China, revisited

Jane Yang, a UW sophomore who grew up in Shanghai, is teaching the UW men’s basketball team about her language and culture. Now, she’s looking at her home — and herself — with fresh eyes.

Dare to do

“No, not dǎ bái. Dǎ bài. The second part sounds like “bye,” with a downward inflection. Dǎ bài Texas.”

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in late September, and sophomore Jane Yang is teaching a classroom full of UW basketball players how to say “Beat Texas” in Mandarin. She makes sure that the class gets this phrase right. It will be useful, after all: The UW men open their basketball season on Nov. 14 against the University of Texas — in Shanghai, China.

Shawn Wong

Shawn Wong

In preparation for this trip, the entire men’s basketball team is taking a travel-writing course that covers culture, customs, teamwork and identity. English Professor Shawn Wong leads the majority of each class, but Yang is the class’ Mandarin tutor, and she begins each day by teaching the players basic phrases.

Born in Taiwan but raised in Shanghai, Yang graduated from an international school and is fluent in Mandarin, English and Spanish. With plans to major in English and communication — and to be a teacher or professor someday — she is also challenging herself at the UW as a teaching assistant for another of Wong’s writing courses, and as a writing tutor at the Odegaard Undergraduate Library’s Writing & Research Center. So far, she’s learned that the act of teaching is often inseparable from self-discovery — especially when it comes to teaching others about China.

“It’s been interesting telling the class about Mandarin and looking at their responses,” she says. “It makes me see my own culture with a different set of eyes.”

The players are full of questions, many of which keep Yang thinking long after class is over.

“Do Mandarin characters come from pictures? Why do they look this way?”

UW men's basketball team

University of Washington men’s basketball team

“Why is the word for ‘rice’ the same as the word for ‘meal’?”

“Why are so many people going to want to take pictures with us? Why is it that big of a deal?”

This last question comes after a discussion of the throngs of curious photo-seekers that will surround the basketball team when they’re in public in China. And it brings up another one of Yang’s roles for this course: She’ll be traveling to China with the team as their interpreter — or, as she calls it, “language bodyguard.”

“They’re going to get to China and be surrounded by people that are all talking to them and be like, ‘What’s going on?’” she says. “And me just being there, making them feel comfortable, it should help a lot. It’s going to teach me a lot about my own home, too.”

But for how different China and the U.S. may be, one thing they have in common is their love for basketball. Over 300 million people in China play the sport — including Yang.

Marquese Chriss

Marquese Chriss

When Yang, who was a power forward on her high school basketball team, first came to the UW and was reeling from the shock of living in a new country, she spent all of her free time playing pickup basketball on campus. “I would go to class and then go to the gym to play basketball,” she says. “I latched onto it right away — being on a basketball court just makes me feel comfortable.”

It’s not an uncommon feeling, to look forward to something familiar, even when you’re more than 5,000 miles from home.

Marquese Chriss, the UW’s freshman power forward from Elk Grove, Calif., echoes Yang’s sense of comfort on the court, no matter where it is: “I’ve never played this far away from home, and I’m excited to see such a big city, to see how other people live their lives,” he says. “But it’s still the same, really. All our teammates are still there, all our coaches are there. It’s just a different court. I’m just excited to play.”

Learning off the court

The men’s basketball team will spend the second half of their weeklong trip in Shanghai, focusing on their showdown with the Longhorns.

For the first half of their trip, though, they’ll travel to the historic city of Hangzhou, also home to China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group. In addition to touring the Alibaba corporate campus as guests of founder Jack Ma — and practicing at its basketball facilities — the team will visit historic sites like the Temple of Soul’s Retreat, the Grand Canal and the Tomb of General Yue Fei. For these excursions, the players will research and prepare presentations.

“The students themselves will be the tour guides,” says Wong. “This is not just any trip — the Athletic Department doesn’t want them to sit in hotels, but to get out and experience, to learn.”

Not able to make it to China for the game?

Watch the matchup on campus on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. Viewing parties

And follow the UW in China

Alumni event in China
The UW in Shanghai
This month’s basketball game is one of several events in Shanghai that celebrate the UW’s growing connection to its many partners in China. In addition to hosting the UW Asia Alumni & Friends Reception — the University’s first all-Asia alumni reception — the UW will be showcasing the innovation and impact of its faculty researchers at the Innovation Summit.
PAC-12 China Game 1920x1080 graphic - english
Pac-12 Globalization Initiative
The Nov. 14 basketball game between the University of Washington and the University of Texas is the first ever regular-season U.S. sporting event — college or professional — held in China. It is a milestone in the Pac-12’s Globalization Initiative, the conference’s extensive commitment to growing its reach in China through a shared enthusiasm for athletics, deeper collaboration and cultural exchange.

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