Zach Blair is one of 27 Puget Sound football student-athletes traveling to China (May 15-23), where the Loggers will learn the culture, lead youth football clinics, and compete against the Shanghai Titans (2017 American Football Leage of China Champions). Blair shares his and his teammates' early experiences in China.
After a long day of travel, a nice family style dinner, and good night of sleep, the anticipation of the first full day was high. We all filed into breakfast at different times, each with differing levels of expectations, but the same level of excitement. After a crash course in Mandarin from our fearless tour guide named Iowa (yes, like the state), a few student-athletes wanted to try their hand in speaking the native language. A couple of football players trying to speak a new language in a new country after a quick lesson on a bus, that went about as well as you would expect it. After breakfast, we hopped in the bus and were off to Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City.
Tiananmen Square is enormous, open, and adorned with red flags. With great, big government buildings surrounding the square, it is the largest public gathering place I have ever seen. According to Iowa, it could fit over one million people comfortably. Iowa gave us a fantastic history lesson, and then let us loose to explore the square, see the murals, statues, and buildings a little closer, then we met for a big group photo, on the side of the square closes to the forbidden city. After snapping a few team pictures, we moved through the big gates into the Forbidden City, which housed various Chinese emperors for hundreds of years. The Forbidden City is massive, and as we moved through it, we passed through a series of gates, each one higher in elevation than the other. Iowa let us know that as we moved towards the center of the city, each section was higher than the previous, because each section got closer to the emperor, who should be higher than everyone else in the city. The city was beautiful, painted with red, gold, blue, and green, and looked almost surreal. After walking through the city, we hopped back on the bus that met us on the other side of the city, and took us back to the hotel, where we had a little down time.
After a few hours to ourselves we went to another fantastic, family style dinner. They brought out enough food to feed each table twice, and gave us a taste of probably half the menu. My particular favorite dish was hot, caramelized plantains. I ate more of those than I should have, which made Coach Clements particularly happy. I will be playing offensive line for Coach Clements in a few days, and those plantains probably added a little extra weight. As much as dinner was delicious, the best part about it were the jokes and laughs thrown between everyone. The level of noise carried over from dinner, and back into the bus, and we took off for a Kung Fu style theatre show. Our positive energy and enthusiasm grew as we moved into the theatre, to the point where we could have been the opening act, and maybe stole the show. The show was in English, so luckily everyone was able to follow along, and it was filled with not only a great story line, but some fantastic athleticism. The artists were preforming flips and acrobatic maneuvers that were similar to that of gymnasts, and impressed the audience greatly.
After the show, we got back on the bus, with our all-conference bus driver and tour guide. Everyone was tired from the day of exploring. Regardless of expectations, everyone was entertained from start to finish, and we got more than a full taste of Beijing. Obviously everyone will remember their full emersion into the Chinese culture, but no one will forget the memories made with each other while doing so.