April 14, 2010

They're Mad Here, Too, III

But even if they are gay, or even if they are cold, it strikes me as odd to see two guys striking such an intimate pose on the sidelines.

He may be tired, but I’m not. I’m just warming up. So I pick up my bag and fleece jacket and waltz 15 feet away to play three-on-three. Before I set my things down one of the college kids says, “Where are you from?” in English. I reply in Chinese: “Měi Guó,” America, which literally translates to “beautiful country.” Every one of the eight-or-so people on the court absolutely busts up laughing. It’s like I just told an awesome joke. They have hardly settled down when one of them asked to take a picture with me. I oblige, and then am met with three more photo requests, all from guys who I am about to play with.

Once the photo session is done, I step onto the court and start playing. The ball is exceptionally slick, like a wet football, and a few times I go to shoot jumpers and the rock squirts right out of my hands. And the basket is similarly crummy to the last one. The backboard, which is made of wood, is splintering and splitting, the numerous thin layers of wood splitting apart like a blooming flower.

Off the court, there is one interesting thing I notice. The best player here is a 21-year-old who has bleached, almost-red hard. He is wearing matching Puma brand pants and jacket. He is really savvy with the ball, creative, willing to try difficult dribbling maneuvers seemingly just for giggles – but executing them with precision.

About 20 minutes after I arrive, my team downs his team. I look over to the sideline where he is sitting about six inches in front of one of his teammates. Then I see him lie back, twist himself onto his side in a sort of half-fetal position, and rest his head against his teammate’s stomach. The quasi-redhead folds his arms tightly against his own body and – for lack of a better word – snuggles with the teammate, who is sitting upright.

It is not at all uncommon to see guys touch each other in public. Often time guys will walk down the street with their arms wrapped around each others’ neck; in class, kids sometimes rest their hands on their buddies’ lap, or grab for a hand if they are seeking attention. Basically, there is a lot more intra-sex touching than there is the States; people aren’t so paranoid about looking gay. Still, this sidelines cuddling session is bizarre.

They unfurl themselves to play the next game, and after losing they quickly engage in another not-in-the-States sort of position – arms tangled, head on lap. These guys might be gay, which would be one explanation for their public display of affection. Or maybe they are just chilly; it is, after all, still really cold. But even if they are gay, or even if they are cold, it strikes me as odd to see two guys striking such an intimate pose on the sidelines. There is a façade of masculinity that people maintain on and around basketball courts in the States. If you’re cold, you ram your hands inside your shirt and maybe hop around to try to generate some body heat. And even if you are gay, and even if you’re playing with your boyfriend, it would nonetheless be the height of oddness to show any affection while waiting for the next game. On the contrary, you would likely be more prone to disguise it. It’s no skin off my back that these guys are curled up together. I’m not a homophobe. I have no moral objection. It makes no difference to me whatsoever. But still, it’s foreign. You just wouldn’t see it in the States.

I go to the supermarket after I play, snagging a French press to make coffee and a bit of food. I take a taxi home and lie down for awhile, contemplating the lessons I learned today: (1) Despite being in China, I am as geeked about March Madness as I always am, and (2) Despite the cold, there were still plenty of people playing basketball. Including old-timers.

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