How do you argue with someone, when you don’t speak their language?

I think the one thing that strikes me the most about trying to adjust to living in China, was learning how to deal with the isolation I tended to feel. In the city that I was in, virtually no one spoke or understood English. 

About a week into our time in the new city, I tried to get into a cab and have it take me somewhere in town. But I literally couldn’t explain to the driver where I wanted to go. So we just sat there looking stupid for a minute, until I just got out of the car and headed back inside. A short while after that, I decided I would try my luck and see whether anyone at the front desk of the hotel spoke English. Unfortunately, no one there did either. 

What I ended up having to do, was pull up on my iPad where I wanted to go, show one of the front desk workers a map of where it was, and then have them write the address on the back of a business card in Chinese. I would then show this to the cab driver, and they would take me to my destination. After that, I just had to make sure that I had an extra card from the hotel so that I should show the next cab driver I wanted to go back to there. It’s a bit ridiculous of a process to think about now, but at that point I didn’t have access to any sort of internet outside of the hotel, so I wasn’t able to use my phone and the GPS.

As far as food goes, for the most part unless I wanted standard Chinese food (which had made me sick the first few weeks), it was either McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, or KFC. Let me tell you, that gets really old REALLY quickly. But since my choices were fast food, get sick, or don’t eat, it was a pretty easy decision.

I actually did have a translator that was supposed to be with our other American and I at all times, but most of the time all he wanted to do was sleep, and usually wouldn’t come to the door when we would ask him to help us do something. So we were almost always on our own for everything.

After preseason was over and we started playing games, I began to enjoy myself a bit more. Even though it was still tough to live somewhere that no one understood me, just being back on the court was very helpful in a psychological sense. Our coach was 

Chinese and didn’t speak a word of English, but luckily basketball is a fairly universal language, and the Americans on the team were essentially told to just go and do their own thing out there. As long as we scored points, the coaches were fine with whatever we were doing. The team did not do overly well in the beginning of the season though, and we started off the year with a record of 2-5. 

It was at this point that I first discovered how dirty the business of basketball can be overseas. The other American on my team was a point guard who like myself was a multi-year NBA veteran. In the first 7 games of the year, he was the league’s leading scorer, averaging a shade over 30 points per game. After that 7th game, I heard from my agent that the team was going to replace him. In fact, his replacement had already been brought into our city! The team hadn’t even told the player (who again, was leading the league in scoring and was not the cause of our team’s problems)he was being replaced, and yet his replacement was already a few blocks away from where we were staying.

A few days later, the team broke the news to him. It was a tough situation, as he was definitely a bit blindsided by it all. But for him, there wasn’t really much he could do. He packed up his belongings, and flew out within the next 24 hours or so. Immediately after that, our new player started practicing with the team.

Even though management made the player swap, at first the team still didn’t play well. Through our translator, the coach had a habit of making it seem as though all of the things going wrong with the team had to do with myself and the other American. He never admitted that any of our Chinese players could ever do any wrong. For a while, I was willing to deal with it. But everyone has their breaking point.

We were playing a road game against a pretty average team in our league. In the early stages of the game, the coach subbed me out, much quicker than usual. Through the translator, I asked him why, and he didn’t respond. He put me back in during the second half of the game, and again subbed me out within about 3 minutes. I walked to the bench and sat down, without saying anything for the rest of the game.

We ended up losing the game by about 20 points. Once we came back into the locker room, the coach again basically explained that it was the American players’ fault that we lost. At that point, I had enough. I stopped the coach midway through what he was saying, and tried explaining to him through the translator that he we were a TEAM, and that the responsibility falls on all of us to do better. Apparently the coach didn’t want to hear this, and as he was known to do, went from 0 to 100 real quick. 

He started yelling and swearing in Chinese, and my translator attempted to explain to me what he was saying, but the coach was speaking so fast that he couldn’t keep up. So I basically started cursing back at the coach, trying to defend myself and our other American. At this point, the translator stopped translating. 

The coach got pissed off, and started cursing at the translator, saying he better tell him what I was saying. Then I started cursing at the translator, telling him he better tell the coach was I was saying. Clearly, our translator didn’t enjoy confrontations, because he remained silent during this whole time. All the while, the team’s General Manager(who did speak a bit of English)was in the room, with his head down keeping totally silent. Looking back on it now, it was a funny situation, because It’s the only time I’ve ever had a yelling and cursing argument with someone, through a third party translator…and then had that translator become the target of both of our aggression because he refused to translate.

After we arrived back to the hotel that night, I had been in my room for about 10 minutes when there was a knock at the door. When I opened it, the head coach and translator were both there, and asked to come in. We all sat down, and the coach apologized for his behavior and admitted that he had been wrong trying to pin the blame all on us. I accepted his apology, and also apologized for having that argument in front of the whole team. From then on, the relationship between myself and the head coach was much better. I think we gained an equal respect for each other after that night. At this point, for some reason I had a good feeling that things were going to turn around for the team. Thankfully, I was right…kind of.


  1. Your story is very intriguing I must say! Thank you for keeping it real and sharing, wondering why you’ve waited so long to post a new one? Hope you get back to it soon


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