It is meant to ward off evil and disaster, and to attract good fortune. Apparently, though, college girls in Hangzhou are using them as a weight loss device.
Red is usually a good luck color, along with gold. Black and white are mostly reserved for funereal-type affairs.
We'll see how the rest of the Rat pans out....