“More Weirdo Thoughts”

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Watching the US Tennis Open, observing which players catch our interest and gain our support, brings into awareness how our travels abroad have changed us. We would never have become fans of Li Na if we hadn’t spent seven months in China in 2004. Now, however, with some awareness of the culture she comes from, we are curious to see how she adapts to international tennis competition, which is dominated by Western culture, and how the Chinese sports bureaucracy adjusts its priorities based upon her success, especially her winning the French Open in 2011, making her Asia’s first and (so far) only Grand Slam tennis champion.

Then there’s Ichiro. He had played nine years in Japanese baseball before becoming the first Japanese-born position player in Major League Baseball in 2001, but most American fans didn’t appreciate how unusual it was for a Japanese player to be known only by his given name. (His family name, Suzuki, is as common in Japan as Smith in the US.) Nor did they understand that his player number in Seattle, 51, can be read “Go ichi,” like a cheer for him. Instead Seattle fans made a different association and right field, where he played, became known locally as Area 51, a metaphor that is probably lost on most Japanese citizens. Of course, once he led the league in batting and stolen bases, became MVP and Rookie of the Year, and broke several long-standing batting records, Ichiro became a household word among baseball fans everywhere.

Having lived almost four years in Japan a decade before Ichiro played pro ball, we knew nothing of him personally in 2001, although we had developed some appreciation for Japanese baseball, even attending a few games in Tokyo. But our interest in the Seattle Mariners — even Major League Baseball in general — ratcheted up several notches when he joined the team — and it fell again when he was traded to the New York Yankees. And, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, my feelings about the damned Yankees also changed when they got Ichiro.

These are small things — trivial, really — but they are not insignificant. They affect how we feel and consequently how we think. The fact that several of my closest friends in China were members of the Communist Party affects my feelings about the Chinese government, China as a nation, and even Communism as a system of government. So that’s who I am, for better or worse, and if knowing that affects how you think about me and what I write, so be it. That’s how humans work.

— George Lindamood

22 September 2013