Some of you have heard about how I am acting as an unofficial US Ambassador to China via the basketball court. In fact, since Kobe calls himself the Black Mamba, I have been generously dubbed the Yellow Mamba by the crew. I guess Red Mamba was taken? I suppose, compared to their walnut skin, mine is pretty, well, yellow. After one standout performance, I was invited to play in a league game again, this time against the local Fire Department. What’s that song, Dad? “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was…” Now, as you can guess, the FD is a government-run operation and the setting was pretty surreal: Security guard at the gate in the wall, 5 story building on 3 sides with balconies overlooking the courtyard and court, many guys in fatigues and a few in dress uniform, lots of posters with red, yellow, photos of Mao.
As I am warming up, I hear a call from the second floor overlook and some guys with salad on their chests are pointing at me. My host tells me I need to go with him. Um. I don’t have my passport… Just wanna play ball… Please? We get upstairs and I am ushered into a room. 3 in fatigues, 3 in dress, and one in charge look me over for a moment and sit me in a chair. I have seen this sort of thing on TV… Does Karen have the number to the US Embassy? Surely she would start to look for me after a few hours… The head guy never says anything, just eventually nods and walks out. Did I say a few HOURS!?!
The remaining officers talk to me in Chinese ?!? then finally get my attention and point at a computer screen. On the screen, I see dozens of questions, but the reason is not registering. Wait a minute… You’re kidding… No Way… The officers have to study English. They apparently take tests online and submit them for review to show that they are learning. They want me to take and submit their test for them! That’s it? I may get to walk out of here! Grammer skilz dont fale me now!! They gave me a bottle of water as I read the questions out loud as directed. I guess they could tell my mouth had gone dry a little earlier. Fifty to/two/too, their/there/they’re, and has/have/had questions later, I went back downstairs to play ball. I asked later if the results came back soon, and was pleased to hear they take a few weeks (just in case).
The FD eventually won the game (100-97 on a game-winning three, no kidding), and it was probably for the best – I still didn’t have my passport, after all. 🙂 I am definitely glad that I was in on the conspiracy instead of being singled out for some of the other reasons that had gone through my head, and I am glad to discover again that the Chinese officers were just other normal guys. I am going to post this a while after I have gone to try to prevent anyone (my host especially) from getting in trouble. In a place like this, I can only imagine a full, intense investigation and the scandal if it were reported in the state-run media that officers had cheated on a test by conscripting an American. Thinking back, I do wish I had a second chance at the encounter. It may have been my only chance to flip the script and look at a handful of Chinese guys who wanted something, hold out my hand and say, “100 Yuan, 100… Ok. Ok. 80. 80. Good price. Good price.” Probably best that I didn’t. -The Yellow Mamba