Chengdu now has a women's rugby team - and I am part of it. I love sports but I never thought of myself as a rugby-playing-kind-of-girl. I might appear big-boned and even strong to Asian eyes but really I have no muscles or body mass to speak of. And: I am a wimp when it comes to pain.
Last spring, when I was running my obligatory "I should do something for my health" laps around the soccer field, a few guys (big! strong!) asked me whether I would be interested in playing some rugby, just for fun. Not being a rugby-playing-kind-of-girl (which is, by the way, related to but not identical with the I-drink-my-liquor-straight and the I-climb-trees-for-fun-kind-of-girls) I politely declined their offer and kept running around in a circle instead. Which always reminds me of the hamster I had as a kid - back then I thought it was nuts.
I had forgotten all about this rather insignificant incident, when my best friend almost ecstatically told me that she had heard about a rugby team in Chengdu. "This is so great," she exclaimed, face flushed with excitement, and I kept guiltily quiet about the fact that I had known all along about said rugby team's existence. [This is another classic example of intercultural conflict potential: See, my friend is a Kiwi ([1. any of several flightless, ratite birds of the genus Apteryx, of New Zealand, allied to the extinct moas 2. Also called Chinese gooseberry, the egg-sized, edible berry of the Chinese gooseberry, having fuzzy brownish skin and slightly tart green flesh 3. a New Zealander - take your pick) and people from the other hemisphere seem to actually enjoy getting their noses broken in general and rugby specifically. In order to redeem myself for my cultural ignorance and for keeping such a vital piece of information from my blond-haired, female version of [insert famous rugby player's name here], I obediently followed her to practice the next week. "We'll only play touch," she promised me, "you won't get hurt." "It's a really simple game," she promised me further, "you just have to remember to always pass the ball backward, to put the ball on the ground and step over it after you've been touched. Don't ever drop the ball or it's a hand-over. You also cannotgettouchedwhenyourethedummyortheotherteamgetstheballimmediatelyanddont forgettoalwaysmovebackfiveyardsafteratouchwhenyoureondefenseoryouwillbeoffsideandthen itseasyfortheotherteamto.. . . ."
She kept on going for another ten minutes and ended with an "Alright, let's go!" And in I was: on a field, part of a team consisting mostly of over-sized men, and having lots of rules spinning around in my head without actually knowing what I was supposed to be doing. But somehow somebody passed me the ball and yelled "run!" so I ran. A few meters. Before I got touched. I ran a lot that day, almost-but-not-quite caught a lot of passes, actually caught a few passes, made a few yards of ground and lost many more by passing forward more than once. At the end of the game I felt like a double-left-footed, typical-girl girl. I was sweaty and dirty. I loved it.
I have been going to play touch once a week ever since and I like the game more each time. Meanwhile we have been recruiting more girls to play with us, which has the double benefit of now having our very own Chengdu Women's Rugby Team and that I am no longer the worst player on the field. And we actually might try to play some full contact rugby one of these days. We have already ordered the mouthguards and I am sure we will look smashing.