Last weekend witnessed a series of firsts: Shenzhen’s first major tennis event, my first time to a sporting final, and my first (sort of) hitch-hike.
Late last year, I bought a pair of tickets to the Shenzhen 2012 Tennis Open where stars such as Li Na and Laura Robson would play in preparation for the Australian Open the following year. This was great as I was excited about watching my first game of professional tennis and coincidentally that game being the final. This excitement was compounded when my school informed me, two days prior to the match, that I would have to work an 8 day week to make up for the 2 days of ‘holiday’ that we were to be granted by the government and therefore the tennis was my non-refundable ticket out of that bear trap! It took a while to explain to my contact teacher why I couldn’t come to work that Saturday – he could not fathom why this was a) an outing he had not been informed about by the bureau and then subsequently b) why I had organised such an outing individually. I have experienced a very strong group mentality since I’ve been here and individualism, it would seem to me, is not something that is often expressed let alone appreciated. Either way, I was going to go to the tennis, no question!
The day arrived and we made our way up to a different district of Shenzhen – Longgang. This took about 45 minutes by metro and it was so much calmer than downtown Futian that it wasn’t hard to see how Longgang had, until recently, been separate from Shenzhen. Noticeably, there were less people on the streets and consequently an infuriating lack of taxis. When it became clear that we may miss the start of the final drastic, and potentially dangerous, measures had to be taken – all in the name of tennis of course. So yes, 3 foreign females stuck out their thumbs at the side of the road hoping for a car to stop. The one male we were with just looked at us in despair! Within about 30 seconds a guy screeched to a halt in front of us and gruffly asked “qu nali” (where to)? I showed him a piece of paper onto which I had copied the address in Chinese characters and he told us to hop in. He took us swiftly to the door of the stadium unharmed……..for the kindly sum of 20 yuan! It’s no wonder China is developing at breakneck speed if every Wang, Zhang, and Liu is this entrepreneurial.
We walked around the grounds and then settled into our fantastic seats. The stadium was rather small so it was hard not to have a great seat to be fair. The match got underway and it looked like Li Na would unfortunately demolish her opponent in straight 6-1 sets much to the disappointment of us all who wanted to get our money’s worth! However, Zakopalova had some fight in her and took back the second set leading to a tense final set which, in the end, Li Na dominated.
The other aspect of the match that jockeyed with the athletes for the most attention was the phenomenon of the Chinese spectator crowd. The idea of silence was lost on them and throughout the match there were babies crying and phones ringing which led to long noisy conversations of ‘yeah mate, I’m at the tennis but……’. One person even had THE classic Nokia ringtone which simply added to the ridiculousness of the situation. At one crucial point in the match just as Li Na was about to serve for the set, one guy in a suit strolled up the staircase beside me and upon spotting someone he knew shouted ‘AHHHHAAAA MATE, HOW’S IT GOING?!’. A constant level of chit-chat and even the noisy phone conversations were accepted by the rest of the spectators but I got the impression that this guy had gone too far, even by their standards. The occupiers of the seats around me turned and glared ferociously at this one man who didn’t even notice and continued to try and get closer to his friend. When an usher came along and told him to pipe down he continued smiling, completely oblivious as to what he had just interrupted.
However, what they lacked in general spectator decorum, they certainly made up for when it came to the politeness of their words of encouragement for their Li Na. That day I learnt what to say in Chinese when someone plays an incredible shot down the line – piao liang (beautiful) – and how to spur them on – jia you! “Come on!” in English can be used in encouragement, exasperation or even mockery on the sporting field however the literal translation of jia you! is ‘fill the machine with petrol’ i.e. persist! with more effort! Don’t give up! Thus it is naturally meant for encouraging and cheering someone on. A far cry from the ubiquitous and delightfully English “Your Sh*t, and you know you are!” Equally when her opponent Zakopalova played some stunning shots, although the entire crowd was supporting only one player, her effort was recognised with polite applause and the occasional piao liang.
We were then treated to the doubles final where the incredible ‘Chan/Chan’ duo easily defeated their opponents to become the Chan-pions (terrible I know….I’ll stop there).