Four months ago I boarded a plane headed for China without knowing what to expect. I found out the night before I was going abroad that Facebook didn’t work in China! How was I going to survive?? As I boarded the plane bound for new adventures, I had no idea what I was really getting myself into. Now looking back, I wish I had known a little more about China and how the overseas life works. So hopefully this will help all of you who are thinking about playing in China, are headed to play in China, or just interested in what it is like.
Tryout: China will have been my 6th season abroad. I would like to consider myself a seasoned veteran at this point, which is why I was shocked that I would have to go to China for a tryout. Of course the thoughts of, “what if they don’t think I am good enough” or “what happens if I don’t make the team” were going through my head when I first arrived, but I am a strong believer in everything happens for a reason so there was nothing to loose. Come to find out, tryouts are actually quite common in China. There are many players who come early for a tryout before signing the contract. So don’t worry if you have a tryout. Yes you still need to play your best, but just know it is normal for the Chinese league.
Visa: When applying for a visa for China, know that they are fairly strict. It took me 3-4 trips to receive mine from San Francisco. First, they don’t let you send it in my mail. So if you are not near a Chinese Consulate, you will either have to go to one, or use a service. You also need an invitation letter from the club with the dates that you will be staying in China for, the name, address, and phone number of the person inviting you, and a flight. I applied for an ‘M’ visa which I believe was a business visa. The visas take about 4 days to get. The biggest problem is just making sure that you have all the paperwork.
Volleyball: In China, volleyball is a huge part of your life. Unlike in certain European countries where you enjoy the quaint details of the simple life, here if you aren’t in the gym you are sleeping or eating. The season starts, or at least did for me, the last weekend in November and lasts 2-4 months depending. It is 2 pools of 6 teams. You play each team home and away in a matter of 5 1/2 weeks. You have 2 matches per week with a lot of travel. After those 10 matches are finished (around january 5th), the top 4 teams combine with the top 4 teams of the other pool and form a pool of 8. Within these 8 teams, you only play the 4 teams from the other pool, but not the 3 that you have already played. The second pool finishes February 15th. From then, the top 2 teams play in the finals and 3 &4 for the semi-final which finishes in March. For the 4 teams that did not make the second pool, they play 4 matches against the 2 teams they had not played yet and finish on January 23rd. I know its confusing, but bottom line is there is a lot of volleyball in a very short amount of time. As far as training goes, be prepared for double days and very few days off. I have been here almost 3 months and just had my first day off since the season started. The training here is pretty crazy. Its not the same mentality in the States, where you get fewer reps but good ones. Here it is quantity over quality. Practices were usually 2.5-3 hours. The girls are also usually very young, so a lot of the time the coach makes them do more than the “older” players. Ball control is usually very good which allows for a quick offense. Mainly speed over power. It is a lot of work, and very physically and mentally taxing. The constant repetition with little recovery time both mentally and physically makes it a challenge. I am speaking for my club, because I know others a different. The good news is it is a short season, but there is a reason. You wouldn’t be able to put up the the grueling regiment for much longer. As far as clothing goes, the Chinese league is sponsored by 361, a Chinese clothing line. They give you more than enough as far as shoes, suitcase, coat, sweater vest and playing gear. The only downside is you have to wear all their gear, including the shoes. Its not bad, but coming from someone who enjoys playing in comfortable shoes, it was a nuisance at first.
Food: The occasional sweet and sour pork, orange chicken, and broccoli and beef, were always a tasty treat. But now imagine having that and rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not to mention its cafeteria styler served up on a lazy susan. The food here is a challenge. Unlike all the fresh fruits and vegetables that you can find in Europe and other place, China cooks, fries, and boils everything. Don’t worry they do have fresh fruit, but you just need to make sure you clean it really well. Being an athlete and knowing the foods and nutrients necessary to perform at our best, it was hard to find foods that would fit in to this category. You can only eat rice and eggs for so long. I lived in a hotel, as did most of the girls over here, so there was no possibility for me to cook. Like I said we had a cafeteria that was ok for a while, but you got sick of the same food. The Chinese are very adventurous with their meats, so don’t be surprised to see chicken feet, pig’s feet, chicken liver, beef fat, and some tongue. The hardest part is that since everything is cooked and has some sauce on it, it is hard to really know what you are eating. For example I ate some chicken, to later find out it was rabbit. The food also tends to be on the spicy side, so be prepared. Not all of the food is bad in China. They have so good soups, dumplings, and buns. They like their pork, so when in doubt assume thats what you are eating. Don’t get too excited for pancakes or croissants for breakfast, they have fried and hard boiled eggs, bread, noodles, rice porridge, and usually some rice. But there is usually some type of bakery that will have break and other goodies if need be. Just be prepared and bring your own food when you go to China. I was lucky to go home after I had already been in China 2 weeks and brought a whole suitcase of food. They do have Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Mc Donalds, Burger King, Subway, and KFC , so you won’t starve. But unlike the food in France and Italy, China doesn’t even come close to comparing.
Travel: China is an extremely large country and the teams are spread out, so travel is fairly frequent. Most of the time you fly, but occasionally you will take a train or bus. The hotels are usually not much. The hardest part with the travel has been the internet. We are spoiled in the U.S. with wifi in most places, but in China it is few and far between. A lot of the hotels will have ethernet cables, so bring a router when you travel. Wifi is sometimes offered in the lobbies, but don’t count on it. Also beware of the smog. I was fortunate to be in the southern part of China where the smog isn’t as bad, but if you go into the big cities such as Shanghai or Beijing I would consider getting a mask. May not look fashionable but its the cool thing to do in China. It also gets rather cold in China and will even snow in the northern parts. Be prepared for some chilly weather, but the clubs will provide necessary clothing. Also they don’t believe in heating the gyms, so be ready to practice in some very cold weather.
Etiquette: My mom always said that she should have sent me to finishing school, but after 4 months in China, I like to think that I have very good manners. Compared to most places, the Chinese have a very different idea of etiquette. One where burping, farting, spitting, is acceptable at any time and any place. Don’t be shocked to see someone cough or sneeze without covering their mouths. Get used to the sound of hock-a-loogies because the happen everywhere and often. Smoking is accepted, even in elevators that have signs not to. People dropping their trousers and relieving themselves doesn’t just happen in the bathrooms or behind closed doors. Be ready to practice your aim because most toliets are holes that you squat over, which I refer to as “squatty potties”. When eating, it is not uncommon to spit the bones on the plates or tables. People tend to stare. Mainly because we are tall and stick out, but here they don’t try and hide it. They do have their cultural differences and when it comes to manners they are very different from what I am used to.
Life: Life in China is a challenge. It is very “doable” but it is a challenge. Make sure you get a VPN. That will allow you to redirect your IP address so the internet thinks you are somewhere else other than China. That will allow you to access Facebook, Twitter, and other sites that will keep you from going crazy. Be careful of mopeds. They are everywhere and do whatever they want. They will honk at you and almost hit you and not even blink. Not many people speak English so it is very hard to communicate. I have a translator, but she is not with me 24/7, so make sure your charades skills are up to par and don’t be surprised when they speak back to you in Chinese like you understand. Take business cards from all the hotels, restaurants, and places you like and want to visit or of where you are staying. Its the easiest way to get around. Just show the taxi driver the card and your chances are good.
China is not like the U.S. in many ways, but I have come to appreciate it for what it is. Yes there were things that drove me up the wall, but like with every culture there are things you simply don’t understand. So hopefully this helps shed some light on what to expect if you ever get the opportunity to play in China.
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