kick shuttle

If you ever visit Beijing as part of a tour group, chances are you will get to visit the big three:  the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Summer Palace.  Once you have those under your belt, there is usually time to pad out your collection with some of the lower tier sites; these include locations such as the Drum Tower, Qianmen (the most impressive gate to a city I have ever seen, and which still amazes me whenever I happen to pass by on the way to the Beijing office) and the Temple of Heaven.

Having worked in Beijing for one year, my perspective of these sites has changed somewhat.  I lived next to the Summer Palace and even now I can’t go past without remembering how my girlfriend managed to ride at considerable speed into the back of a stationary car parked outside the main entrance.  What was even more remarkable was how, despite having left a large dent in their boot, we were able to get out of there without having to cough up any cash.  I think the blood pouring down her face worked to our advantage and the driver was the most shocked of everyone present and not thinking clearly.

For me, the most impressive aspect of the Forbidden City was the sheer complexity of the design.  The first time I visited I realized I didn’t have what it takes to be an emperor because I would never find my way around.  Never mind trying to seek out my favourite concubine, I’d get lost just going to the toilet.

The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) is probably four or five on the list, vying for position with Qianmen.  It’s also around the corner from where I sometimes work but for me it’s a great place to get knock off merchandise, far better than the more popular Silk Street.  In Silk Street the prices are pretty much fixed but in Tiantan shopping centre you can barter with the staff for a 90% discount and hone your negotiating skills.

But the chances are that, as a tourist, you will miss out on the chance of replica Rolexes and cut-price Cartiers and the tour bus will take you straight into Tiantan Park where you can experience large numbers of locals in close proximity singing twenty different songs out of tune at the same time.  The diversity of the songs further adds to the dissension.  One group of about one hundred might be singing something patriotic, (maybe a Chinese equivalent of Rule Britannia), while the bunch on left might be belting out a local favourite (Knees up Mother Liang).  Meanwhile on the right, they have selected some post Cultural Revolution ditty (think Strangers in the Night, but with a more yobbish interpretation).

The resulting discord is about as tuneful as standing in a bunch of Portsmouth supporters at an away game to Millwall “you’re gonna get yer ‘ead kicked in…. Britain never ever will be slaves … whose the wanker in the pinstrip suit….”  Doo be doo be doo.

The locals seem to enjoy it, as do the snap happy foreigners who jostle for position like a pack of paparazzi.

The first time I visited I was with my girlfriend and an Australian mate.  After the aural assault on our senses we withdrew, ears still ringing, to somewhere more peaceful and bought ice creams.  When we opened them we found that at some point previously they had melted and had been refrozen.  In fact, the swirly patterns generated by vanilla innards half blended with what was once the chocolate coating, suggested a turbulent history populated with multiple freeze thaw cycles.  Not fancying the consequences of consuming these delicacies we returned to the vendor.  Naturally he wasn’t going to give us back our money but, after some lengthy negotiations, we left with a bottle of coke and a tijianzi (tea jen zzz), or a kick shuttlecock according to the Oxford Chinese-English dictionary.

A tijianzi is basically a bunch of feathers stuck on the end of something bouncy.  What exactly the bouncy thing is depends on how much you pay.  On one hand you can pick up an elegantly crafted piece of work from one of the gear shops by a sports university which consists of a rubber base decorated with a delicate crown of feathers.  Or you can trade your melted ice cream for something comprising a spring made from an old coat hanger and a brightly coloured bunch of feathers that look like they were wrestled from an aging cockerel who grew up listening to the Sex Pistols.

The difference in response is like the contrast between a glider and a Lancaster bomber.  For the elegant model, a simple flick of the foot is sufficient to propel the shuttle eight feet into the air.  For Sid the Cockerel, even if you kicked it like you were converting a try you were lucky to get it above your head.

Of course, a lot of it had to do with technique and finding the somewhat limited sweet spot and, with time, we were at least able to keep it in the air for a measurable length of time.  Around us, there were flash bastards who were performing delicate smart bastard tricks like flicking it from behind or catching it on their foot, which looked quite impressive until we realized that instead of a bouncy bit, they had a bag filled with something like birdseed.  poseurs

We preferred to develop our own style, booting the shuttle skywards, worrying more about height than direction – the higher it went, the longer we had to chase after it before it reached its zenith.  Other players formed a tight circle and ever so gently patted their shuttle back and forth.  We were at least 10 feet apart and launching ourselves desperately in the direction of the projected motion as we tried to keep it airborne for just one more kick.  We gradually realized that we had become the focus of attention and for once, the Chinese were taking photos of the foreigners.

It became a weeknight pastime, stumbling outside at temperatures of -10C to boot Sid around underneath the floodlights in the car park.  The vast acreage of empty parking lot was ideally suited to our style.  No picnickers or tai-enthusiasts to impede our pursuit of the shuttle.  Other people would see us and ask to join in, initially trying to show off their skills but rapidly succumbing to the thrill of the chase as we went haring across the tarmac as one.


One Response to “kick shuttle”

  1. J Says:

    My tijianzi has the livid green feathers of an endangered tropical parrot and its weighted nicely but i can’t help thinking it really needs a racket.

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