A Cultural Transformation
“Many people go fishing all of their lives not knowing that it is not the fish they are after.” The wit by Henry Thoreau crosses my mind as my eyes stop at this 19-years old tennis racquet on the garage wall. After about two decades of falling in love with the game, I have awakened to the fact that, for me, playing tennis is likened to fishing in that regard.
Growing up playing Ping-Pong in my hometown halfway around the world, tennis was never in my dreams before. Ping-Pong is in my blood, but tennis looks more like a real game. I told myself one day while watching the French Open on TV. With used tennis balls I collected around the courts, this Wilson Hammer 4.0 got me started.
Over the years, I hit the balls against the wall, training my footwork, watching and mimicking pros on TV, then off to the real courts. Before I knew it, my name was on the list of 100 local Saturday morning players, the only Chinese face till this day. Tennis seems to be the game no one puts any bet on, but all play as hard as they can to win. But to me, the time between and after those games is even more intriguing. Players bring beers in turns, which works best after intensive, sweaty fun. The conversations, with the help of a couple of drinks, could lead us anywhere. I watch, I listen, I chew and digest, and I occasionally pitch in.
Even off the court when a hot issue strikes a nerve, discussions can grow heated in this large, diverse group that comprises people from all walks of life. At one time, a topic in discussion was about the State legislature to protect sexual orientation. It would include homosexuality, pedophilia, incest, and bestiality. Examining the definition of sexual orientation, the remarks seemed to put homosexuality and pedophilia in the same category. One could imagine that within 100 people, there would be as many different opinions as there are in all of America. In China, where I came from, people would mostly keep those feelings to themselves. Good or bad, that’s the cultural thing. Following the discussions, it got my eyes wide open and my mind churning the way like never before. Good or bad, this is a cultural thing in America.
In front of me, an ancient and reserved culture being put side-by-side with the youngest, most diverse one. It’s like examining day and night at the same time. Once I gather my thoughts, another voice comes to my ears, “Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.” a Hall of Fame tennis player Martina Navratilova. This sounds like a voice of reason to me; however, everyone has their own interpretations and, in America, the freedom to express them.
I have changed racquets numerous times, but this is the only old one I keep. Every time my eyes are on it, it calls me right back to the first time I stepped on a court and many things that have happened thereafter. This was never just about tennis. My lifestyle has evolved over the years: tea drinking easing into coffee, Baijiu transformed into wine, a veggie garden converted into the grassy lawn, and a stir-fry wok for a grill. And above all, Confucian ideals melding into Christian theology. This is a cultural transformation. Or adding colors to a pencil sketch of a life.
(Top photo: Our Team in the USTA League playing at State Championship in Greensboro NC, May 2016)