A small tennis championship gives Walter Pearson another reason to continue the simple life in the countryside.
I knew something was going on when they started to erect a wedding marquee outside the tennis courts. I was told that the next day we would nhau beginning at 7am.
I was confused. Why we would be getting on the grog that early in the morning? It’s bad enough that 11am is the usual start time for weddings and the like. Regardless, next day I got up early, shaved, showered, put on my most polite long pants, polo shirt and sandals, and headed for the tennis court.
When I arrived, it was clear there was to be no eating and drinking at that hour. Half of the members of my afternoon tennis club — the 4567 Club, named after the hours we play — were in their tennis whites. A game had just started between one of our double partnerships and the morning club called Sao Mai, or Morning Star. Herds of doan thanh nien (youth group) members were setting out chairs in the marquee.
The first clash was over and we went into the marquee. By now I had worked out that today was no small deal. The large banner across the street outside said, “Warmly welcoming the Binh Long Tennis Championship”. At the end of the marquee another proclaimed the Office of Culture and Sport of Binh Long, a town two hours north of Ho Chi Minh City, was presenting the Binh Long Tennis Championship. On one side was a table with a dozen or more trophies. We sat on small red plastic stools to hear speeches from representatives of the People’s Committee, the Office of Culture and Sport and the Clubs.
The volunteers of the doan thanh nien in their distinctive blue shirts and dark pants performed a number of dances, twirling and singing and raising their hands in delicate gestures. I could never see young Australians or Americans doing that sort of thing.
Formalities over, we went back to the tennis. Brother Advance and Brother Power from Club 4567 were looking good, winning their first round easily 6-2. ClubSao Maiwere a bit ragged but the Doctor and his partner, both in their early 60s, made a strong showing.
By 10am, Club 4567’s Brother Brain and Brother Weapon had knocked out the Doctor and his partner. Now the Doctor and his partner would fight for second place against Brother Advance and Brother Power. Once again the Doctor and his partner went down to Club 4567.
Then the Binh Long Rubber Company Youth Group teams battled for supremacy. They were young, big men and heavy hitters. Excitement reached a peak as the last two t eams tore the covers of the balls in a dramatic end to the day’s play.
During the tournament, tables had been put out in the marquee for people to nhau. We sat down. Presentations began. Acknowledgements of all the local dignitaries, including the chair of the People’s Committee, were made. Club 4567 had made a clean sweep. Big cheers from our table. Our winners pooled their prize money — VND 300,000 to VND 500,000 each — for a night on the grog. Our club chairman gave me a posy of flowers. Then the serious drinking began.
While we got stuck into the chicken, special dishes and hotpot, the victorious players went from table to table toasting their opponents and their supporters. The local politicians worked the room, so to speak. Sao Mai congratulated 4567. Everyone laughed, joked and teased one another. The club treasurer told me next time we would team up; we could win easily, he claimed. Drunk already, I thought. I was introduced to the chair of the People’s Committee.
The town puts on two of these championships a year, one on Liberation Day and one in October. The authorities are serious about participation in sport. We have a Sports and Culture Area in our town that has tennis and volleyball courts, a body building gym, dance clubs, mini-soccer, badminton courts, a library, a concert hall, and an Olympic-size swimming pool, complete with a copyright-infringing rings motif.
Bloated with beer after innumerable toasts and almost unable to walk, I made my excuses, jumped onto the bike and went home reflecting on another reason I like living here.
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