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Chinatown Decoded: Is That Volleyball?

How nine-man conquered the neighborhood.




Editor's Note: This is one of many stories about the Chinese-American city that San Francisco is publishing over the next month, all part of the April 2015 Chinese Issue. To peruse the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here.  


Those guys at Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Park may look like they’re playing volleyball, but look again—one team just hit the ball four times. And nobody is rotating positions. And there are nine guys on a side. It’s not volleyball at all—it’s nine-man.

The Chinatown game is a relative of volleyball, sure, but its rules—and its traditions—are all its own. Every Labor Day weekend, teams from Chinatowns across North America compete in a nine-man tournament that’s been going on since 1944. “People look forward to it all year,” says Ursula Liang, director of a documentary on the sport. “Young men play, and old men on the sidelines relive their glory days.” The game originated as a way for Chinese men to express their athleticism. To protect that heritage, today’s tournament rules require two-thirds of each team’s players to be “100 percent Chinese” and the remainder to have at least some ties to a Chinese heritage.

“It’s a connection to a Chinese America that many people don’t know,” says Liang. “It’s not just all lawyers and doctors, but athletes with swagger.”


Chinatown Decoded:
What Language Is Everyone Speaking?
Is That Volleyball?
Why Do Some Buildings Fly the Mainland’s Flag While Others Fly Taiwan’s?
Why Is Everyone Pushing Me?
Why Is That Art Gallery Under a Dry Cleaner's?
How Can You Tell If an Erhu Player Is Any Good?
Is the 30 Really the Worst Bus in Town?
How Could This Possibly Be Legal?
What's Going on Under That Lion Head?
What Are You Doing to My Body?
Is the Architecture East or West?
Are Those DVDs Bootlegs?
What Happens During a Chinatown Funeral?


Originally published in the April issue of San Francisco

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