Chinese HackeySack, new pictures and other thoughts

Apparently in Guangzhou there is a game similar to Hackeysack except it’s played by men and women of all ages and the hackeysack is an oversized badminton shuttlecock except with plastic washers where the rubber bulb would be. There are hundreds of people playing this game all over the park I tried to ask what the game is called or even what the shuttlecock/hackeysack is called and all I got was basically it’s called Guangzhou….Yea, somehow I don’t think they knew what I was asking. Of course the fact that I’m asking in English and they speak Mandarin or Cantonese might have something to do with it. My Mandarin seems to have devolved down to a few stock phrases and numbers. I occasinally break out with a word or phrase from my tutoring sessions but it’s usually a surprise to me and even more of a surprise to whomever I’m speaking with. So I repeat the word or phrase and then the person with whom I’m trying to communicate usually smiles, laughs, repeats what I said and then says, in english, “your chinese is very good”. As you can tell from this story the culture of saving face and politeness is alive and well in China.


A typical co-ed group of people playing Chinese Hackeysack (once I find out the actual name, I’ll start using it)

Back to Chinese Hackeysack. I was playing in the park today during Lili’s nap with several men and women, most of whom were over 60. They could do amazing tricks without seeming to move a muscle or breaking a sweat. I, of course, had sweat streaming down my face and missed many opportunities to “hackey” the shuttlecock. Occasionally I’d get lucky with a behind the back desperation lunge using my size 13 feet and I’d earn several thumbs up and even a mei hua – (beatiful, fine, etc.) I was definitely the novelty and several people would join our group of 5 or 6 with apparently the sole goal of seeing how good the “Lao Wai” was, because I got far more than my fair share of shots directed my way, after a few minutes demonstrating I could in fact handle the simple shots, the group just kind of gelled and focused on keeping the shuttlecock in the air, tapping it only once and making sure to include every member of the group. Every 10 minutes or so, 1 or 2 new people would wander over and mumble something in mandarin or cantonese and join the group as others left. Basically the core of the group was a 60-year-old woman and a living breathing caricture of an old chinese man with grey hair and a long wispy beard, and me, the balding slightly paunchy American. Of course they were incredible and would have impressed even the most jaded group of deadheads hackeying outside a Phish concert. (is that a verb?) All in all, I held my own without embarrassing myself too many times. But we all knew who was teaching the game and who was being schooled even though we weren’t having many in-depth conversations.

After an hour I was beat, but the men in their suits and the women in their flats were still going strong. In fact several of the people I was playing with were still at it several hours later when we all went out for lunch. Of course then I was no longer the star since Lili was with us. And boy is she a star.


After lunch we went out and about in the city riding in a couple of Taxis, shopping, and generally trying to get something of a sense of this massive city. It’s size is truly amazing and the density of population makes NYC look like a ghost town without the tumbleweeds.


Let’s play find the Lao Wai (foreigner) in this photo.


No, that isn’t an optical illusion the taxi won’t fit in the gap. But unlike in the states there was no animosity, no road rage, no middle-fingers upraised in an angry salute, just a quiet peaceful acceptance punctuated by horns. The traffic is the most chaotic I’ve ever seen. People randomly stop until they decide whether to turn or not, bikes, mopeds, handtrucks, three-wheelers, pedestrians, Buses, taxis and luxury sedans all mix together in this glorious stew that is Ghuangzhou traffic. It makes Brazillian drivers look like calm, patient, orderly, little old ladies out for a Sunday drive. It makes the Costa Rican drivers look like model citizens aiming for another AAA discount. Of course German Drivers would be in apoplexy here because there doesn’t seem to be any rules to follow. But given all that there are surprising few accidents.



Indoor waterfall at the White Swan Hotel with a large number of very hungry Koi fish, some almost two feet long.

The White Swan hotel is quite an experience. After Nanchang, where for a week we didn’t see a single non-asian person who wasn’t with our group (they were a few Indian, Vietnamese, and Thai guests at the hotel however), this hotel must have 75-100 or more families all adopting. So imagine a breakfast dining room packed with couples in every flavor of American, all of whom have at least one small chinese person at their table. Sometimes they have two or more since they been down the adoption path before. Sprinkle in a few asian and american business men traveling solo and wearing suits and you have a very surreal meal. Most of the kids seem to be between 1-2 years of age, mostly girls, but there are a few boys. Lili is probably the smallest baby we’ve seen and probably one of the younger ones in residence in the hotel, but of course she is the cutest and we have the photos to prove it. We’ve been very thankful that she isn’t walking and toddling, yet, because watching the parents going from no kids to an instant 2-year-old, looks exhausting. In fact tonight at dinner with our 10 families in a local restaurant, the girls started their first chorus of crying. It wasn’t one or two girls, it was almost all of them. Both they and their parents looked exhausted (that includes us and our perfect Lili) and people quickly gave up thoughts of eating and fled back to their hotel rooms.

That’s all for now. More pictures tomorrow.  -tjm

3 comments on “Chinese HackeySack, new pictures and other thoughts

  1. omutha says:

    Thom, Catherine, & Lili! Howdy and greetings from Texas. I have been following your adventures but have just now been able to get in and leaqve a note. Lili is so beautiful!!!!! Her smile is incredible. All of your pictures and posts have been terrific. Keep the pics & words coming. Look forward to seeing all of you after you are back and settled. Love, Larry

  2. bjgroom says:

    we’re tracking you…and your GREAT and THRILLING adventure. It’s better than any “Cinderella” fiction in memory..


    mott and barbara

  3. Otter says:

    Judging from the pictures (and accompanying commentary), Lili is a most cheerful baby with loads of personality. We can hardly wait to meet her in person.

    Thom, while I must applaud your “hackeysack diplomacy,” I fear that this can only result in fewer pictures of Guangzhou to look at upon your return. I am assuming here that once you joined the game you had to put the camera down. If not, I’m sure the locals were a lot more impressed with you than you are letting on.

    We are keenly anticipating your triumphant return — though we promise to give you time to recover from what will be a near lethal case of jetlag before we descend upon you to ooh and aah over Lili and plant ourselves on your couch for hours while we look at pictures from your trip.

    Lucy & Otter

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