By Cody Stephenson
Today was our one full day spent in Tianjin. We woke up in our 5-star accommodations and took advantage of the breakfast buffet that featured everything we could have asked for. There was all kinds of western foods and drinks that we have not seen much of over the last 12 days, like bacon and cold juice, as well as a nice cup of coffee. Much of the beverages we have been drinking so far have been warm. The waters we get at a restaurant are all hot and the juice that was a staple in Chengde was fairly warm. As you may know, the tap water is not safe to drink and, as a result, many beverages are served hot since they must boil the water. Here however, we were greeted by an assortment of options that were ice cold. Most of us took a few laps around the buffet and made sure we got our fill while others were too enveloped by their cozy beds to spend much time at breakfast. A few guys even got up early enough to get a morning workout in. This is the embodiment of our team slogan "win all day every day". We recognize that on the trip, our bodies are being pushed to their limits due to lack of sleep, travel and lack of consistent nutrition. Now with access to the facilities of this hotel, we are able to get back on track with workouts and prepare ourselves for the second half of the season. There is much work to be done, but the boys are putting in the work all the way over here in China.
By 9 o'clock, we were all dressed in our gear and waiting in the hotel lobby for the bus that would take us to a mall. No, we weren't going shopping again, we were going to the mall to play a hockey game. As curious as this may sound, we showed up to the massive shopping centre, climbed up to the 4th floor and low and behold, there was a full sized hockey rink in the middle of the mall. Overlooking the rink were many shops as well as a food court. It was a strange setting for hockey, but there we were lacing up our skates and getting ready to play in what the banners were calling the "China-Canada Ice Hockey Friendship Match.” Prior to the game, we were able to put on a bit of a hockey clinic for some up and coming Chinese hockey superstars. A couple of teams worth of players, likely ranging from age six to 10, flooded onto the ice with us and we put them through the paces for a half hour or so. We set up the rink into three stations: a shooting station, a stick handling station and a passing station. The kids watched us demonstrate some drills we set up and tried their hardest to emulate us. It is a bit of a surreal experience being placed on a pedestal as Canadian superstars. To them, we are models of what hockey should look like. We are constantly signing autographs for kids and posing for pictures with everyone who crossed our path. To us, we are hardly worthy to be signing autographs like superstars and that is exactly why we must always remember that we are not in Canada anymore. Everything we do is being watched and made an example of. From the way we talk and walk to the way we tape our sticks, our actions are being noted and this is something we cannot take lightly. All this being said, it is not as if we need to act unnaturally. This team does not settle for mediocre behaviour on a trip to Castlegar, let alone a trip across the ocean. We as players have confidence in our coaches to create an air of professionalism just as the coaches share the same confidence in us. That all starts from the moment we show up at training camp.
After we were finished with the kids, we posed for a thousand pictures and then exchanged jerseys with some of the players from the team that we were to face. This being a friendly match, teams were mixed. Our own Karsten Seidel volunteered to officiate the game as the referee and took to the ice enthusiastically with his new found authority. He did a pretty good job, although there were a few missed calls, but I guess that's what happens when the ref has his own agenda. Anyways, before the puck dropped for the first period, team officials gathered at centre ice and the team's lined up on each blue line to take part in an opening ceremony. A few speeches later we were underway. The game was filled with goals from both sides and consisted of three 15-minute periods. Since we were playing in the middle of a heated mall with hundreds, if not thousands of people surrounding the area in close proximity, it was kind of like playing hockey on the surface of the sun. Yet, nothing shines brighter than the sun and for this massive mall, nothing was shining in the spotlight like we were. Our breaks on the sidelines consisted of posing for pictures and signing autographs for young hockey fans while pretending we weren't dying from heat stroke. Of course, there may be slight exaggeration in my words but after playing on an outdoor pond, playing inside a mall seemed like playing in a sauna. Nevertheless, everyone had fun with it and the result was again in our favour. The Chinese players we were playing with and against seemed to be grateful for our presence and happy to be playing the game we all love.
When it comes down to it, it really is hard to go wrong if you give us a sheet of ice and a team to play against. We are in China, foreign territory, but water that freezes here creates the same surface that it does in Canada. Offsides still apply, everyone still celebrates after a goal and giveaways still lead to goals against. Still, it is hard to ignore the fact that we are so far away from home. Today we learned more about TWU’s history in China and in the afternoon and into the evening, we attended a celebration of the 25-year anniversary of education cooperation between TWU and Tianjin City. We would not be in China at all if it weren't for these relations over the last 25 years. The celebration was held at Tianjin Foreign Studies University and upon our arrival, we each received a gift bag from the school consisting of a couple of small items as well as either a scarf or a hat. Everyone was eager to compare each other's gifts and determine if they would make good gifts for our girlfriends, or at least for those fortunate enough to have one.
The event began with speeches from representatives on both sides of the educational relationship as we watched in the audience. After that, we moved into a dining room and were served food, posed for pictures and enjoyed a little karaoke. This was a very important event for us to be a part of in order for TWU to continue relations with Tianjin. We did not contribute a lot to the evening, but being there seemed to be impactful nonetheless as the Tianjin representatives were excited to get pictures with us and acknowledge us in their speeches. It was yet another opportunity for us to show China what being a Spartan is all about through our behaviour. We weren't even partaking in anything to do with hockey but we were still able to emulate the Spartan brand and hold it in high regard. The night was a success and soon we found ourselves back at our hotel for our last night of the trip. We still have a lot to do before we are home, but tonight is the last night we will sleep in a bed away from our beds back home.
We had a bit of time when we got back to relax and enjoy the facilities. Again, some went for a workout, some went straight to the sauna, some went to the pool and some even did all three. We are soaking it all in while we can because tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock, we roll out and head to the airport to fly to Shanghai where we will spend the day tomorrow. There is only one more day to spend in China on our Goodwill Tour and like all days previous, it is likely to bring about some laughs, millions of pictures, searches for bathrooms, desperate wifi attempts, the question "where's Joe and Kade?", delayed snaps from Jamey Kreller, crumbs, outrageous comments from Dawson Sawatzky, wild goose chases for coffee and so much more. Stay tuned.