In the days leading up to June 17, 1995, the local Chinese TV and radio stations were all talks about the upcoming game. Whole programs devoted to player interviews, analysis, players' family interviews, more analysis, celebration coverage, practice coverage, uniform coverage, dramatic reenactments. My dad jerry-rigged our home entertainment system so that the TV was connected to the stereo, which was connected to an amp, which was connected to two VCRs that recorded simultaneously so he could send one of the VHS tapes to his unfortunate co-worker at the motel who had to work on game day. Mom's co-workers called, Dad's boss called, even overseas uncles who were usually too cheap to call long distance for New Years spent big RMBs to talk about this showdown. The game, of course, was soccer: the Women's World Cup, China vs. USA.
Tensions were high then. In the world, US-China relations were strained over who owned Taiwan. Clinton criticized Bush for a "soft" attitude towards China while the administration allowed Taiwan's president for a highly publicized visit to the US and China was rolling its eyes like, "Who the hell do you think you are to Big Brother this?" Like the lunchroom scene from Mean Girls (great movie, by the way), it was a total diplomatic diss.
At home, we were a conflicted household. Who to root for? Who to stand with? China or the US? The land that birthed us or the land to which we immigrated? Like adopted children, the question was much more than a sports team--it was about nature vs. nurture, a question of loyalty and identity. The choice was easier for my parents since they had spent most of their lives in China, but for me, I was right in the middle at 10 years-old: 5 years raised in China, 5 years raised in the US.
It's easy to hate the US (in soccer at least) because we have such little following. Soccer is not an All-American sport. Football is, or baseball, or basketball. Even ice hockey would rank above soccer. It's hard for most Americans to name a team on the NALS or the MLS. Bring this to a global stage where soccer is akin to religion for countries in Europe, Asia, South America, Middle East and soccer becomes more than just a sport. It's a stage for politics. For most of these economically weaker countries, especially countries where the US had dealt with heavy handedly, it becomes the only opportunity for the people to regain some dignity. Just because you have money, you control the world. Well, we can still kick your ass on the field.
At a party recently, I met a fellow writer who told me a similar story about the World Cup in the late 80s when Mexico played against the US. He said his Mexican-born father was angry for days after that game because Mexico lost. Like me, this writer was conflicted--Who do I root for? Where do I belong? Who am I, really? He told me his father blamed the bad call on the field. He yelled. He threw things. He even cried.
Yes, people cry at soccer. Burly men with big muscles will cry at a soccer game. No one cries at a baseball game, or a football game.
When Mia Hamm scored that second goal with a 40 yard run at minute 55, the US was already leading 1-0. Tisha Venturini had scored the previous goal at minute 24 and all eyes were on China to bounce back or else...lose the whole game. But they never bounced back, not that game at least. The entire PRC team cried. Dad cried. Mom cried. My cousins cried. I hadn't yet figured out where I belonged.
The game ended by late morning and we all went back to bed. We never watched soccer again in our house.
Bits & Pieces
A place for experimentation, a place for pieces unpolished and unpublished, a place to work out thoughts and ideas for larger collections. Typos aplenty. Enjoy (or not).