Dim Sum Dialogues: Expat ultimate frisbee

Confession time. Time to come clean. It’s something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest for a while. Something I didn’t know how to bring up before, but here goes… I did the most caucasian thing that an expat living in Hong Kong could do.

I joined an ultimate frisbee league.

Like the majority of twenty-something American males, I had a brief flirtation with ultimate frisbee in college – but had never devoted the time or effort to learning the strategy of the sport or even the full extent of the technical rules.

So when a few new friends invited me out on a Sunday for a pickup game of frisbee, I thought it’d be good to practice a sport I thought I knew and maybe I’ll make a few friends along the way. What I came to realize was that I knew absolutely nothing about ultimate frisbee.”Okay let’s count it off from the left for D – force flick and make sure we keep pressure the cup. On the turn let’s run a vertical stack, making quick cuts to the outsides. Can I get two more handlers? And if we change to a horizontal, please make sure everyone stays in their lanes!”

I nodded my head and pretended that I had the slightest understanding of what was going on. I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to stand on two legs for longer than 5 minutes in the thick summer humidity.

Sunday afternoons were pickup games – open to everyone. Tuesday nights were league games – a more serious affair. Thursday nights were practice – I guess to fill in the gap between Sundays and Tuesdays. All of this play would eventually lead up to international tournaments over short weekends – Singapore, Beijing, Bangkok, Shanghai…with the HK team being represented by a few elite teams made up of experienced and mid-level players.

The players around me were from all sorts of backgrounds – a vibrant display of Hong Kong’s diversity. A handful of Hong Kong professionals. An Irish teacher. A German engineer. A Dutch designer. An Aussie pilot. A Thai accountant. An Indian film producer. A Canadian student. A British accountant. An American in the shipping industry.

It sounds like a setup for a bad joke, but it was just another Sunday on the field with the Hong Kong Ultimate Player’s Association.

As I got introduced to more people between games, it became apparent that newcomers like me were a dime a dozen. The first question was usually – “where are you from?” And the second was – “well, how long will you be here for?” The group was immediately welcoming & friendly, but I got the feeling that there was a hesitance to make strong friendships too quickly.

After a couple months of showing up three days a week, the names started to stick to the faces, and I started being accepted as more of a regular. It became apparent that there was a strong core group of people that were devoted to the organization, and then a fringe set of transients like me – people who disappeared from Hong Kong almost as soon as they had materialized, eager to learn names and possibly trade business cards.

Many foreigners in Hong Kong come over on temporary contracts. Five weeks. Three months. Six months. It becomes common to make new friends, only to try and organize a last minute going-away party for them a few weeks later. HKUPA let me experience the full extent of Hong Kong’s transient expat community, and allowed me to feel like I was a part of something, if only for a little while.

Eventually, I became proficient in the techniques of the flick, the hammer, cutting, handling, pulling, zone, horizontal, vertical, and occasionally even scoring. The summer league came to a close and the three meetings per week turned into once-a-week relaxed weekend beach games. My league team even took the title… although I don’t think I was exactly the deciding factor in the path to victory.

I consider my progress in a sport less valuable than my adoption into a small community for a few months. In a city so dense, so huge, it’s easy to get lost – and HKUPA became a welcoming place to plant some temporary roots. So for fellow travelers or transients out there, if you’re having a hard time getting settled, try frisbee. If you need an explanation on the verbiage before you set foot on the field, leave a comment and I’ll give you the expert scoop.

HKUPA’s fall season is starting up soon. If you’re in the Hong Kong area and interested in joining or passing through for a pickup game, see their website for more information: HKUPA.com