Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; General view of the NFL logo after Super Bowl XLVII between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Finding the Super Bowl in China: An Expat’s Story


I am determined to watch the Super Bowl, even though I am in China. It’s nighttime and freezing outside. I’m riding my electric scooter – battery almost drained – across Kunming, to a Western sports bar (the only one in town). Weaving among cars, motorcycles, hordes of electric scooters, and pedestrians, all dancing in a chaotic traffic ballet, I narrowly escape death dozens of times. Crossing the mismatched maze of wide, modern thoroughfares and winding old alleys with wooden houses, I am almost to the bar on time. Then it happens.

In front of me is a small, silver SUV. The driver has been zipping along, pushing through traffic and clearing a patch that I have been following. Then it happens: he slams on his brakes for no apparent reason (it happens all the time here). And my poor scooter is basically just some plastic panels slapped around an electric motor, so the brakes are not that great. As you can imagine, I slam into the back of his SUV, and a stereotypical-Chinese scene ensues.

He steps out of his car with a scowl, and looks me up and down, showing only the slightest hint of surprise that I am a foreigner. I try to avoid being yelled at by telling him in my best Chinese that I am very sorry. In China, the person in front of you always has the right of way, and as a foreigner, you can forget about winning any shouting matches with locals. We both look at his bumper: there is a small but obvious dent.

He shouts at me in Chinese, “New car! New car!” I notice that it is, in fact, a new car. Damn.

I reply, “I know. I am very sorry.”

He furrows his brows at me and says, “Well? What are we going to do?” I know exactly what he wants: money. When you gt in a traffic accident in China, you do not call the police, unless there are extreme injuries. Rather, the party at fault pays the injured party, along with a lot of yelling. Sure enough, he says, “Money.”

“How much?” I ask him.

“A hundred kuai,” he snaps.

“Sorry, but I only have twenty-five.” Twenty-five RMB is only about five US dollars.

He glares at me, snatches the money from my hand, and drives off. I see myself as getting off lucky.

All over the world, American expats encounter some very interesting and bizarre situations when trying to find a way to watch the Super Bowl. Of course, you can always find it later, recorded. But what’s the fun in that? Half of the fun of watching it, is sharing a common cultural feature with fellow expats, and nothing really brings that together like a live viewing. So I decided to ask my online American expat friends about their experiences last year when trying to find a way to watch the Super Bowl.

Josh lives and teaches in eastern Europe, in a small post-Communist country. He had no idea how to find the game, so he decided to take a walk Sunday evening and ask around. His limited command of the local language allowed him to phrase his question correctly enough for people to understand. He found a group of older men sitting at a cafe table drinking and playing cards. Swallowing his ego, Josh asked them if they knew where he might find a bar showing the American Super Bowl. The men, stone-faced, glanced at each other until one of them spoke, giving him directions that he barely understood.

Winding through gray, dark alleys, Josh finally found the bar. He walked inside, only to find that he had been sent to a brothel! His embarrassment at being in the establishment worsened when the ladies working there tried their best to keep his business, going so far as to try to physically drag him into a room. He finally escaped and, passing the same group of old men, found them laughing at his expense. Then a young guy about Josh’s age, who spoke excellent English, asked him what the matter was. Explaining, the young man smiled and took Josh with him to a real bar where, believe it or not, they were able to watch the Ravens beat the 49ers.

Or consider this charming tale from Lisa, who spent a year teaching in a small village in sub-Saharan Africa. Lisa is a good-natured girl who is very adaptable and friendly, but she loves watching NFL games, to an almost obsessive degree. Naturally, she was depressed that she would not be able to catch the Super Bowl. One of her African friends, Afafa, stopped by her house and noticed her disposition.

“What’s the matter, Lisa?”

“Nothing really. I just miss the Super Bowl.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the championship game of American football. I have never missed it before.”

Afafa thought for a moment, then said, “Wait here. Don’t leave.”

About an hour later, Afafa showed up in a car driven by her cousin. “Hop in!”

They drove Lisa for about an hour down a dusty, wild road to a close-by village. Walking the few little lanes among the tiny huts and houses, they reached a larger house with a generator humming. “My uncle!” said Afafa happily and proudly. It turns out that the uncle had a television and a satellite dish. When Afafa had told him of Lisa’s situation, he had insisted that they visit him. He would find this Super Bowl on the television, he insisted, and he did. Lisa spent a wonderful evening among enthusiastic African friends, who all watched the game with interest and cheered along with her. I asked Lisa why they were so friendly and concerned, and she told me, “That’s just how Africans are.”

The truth is that we American expats have to go to some lengths to watch the Super Bowl live, and often, we just cannot do it. But when we do, we usually have amusing or entertaining stories to go along with it.

After the man drives off, I get back on my scooter. There is no real damage to the plastic body. Much to my chagrin and horror though, something is wrong with the electric motor. The scooter simply will not move. I am pretty close to the bar, but just far enough to make a walk miserable. On the side of the road is a public toilet.

The owner sees me struggling with my scooter. He is a Chinese man in his sixties. He walks over to me and asks the obvious: “Scooter broken?”

I tell him my story in my broken Chinese. He tells me to get on the back of his own scooter and he rides me to the bar. “Come back in the morning,” he says. I have a wonderful late night (or actually early morning) watching the game with a large group of Americans. We stay at the bar until the sun rises, and one of them gives me a ride back to my scooter at the public toilet. I see that the Chinese man has managed to fix my scooter.

“How did you do that, uncle?” I ask him.

“Easy. I just tapped the motor.”

I chuckle and thank him profusely. I take out some money to pay him (having visited the ATM), but he refuses, almost violently so, in typical Chinese fashion. “No need,” he tells me, and goes back inside his office. I shove 100 RMB under the door and ride off.

All over the world, we American expats tend to go out of our way to try to watch the game. In fact, Americans are very passionate about sports, and especially the Super Bowl. It is simply a part of American culture. And although some of the locals do not always understand American football, or the excitement over the games, they do understand kindness and the friendly competition of sports in general. It is just one more example of how sports can bring people together, even people who come from entirely different cultural traditions.

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