The Beaver Radio Network

Kunlun Hockey Journey: Stephanie Anderson’s Blog Post #1

The Beaver Radio Network is excited to feature the first of a weekly series of blog posts by former Bemidji State University women’s hockey player Stephanie Anderson (Class of 2016) as she shares her on & off ice adventures traveling from Minnesota to Shenzhen, China to play professional hockey for the CWHL’s Kunlun Red Stars.

Here is Steph’s first blog post:

“A bad outcome turned into an adventure I would have never imagined possible. Being cut from the Olympics was a hard pill to swallow, but as weeks went by I came to terms with it. I didn’t know what was next for me, I planned to continue coaching, but other than that I kept my ears open for any opportunity to keep playing hockey. One day everything changed and I was signing a pro contract and heading to China. Sounds crazy right? I thought so too. I remember asking my parents if they ever thought I would be doing something like this; they couldn’t believe it. Knowing that I was leaving at the end of summer, August 23rd, I decided to take the summer off of work to spend time with family and friends before I left for a year. Feeling so much love and support from everyone around me, it made me feel confident to step away from everything and everyone and enter into a new world entirely.

August 23rd. Today’s the day!! I was up and headed to the airport at 4:00am, the drive seemed to drag on, and I was sad. Sad to leave so many people behind and put myself in a situation where I knew there would be hard and confusing times. As I got dropped off and said goodbye to my parents, I was feeling better because I could see how proud of me they were. My dad carried my hockey bag to the check in… which weighed 70lbs. One last goodbye and I was on my own heading to China. Remember when I mentioned hard and confusing times? Well the first second I’m alone; sure enough it hits full force. The lady who was checking my bags tells me I cannot get on my flight without a working visa. So here I am on the phone with 3 people from China trying to solve the problem, 45 minutes later a lady at customer service got me through and allowed me to fly. Total number of hours in the air that day was 22, oh and I got to fly first class which was pretty cool! Once I landed in Hong Kong, there were 5 other girls there and we all met up to get our luggage. After getting on a bus and two custom check points and getting across the boarder from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, by the time I got to my apartment, we had been traveling for over 36 hours.

First time meeting my Chinese teammates was very interesting and absolutely hilarious. First thing I noticed was the way they talk to one another, they all talk at once and it’s always loud. It sounds like they are yelling at each other but that’s just the way they communicate. The names are very hard to remember, some have English names and others don’t. The first couple of days, I don’t think I’ve been laughed at so much in my life. They think we talk funny, they think English is very hard to learn and understand; they find it so amusing when we try to say things in Chinese. You pretty much have to say the Chinese word 5 times over and over until you say it right, while the whole time they are giggling at you because you sound ridiculous. Its so hard speaking their language because it relies heavily on the tone you say it in. if you don’t carry out a letter or go high pitch for a word, it can mean something entirely different than what your actually trying to say. There are only a few that can speak and understand English really well, others you have to talk very slow and say it in different ways so they understand you. The first day I got here I downloaded Google translate and I use it everyday, a lot. So many of them want to learn English and will come into your apartment room and ask you to help them, they all have enormous English books to teach them.

The food is hit or miss, some meals are very good and others are flavors and smells I am not used to. Noodles never fail; at every meal. Always noodles, even for breakfast! It took me about a week to really get the hang of using chop sticks, the girls would correct me if I was holding it wrong and of course laugh when I couldn’t pick up my food, or it would drop on my plate before I got it to my mouth. Every single one of them are so welcoming and nice, willing to help with anything. I have really gotten to know Karry. She’s probably my closest Chinese friend, English needs some work but she wants me to correct her when she speaks English wrong. One night I got a text from her, she lives right across the hall, she asked me to come over and eat noodles for a late night snack… told you noodles never fail. She made these Japanese noodles and they were amazing!!!

There was one day where I was feeling a little adventurous and wanted to walk around our area and hopefully find a supermarket. So I threw on my raincoat and started walking. I walked for a total of 40 minutes and along the way I met some great people. I looked inside a store where there was a golden retriever puppy, so of course I go down there and start petting the puppy. All the workers at the store were so interested that there was an American in their shop that all of them came out to meet me. Only this little boy could speak some English and after meeting them and getting my dog fix in, I asked where I could find a supermarket and they could only point me in the right direction. I started walking and the sidewalk I was on looked as if I was about to walk onto an onramp of a highway, so I turned around and seconds later I passed a man who looked American and I asked him if he spoke English. He was from the UK and spoke perfect English, his name was Tony and he led me all the way to the supermarket, which happened to be on the bottom floor of a mall. So I found this huge mall and went shopping for some food, realizing that I needed more cash I asked the man in front of me at the register if he spoke English, he replied “a little”. I can work with a little. So he brought me up to an ATM and we said our goodbyes. I learned so much just on this little trip I took around our town. It was challenging being on your own and needing to rely on finding people who can speak English and point you in the direction you need to go. Ask a lot of questions and everyone is willing to help, very nice people in our area!

We have been doing workouts everyday for the past week, some days we do a lot of running, other days we just lift and are starting to get into a routine. The hockey part has been the biggest hiccup since we have been out here. It’s been 2 ½ weeks and we still haven’t gotten to skate. The rink in Shenzhen was slow to get moving. Dehumidifiers and other machines hadn’t been delivered yet so there is a lot of condensation inside and water droplets fall from the ceiling. That hasn’t kept us from getting our conditioning in though; we had a track day at 7:30am, which is a huge dome with an open top. At 7:30am it was already 82 degrees. It’s hot here all the time; but rain has been consuming the last 5 days or so due to typhoon season right now. With the rink not getting better, we flew to Beijing this morning (Sept 4th) to start skating and get ready for the season.

It’s been 2 ½ weeks and here’s what I’ve learned thus far:
1. Patience is something you need to have all the time here. Whether that’s ordering food and the workers don’t understand a word you’re saying or having a simple conversation with a Chinese teammate and they also have no clue. This program is in its first year and there are some hiccups but we all expected things to happen. We are all staying positive and can’t wait to get on the ice tomorrow.
2. People stare. Its something we are all getting used to; some Chinese people have never seen an American before and they will stare at you. They will watch you eat your food and even come running over on a beach to take a selfie with you… because that did happen. People will stop on the side of the road and take pictures of you, which became a normal thing for all us Americans and Canadians here.
3. Communication is hard. Knowing our daily schedule is getting better everyday. The Chinese staff and American staff are working together to find the best way to relay information. Talking with anyone and everyone is a challenge 100% of the time.
4. Learning to talk slow. Because our teammates don’t understand much you really have to talk slow so they hear every word, and can form a response sentence. If that doesn’t work… Google translate saves the day.
5. Don’t approach stray dogs. As hard as it is for me, you just have to awe from a distance and hope they are okay.
6. They care so much. They want everything for us to be easy and they really make sure we have everything we need while we are here.
7. Rice and soy sauce is not a thing here. They eat plain white rice, but I’ve learned how to say soy sauce in Chinese incase I want some.

My time so far has been amazing, and to think I’ve only been here for a couple of weeks makes me so excited for the 10 months to follow. This is going to be an experience of a lifetime and I cannot wait to share my experiences with you.”

~ Steph

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