Before coming to China I expected Kung Fu (功夫 gōngfu) to be omnipresent. It just seemed so obvious to me, having learned everything I know about China from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kung Fu Hustle. In retrospect that was probably not the best way to get to know the true Chinese culture. However, upon arriving at my host family my host brother immediately asked me if I played football (足球 zúqiú). I soon realised that football is in fact the most popular sport in China (real football, not the American kind). Nonetheless, I was undeterred and I tried to find a place to do Kung Fu. However, my road to success was made even more difficult by the fact that every time I asked someone where I could find a Kung Fu gym they said just go to one of the football courts and play some football. In the end I found a Kong Fu gym, but I was intrigued by the enormous popularity of football, despite the lack of international success at this sport.
So I researched and what I found surprised me. Not only does FC Barcelona have a training facility in Qingdao, the city I was placed in by InternChina, but a football academy has been set up in a Shaolin temple with the intent of incorporating football into Kung Fu. Yes, you read that correctly Shaolin Soccer is now a real thing. On one hand, the school is trying to increase the reputation of Shaolin Kung Fu on and increase the football skill of the citizens. On the other hand, they are combining the physical prowess the monks gain through rigorous training with the precision required to be a good footballer.
In fact this is all part of an effort to raise the standard of the national sport, because although it is the most popular sport in China, the national team is spectacularly bad. I was forced to witness this when watching international friendlies with my host family at dinner. The women’s national team is comparably good on the other hand, reaching the quarterfinals in the last world cup albeit receiving much less public attention. This success is probably a result of football being introduced into the curriculum from a very young age. Previously, talents did not receive the attention they needed in order to prosper into the potent footballers they could have been due to being occupied with school all day all week up to the age of 16. When this problem became apparent though, football was incorporated into daily school life and many schools now have football grounds.
This national initiative to become better at football, promoted by the eager football fan and president of China Xi Jinping, also consists of an increase in transfer funds in order to secure top players in the Chinese Super League, the top tier football league in China. Much of the money probably comes from wealthy businessmen trying to amass political power and general reputation – corruption is a big problem in Chinese football, too. In the 2016 winter transfer window the Chinese Super League spent more than the Premier League. This is more than the Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 leagues combined on transfers last year, to record sum of £194 million.
Not all of the money was spent domestically but big clubs also tried to secure international top players. The striker, Alex Teireira, Liverpool’s top target for this winter’s transfer season, was indeed snatched by Jiangsu for the Asian record fee of £38 million. Among the pantheon of world class players recruited this year are names such as Jackson Martinez (£31 million), Ramires (£21 million) and Brazilian striker Elkeson (£13.9 million). Each of these transfers successively broke the record for the highest transfer fees. Cahill, Demba Ba and Gervinho already call the Middle Kingdom home. Oscar was offered £75 million to join Ramires’ Jiangsu, but decided to stay at Chelsea (with Jiangsu he would at least have a chance of winning a trophy this year). The high salaries also add to the lure of the Chinese Super League. Asamoah Gyah earns £243,000 a week, which made him the 8th highest player at this point in time.
At the moment most top players are South-American mainly due to the millions they are offered in China. As they are chiefly from poor families they do not care much for the prestige of the European league. This is very different in Europe where football players are not only chasing the next pay check but also the glory that is so deeply embedded in the football culture. For this reason European players only tend to leave Europe when they are approaching retirement whereas many South-American talents are going to China early on. South-American players near retirement are more likely to go to China, whereas European ones prefer destinations such as the USA. This is likely change, as Xi Jinping has announced that China would be a major footballing nation by 2025 and Rooney, Fernando Torres and Yaya Touré have all been linked with China.
The interest is bilateral though and top clubs such as FC Barcelona have opened academies in China, trying to turn quantity into quality. Some of the biggest European clubs, such as Atletico Madrid are now partially owned by Chinese billionaires who have gained interest in the European football hype and want to secure some of that footballing glory for themselves. Xi Jinping is reportedly a huge ManU-fan (god knows why).
The biggest competition to the Chinese Super League in terms of emerging football markets is the Major League Soccer in the USA. Both Leagues are relying on and prosper by snatching talent from European top clubs. In order to be more attractive for foreign players there is no wage cap on foreign players, whereas in the US only three designated players are allowed to earn more than the maximum cap. Legislation in China is also ever-changing in order to accommodate foreign players. 10 years ago there could only be 3 foreign players per team, now 5 players are allowed.
Considering all these different factors China has the potential to become a major player in international football. This is not limited to the clubs though, but it also includes the national team that is ever-improving. I guess only time will tell, but definitely look out for China in the next few years! You might have to buy plane tickets to China in the next few years as Xi Jinping has voiced interest in hosting (and winning) a World Cup.
Those of you following us on Facebook may have seen that I was recently in Brazil for the first 2 weeks of the football world cup. When I was working in our offices in Qingdao and Zhuhai I was always so busy in the summer, a ‘summer holiday’ was the stuff of dreams! Now that I’m based in the UK promoting InternChina to students in Europe, my busy time is now during term-time, predominantly over the winter, which allowed me to take a real summer holiday! There was only one destination in mind for me this summer as a football fan and someone who likes to travel; Brazil.
Although China was not represented, there were some Chinese fans there and I thought I would represent China and IC by donning my lovely Giant Panda outfit! It was fairly warm, especially in Manaus, with high humidity and temperatures well over 30 degrees! It was worth it though because of the many brilliant inquisitive football fans from all over the world who I got to know because the first just wanted a photo with an English Panda!
The highlight of our trip was a 3 day tour in the Amazon Rainforest, where we caught piranhas, saw amazing wildlife such as caymen and sloths and lived the jungle lifestyle; eating fresh fish, sleeping in hammocks and playing football with the local guys.
Although my home nation – England – embarrassingly flopped out after only 2 games, I had an incredible time and met some brilliant people. I hope we might be able to launch Intern Brazil in the future, watch this space!
Brazil – 巴西 (bā xī)
Football – 足球 (zú qiú)
World Cup – 世界杯 (shì jiè bēi)
Amazon – 亚马逊 (yà mǎ xùn)
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With the football world cup in Brazil just about to start on Friday morning 4 AM Chinese time, I get asked by friends back in Germany the same questions time and again: How is it like to watch the world cup in China? What is the Chinese world cup experience like? Do they follow it at all?
In answering these questions, you’ll have to differentiate between the general atmosphere in the streets in Chengdu on the one side and certain places like bars and cafes prone to foreign (mostly “western”) football enthusiasts on the other side. With regards to the general atmosphere in the city, you barely see signs that the world cup is about to start. Images you may be familiar with in your home country – national flags in the streets, special world cup bargains in supermarkets and bakeries – are not that often seen here in Chengdu.
Well, this has something to do with the standing of China’s own football league and its national team. The fact that the Chinese national team is not participating in the world cup 2014 in Brazil doesn’t really help in creating a somewhat exhilarating world cup atmosphere. Due to their relatively bad performance in the world, the Chinese professional football league as well as the country’s national team have a very bad image among Chinese sport fanatics. There are quite a few Chinese, who follow European football leagues, but I have never met someone who talks well about Chinese football and this eventually has a soothing effect on the general atmosphere in the streets.
On the contrary, the Chinese Basketball league and its national team are considered to be performing better in the world. Chinese NBA stars like Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian have certainly triggered the fan support of basketball in China. That’s why quite a lot of Chinese people will rather chose to watch the world’s most popular basketball games also starting this week: the NBA finals.
However, when it comes to certain places in the city, I am still expecting a quite exuberant world cup atmosphere. There quite a few football maniacs from western countries among the 14 million people living here in Chengdu. You can already notice that Western bars, restaurants, and supermarkets (such as Carrefour) have started big marketing campaigns in order to attract Western (and Chinese) Football fans.
There is one really great place for watching football in Chengdu that can only been beaten by very few places in the West: The “Beer Nest”. The “Beer Nest” is a brewpub with fantastic self-brewed Indian Pale Ale and German wheat beer among many more classy beers from around the globe. For the world cup, they will put up two big screens and offer special Belgium import kegs for the cup final – can you ask for more?
There are football oases all around Chengdu, such as the Irish pub “Shamrock” not far away from our office, and a so-called “Fan Fest” held on the rooftop of a skyscraper downtown. We, at the Chengdu office at InternChina are very much looking forward to mingle with Chinese and foreign football fans from all around the world – I expect it to be a special experience for all of us.
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Shaolin Soccer (2001) is a movie about a guy called Sing, who is a former Shaolin Kung Fu Master. One day he meets Fung, who was a famous soccer star, but was betrayed by his friend Hung who also broke Fungs knee, thus ending his career.
The ex-soccer player helps Sing reconcile with his five brothers, who also became Kung Fu Masters, and teaches them soccer, adding Shaolin Kung Fu. Sing’s specialty is the “Leg of Steel” and the whole team is using their martial arts skills to their advantage.
Together they enter a big soccer competition and appear to be unbeatable, until they meet Fung’s arch-enemy and his team: Team Evil…
Why watch this movie:
As I write this, I have watched Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer for the amount of times relative to my age (Editor’s note: Xavier is 22). And I still enjoy every single minute of it. Also after you watch this film you will know the funny side of Chinese. Also, this film was the first movie which used the Chinese Kung Fu & Western sports mixed together. There’s something about this movie that attracts me to watch it every single time it is playing on TV, and I’m still trying to figure out what exactly it is. In my opinion, what makes Shaolin Soccer the best film ever made in the history of films, is simply the cast and the variety of characters. No one else is able to step into the role of “Golden Steel Leg” so effortlessly like how Stephen Chow did. Put in “Golden Hammer Head”, a guy who breakdances while juggling a ball, a flying fat man…and you will get the best movie there ever was. So basically, why you should watch it is because it is a great way to learn something about Chinese humor, the movie is a genre-mix and making fun of all the old Wuxia movies (that’s the old martial arts movies) and it is about one of the world’s most favorite sports!
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Picture taken from:
A Game of two Halves, Qingdao
It was another sunny day in Qingdao when Jamie Bettles and I went to play football. Armed with a couple of good hangovers and some shinpads we made our way, by bus, to Old town Qingdao (taking 228 bus outside Carrefour) all the way to the last stop. From here we had a two minute walk to Ji Mo Lu. Just behind this maze of shops we found the football stadium.If you like football and you live in Qingdao then this is the team to join. Made up entirely of foreigners Qingdao Waigouren United has been going for years and is somewhere in the rankings of the Qingdao league.
To play you will need to become a member (but this is only a small fee) and get the kit (a little green number). Unfortunately I had neither, but that wasn’t going to stop me from sitting back in the sun and enjoying an afternoon of football and ice cream, all the while cheering on the hometeam outnumbered 20 to 1 by Chinese fans!
So, It was the Waiguo rens VS the Zhongguo rens in an all out 90 minute battle. I will try and dictate the game as exciting and as briefly as I can…..
Starting with only 9 men, the foreigners were already at a disadvantage. However they pulled out all the stops and gave the Chinese a good match, tempers flaring every now and again at a few dubious calls from the ref brought a number of yellow cards..
Disaster struck when the greens conceded their first goal after a free kick from just outside the box
The heat was now on (literally, I was sweating just from watching them!). But then, just before half time, their star forward came strolling into the stadium, not being hurried by his team mates calls, no. 25 calmly drifted into position
The greens started well and looked to score, but then just as China were on the break, their striker slipped on the ball and took a fall… The ref decided it was a foul and gave two more yellow cards.. one for the ‘tackle’ and one for the bad language protest which followed –
Spurred on by the decision, the greens pushed forward and managed to level with a great bottom corner strike from outside the box…. Their happiness was short lived however when a wincing collision between the home striker and our goalkeeper left him down and dazed
After I refused to don the gloves because my Cornetto wouldn’t wait, the greens had to resort to putting one of their defensive line between the poles.
Short at the back and with a shorter man in goal, sadly this lead to the second Chinese score of the day.
Ten minutes left and one goal down, the greens fought valiantly and with one last ditch from our very own Jamie they looked poised to score… A foul on Jamie in the penalty box! Held back and pushed off by 2 defenders deep in the area looked to bring a nailbiting end to the game.
However.. the Chinese ref had obvious allegiance to the nation and called for a free kick from the edge of the box…. As you can imagine, this didn’t go down well…
The last free kick of the game curled nicely with power but dinged off the top corner bar and spun away, along with any hopes of retribution.
This really was a game of 2 halves and was very enjoyable to watch, I recommend to any interns who like to play or just want to come and cheer for a bit to come along every Sunday afternoon!
你们好 mes tendres chouchous!
Last night Jamie (the big bad boss of the Zhuhai office) and I made pilgrimage to Guangzhou, the capital of the Guangdong province, about 2 hours north of Zhuhai to see Liverpool FC’s start to their 2011 Asian tour. While I am not a big fan of footy, I am a huge fan of random experiences and this fit the bill perfectly. We took the new, high-speed rail from Zhuhai north to Guangzhou south and then took the also new metro system right to the stadium. While we had originally been expecting that the turnout would be low, there were thousands of fans around the stadium, eagerly queuing up to enter. Surprisingly enough, the Liverpool fans (I am assuming that if they were sporting a Liverpool jersey, they were a “fan”) outnumbered the Sunray Cave FC (the Guangdong FC – 广东日之泉足球俱乐部) at least two to one.
Upon entering the stadium, the police confiscated my war drum (see photo of the big empty water jug). I was heartbroken and crestfallen – but still managed to make quite a bit of noise despite being deprived of my war drum!
It was an exciting match, with Liverpool winning 4-3 over Sunray Cave FC. SCFC did manage to get in two goals in the last few minutes of the game, at the dismay of the Liverpool fans.
After failing to get a taxi (Guangzhou is notorious for its lack of supply of cabs!), we got a bit lost in an odyssey of aimlessly wandering on foot along with some (very) unhelpful metro directions. Despite our hardships, we finally made it to our final destination: Chinese outdoor BBQ (THE BEST!) along with the infamous dice game!!!
The rest is hazy.
I am off to Chengdu in the Sichuan province tomorrow (flying from Guangzhou airport – can’t get enough of that city!) so expect another blog post come Monday!!!
Enjoy the photos
Bacioni fortissimi dappertutto
Every Thursday we host a six against six football league with lots of interns involved. It is located on Beach #1 (flood lit pitch). Interns from France, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, China, United States (interns and locals). Intern China won the championship and won a cool trophy to show off that is in our office. This is a picture of the team above.
Check out funtouristattractions.com for a good look at what Beach #1 is all about!