04.09.2013 · Fast, wild and strange: In the Chinese neighborhoods of American cities is booming, a special variant of volleyball – the “9-Man.” For immigrants, it is part of their identity.
By SEBASTIAN MOLL
© KATJA HEINEMANNis Half the neighborhood on his feet: “The game has a very special meaning for the people”
Mr. Ho is very excited. The little Chinese man with the mustache Mongols Tippelt scraped the edge of the Seward Park in New York’s Chinatown from one foot to the other. Whenever the volleyball players succeed in a smash or a block on the large concrete box on the edge of the housing estate between Essex and Clinton Street, Ho break forth into singing, his eyes glowing with enthusiasm, and he knocks his friend a little too hard on the shoulder.
“These are the Connex from Toronto,” Ho informs the visitors after the athletes have won nine young model in a blue jersey with full plashing on the asphalt beat the first two sets against their red adversary from Boston. “They have brought the title last year.” Mr. Ho know, he comes here every year when measured in Seward Park on the last weekend in July, the best teams in the Northeast in the “9-Man.” In September, the national finals in is then “9-Man”, a variant of volleyball, which is played only in the Chinatown districts of America. The teams take the opportunity in New York to test their form.
Exclusively among Chinese immigrants
Mr. Ho is looking forward to this weekend all year, it is one of the highlights in the life of the Chinese district in the southeast of Manhattan, the last intact immigrant neighborhoods on the island. Even on Sunday morning to the last round games before the play-offs, people crowd around the chain-link fence surrounding the playground. Elderly men in rib vests make it easy to brought folding chairs, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and talk shop singing in Mandarin.Proud parents cheer on their adolescent offspring, and small children imitate on the sidewalk with mini volleyballs to their idols.
Right in the middle is the tall half-Chinese Ursula Liang with a video camera on his shoulder and filmed the goings-on. Liang, himself a former “9-Man” player who is shooting a documentary about this strange game that looks like volleyball, but is quite different. “9-Man is unique, it is played for 80 years exclusively among Chinese immigrants,” she says. “Ever since I saw it for the first time, I knew that I must tell the world about it.”
“9-Man” – the only pleasure
For the first time Liang has seen the game, when her brother, who was playing in a club in a white middle class suburb of Boston volleyball, was invited because of his Chinese origin to the “9-Man” in Boston’s Chinatown. “I did not know anything about it, I was just stunned about this strange game with its strange rules. And I felt that there was a very special meaning for the people. ”
The special importance is felt even today, half the district is on the legs, urging people to close tightly on the sidewalk at Essex Street. The “9-Man” tournament brings together the Chinese immigrant community of New York, as it is doing the game for three quarters of a century in Chinese enclaves around the country.
“Back in the ’30s,” Liang said, “The Chinese in America were extremely isolated.” Most U.S. Chinese were men, sharp immigration laws prevented them from bringing their families. They worked in laundries and kitchens around the clock, money to spend little was left after the majority of the dollars was sent back home. The language barrier and latent racism prevented them from going out of the ghetto, “9-Man”, a simple road game that you just needed a cord and a ball that was her only pleasure.
Duel of Generations
The game comes from southeast China, the area where most immigrants came from that era in the United States. According to some traditions is “9-Man” from the village Toisan. “How exactly is the origin but not understood,” says Ursula Liang.
It is clear that it is “9-Man” in its present form is only available in American Chinatown neighborhoods. Even in Toisan the game has evolved. Only the emigrants are anxious to leave everything exactly as it once was. The fact that nine are instead six players on the field that the jump serve is forbidden that one can practically throw the ball at blare that is not rotated to the positions and that pike dredging is prohibited – all of which are only available here. “It is faster and wilder than the normal volleyball,” says Liang.
Quite a few people, it has become even a little too wild and fast. The 54-year-old Allen Wong, a wiry little man with an angular face and a shaved head sitting exhausted in a camping chair at the edge of the square under a tree and cools the neck with an ice pack. Wong plays the “Lo Chai” – which means as much as “old wood,” the old boys’ troupe of New York Strangers. The Lo Chai have just been swept by the much younger Brooklyn pandas from the square. “The young people have become so big and so fast, because we have no chance,” groans Wong, one of the few Lo-Chai teams who are fluent in English.
By Volleyball: Contact your roots
Wong’s action is not only an action on one’s own age, there is also a claim about how the game is changing. We hear this often from their elders this afternoon Seward Park in the young generation that is Americanized to be professionally, they say. They played for club or for college volleyball teams and used “9-Man” in the season break to keep fit. How would the game for real sports performance, the memory of what it was going really lost.
Wong plays “9-Man” since he was a small boy, his father had once taken him to his games, until he was old enough to play himself. “As a child in Chinatown you then 9-Man game, which was, of course, there was nothing else.” When you play the social life of the community took place. Here they met with other families, the children and the women got to know the men discussed their businesses. And was also nationally “9-Man” for the Sino-American identity. About tournaments such as the Seward Park learned the immigrants, as it was their compatriots in other cities, such as the conditions of life were there, what was there for work opportunities.
For the new generation of players, the sound is moved up into the middle class and assimilated into the American mainstream, is “9-Man” is no longer so central to their cultural and social life. But they are still here in the Seward Park on the weekend to play with the old and in order to keep contact with their roots. “It reminds me of who I am,” says the 19-year-old Darien Kong who lives in the suburbs in Queens and there playing volleyball in a regular high school team.
Face to Face
Meanwhile, the shadows have become long on the green-washed asphalt of Seward Park, at the end of a scorching hot day a relieving breeze blowing from the East River up. There are only two teams in the tournament, the Toronto Connex and the Philadelphia CIA – which is to say as much as “Chinese In Action”. The players of the other teams have retrieved from the grocer at the corner beer bottles in brown paper bags and next to a serving of dumplings filled for two dollars on fast food. Along with the ever-growing crowd of people pushing them up to a few inches to the place to witness the final.
Mr. Ho’s excitement now knows no bounds. At each point he breaks into roar, matter which team. During the time outs and page breaks, he jostles so close to the team approach that his daughter, embarrassed him, has to pluck on your sleeve. All too quickly everything is over, the CIA against Connex, a squad of picked athletic young Chinese who do not stand a chance. The teams will be ceremonially face to face on, bowing and then run in a wavy line over each other to be fives.
The amount of the Essex Street runs quickly and loses itself in the chaotic bustle of Chinatown. Mr. Ho also attracts with its companion and his daughter away again, but not without gesticulating and loudly once again to talk through the highlights of the last game. “9-Man” – it was a good day for Mr. Ho
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