Extra Curricular Activities

There are certain advantages to being a “trailing spouse”….the main one is you can go to and do things when people are at work.  My recent escapade was the 2015 Suzhou World Table Tennis Championships, sponsored by Qoros.  The 53rd,week-long, Championships came to Suzhou for the first time, but it was the 5th time they have been hosted in China.  Traffic around the Culture and Expo centre became a nightmare, we had dedicated traffic lanes, Zumba was cancelled because of the Championships in the nearby building and one metro carriage per train (I think) was emblazoned in the green logo.

I went on Wednesday 29th April (a couple of days before we moved), I arrived for the first match at 10am, and left shortly after 2pm to go and do the school run.  I could have stayed till 9pm, but I felt that having only paid around 8 pounds (80 RMB), I actually had got my money’s worth.  I saw 2 2nd round Women’s singles matches, 1 round 4 of Mixed Doubles, and 1 round 2 of Mens singles matches,  I was sitting by Tables 7 and 8 which I worked out were the equivalent of the outside courts.  A couple of giveaways – not one of those tables offered an Asian, the timeout cards – where just that – cards – the show courts had electronic timeout timers, the show courts had big ping-pong ball lights, the umpires were seated behind big desks and the tables were on a golden stand, whereas courts 1 and 2, 7 and 8 the tables had normal legs under the purple table, the umpires where sitting on chairs with no desks….oh and they didn’t have cameras televising the shots.

During the men’s singles I found myself watching an Englishman, Liam Pitchford, playing against a Portuguese man.  For the first time in my life I actively cheered the Englishman.  He went on to win his heat and then reached the last 32.  The first Englishman to do so since 1999! The finalists were all Asian, in fact, apart from a South Korean paired with a Chinese for the mixed doubles, it was an all Chinese affair at the finals.

The match play was fascinating, their serves were astonishing as the ball toss was quite slow but the first hit of the ball was sometimes faster than my eyes could take in, and on occasions I believed that the ball was being hit by the body rather than the bat as they manoeuvred their bodies around the table.

What was also disconcerting was that whilst I was watching the matches live in front of me, there were clearly some people (the Japanese beside me as a case in point) who were watching the big screens and they cheered when the woman/man scored.  This was off-putting to me, but clearly the players are used to this, as I didn’t see it affecting those players directly in front of me. My seat had been assigned to me for the day, but there were a lot of empty seats.  I moved closer to the action, but what I couldn’t do was move to watch another table.  That was forbidden.  I watched many people try to get round the barriers unseen, but with a “guard” at the bottom and at the top you were always watched.  One guy managed it.  The guard at the bottom was showing someone else to their seat, and the guy at the top…well he was partaking in another national pastime…. sleeping.

I, of course, rounded my day off by going to see what merchandise they had on offer.  I could have bought t-shirts made in Japan, table tennis tables and bats and balls and shoes and sweat bands and socks and anything else table tennis related (more than I realised), but I opted for a tasteful USB stick in the shape of a table tennis bat.

I also played table tennis with a random Chinese man.  He had picked up the bat and ball at an empty table and was just bouncing the ball up and down, so I picked up the spare one and we played until he gave up about 30 minutes later.  I realised quite early on in this “mini tournament”  that my bat had been broken as the handle was splintered at the top.   Persevering we did quite well without using any spoken language, we used the universal language in sport – grunting.


My other activity, did not happen when Martin was at work.  He, instead, had some quality Daddy/Daughter time having brunch at the Crowne Plaza before watching Eleanor’s group ballet performance at the Expat Association Suzhou Bazaar in the Culture and Expo Centre.

On Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd April I was ensconced in judging many many rounds (at least 6, with 2 heats per round) over 2 days of the National High School Debate League of China tournament held in Xinghai High School, Suzhou.  All the pupils taking part were Chinese but debated in English.  They came from Suzhou, Shanghai and a couple even came from near Beijing.  The quality ranged from the brilliant (two girls won with excellent poise, diction, pace, confidence and demonstration of knowledge) to the ones who definitely knew the subject but lacked confidence.  Debating in teams of 2, they had prepared the pro and con argument for “Globalisation reduces poverty” (I have paraphrased a bit).  On the toss of a coin, the winners of the toss decide first/second pro or con.  Thankfully I had a time-keeper who also tossed the coin – as this was beyond me…you can’t just say “heads or tails”. The saying is “number or flower”…doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue!

I volunteered to judge as I felt that having been a lawyer who was on my feet for most of my career I could bring something to the critique, and on the majority of feedback sheets I wrote –

“slow down, don’t read your speech, eye contact, make key words on a few cards”

Don’t get me wrong, at the age of 14-16 I could not have debated in anything but my first language.  Even now, my basic understanding of Mandarin will not get me far in debating anything whether it be globalisation helps to reduce poverty or the merits of drinking cold or warm water.  So I am in awe of the kids who gave up their weekend to dedicate their time to this activity, but there were a few who read their speech so fast that my ears/brain could not keep up with what they were saying.  I knew they were speaking English, but I couldn’t fathom the content because of their super fast speed – nerves had to play a part, but their written speeches were pages long, and I think the speed was something to do with the quantity of words they wanted to spout.

It was clear they had been given the same research material -that much was clear by about the 4th heat I judged.  I particularly enjoyed the leap between the Industrial Revolution that England went through in the 1800’s and what China is going through now with the pollution being the same and how China will be like the UK soon.

The final round I didn’t have to judge.  It was pretty clear-cut in terms of style. And it happened to be boys against girls.  The girls I had judged very early in the 2nd round on the Saturday.  The boys I came across twice on the Sunday.  Both girls were clear.  The other team was good and precise and they had improved as on the Sunday morning the boys had been very aggressive, by the final they were less so.  The first speaker, like the girls was clear, good style in that he didn’t speak with the desk in front of him and he was engaging.  But sadly his partner lacked the style.  He was too fast, lost the audience and in deed his opponents who constantly had to ask him to slow down. (A sentiment felt by the remaining judges who stayed till the end like me but who weren’t actually judging.)

It was an insight into this field of debating behind the fire wall of China….but one thing that bugged me… was when they spoke and quoted sources..the source was “www…..” what happened to quoting articles from books and magazines?