Volleyball players of assorted shapes, sizes and ages pulled into town last weekend from Boston, New York, Montreal, Toronto and San Francisco for North America's 34th Annual Chinese Volleyball Tournament hosted by the D.C. Chinese community.
Dressed in colorful uniforms, 18 men's teams and 10 women's teams participated in the two-day tournament, which brought trophies to some and disappointment and sore muscles to others. But for many the tournament was primarily a place to meet new friends and renew aquaintances made at earlier volleyball contests.
Nearly 1,000 Chinese-Americans - including fans from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Baltimore and Phildelphia - cavorted along H Street NW, between 6th and 7th streets during the sun-warmed Labor Day weekend competition.
Chinatown proved to be a perfect host, with the community's four teams bowing out by early Monday. San Francisco's men's and women's teams took first place in both competitions. Chung Sing, its men's team, has been No. 1 for two years in a row.
The event cost the community nearly $14,000, according to Sam Wong, one of the tournament coordinators. Local Chinese restaurants, stores and alliances donated most of the money that was used to repave and line the line the playing area and to pay for a 750-person banquet and dance Sunday night at the International Inn at Thomas Circle.
The style of the volleyball games, played in an almost beastly fashion, has its roots in Canton, China, Wong said. 'We are the only people who play volleyball the old-fashioned way (with nine players)," he said.
Both men and women players cheered and cursed in Cantonese. They bared their teeth ferociously at their competitors while they spiked, blocked, bounced and saved their volleyballs on three courts simultaneously. Instead of the conventional six players, the men's teams consisted of nine players. Under this format there is no rotation and players specialize in certain positions, an approach that allows older, more experienced men to play.
However, women's teams, a relatively new addition to the annual tournaments have six players who rotate positions.
Afraid that tradition is losing its hold on he younger Chinese, Wong explained that "We want to stress to the next generation that there is something worth looking forward to in Chinatown besides this thing called crime."
He said the occasion keeps the national Chinese community interacting year after year. Last year, the tournament was held in Toronto.
Too old now to take to the courts himself, Wond, 50, said he had played volleyball for 15 years.
Gary Lee, a 40-year-old player for the New York Vikings and a full-time engineer, said he and most of his team-mates have been "over the hill for 10 years." The Vikings, still considered tough competitors, linger on for the sake of competition, Lee said.
Walter Low, a 19-year-old Toronto Tigers player and a freshman at the University of Waterloo, said that because he needs so much experience, he is willing to give up at least one day a week to practice.
While older volleyball fans peered from numerous upstairs windows, the younger ones perched on soda machines, rooftops and railings! Others leaned aginst lamp posts or sat on curbs, sidewalks and steps in front of stores and restaurants.
Local restaurants, coffee shops and vendors did booming business in sodas and ice tea, as evidenced by the cans and styrofoam cups that littered the sidewalks and street.
Timmy Eng, 13, and Tobie Lee, 12, who carelessly slapped volleyballs against an alley wall, said they are both incurably addicted to volleyball. They had come from New York with their fathers to root for the Silver Palace team.
Sven Vonrenner, visiting from Munich, Germany, said he enjoyed the sights. "I'm surprised there are so many Chinese here in America so many pretty girs." With camera in hand, he headed toward the court where the women's teams were competing.
Meanwhile, female spectators swarmed around the courts where the men played.
"No luck so far" in finding a boyfriend, said Karen Wong, a 19-year-old Maryland resident, who claims there is a shortage of young Chinese men. Undaunted, she held tightly to her ideal seat in fron of D.C.'s Chinese Youth Club headquarters. From there she stared ahead at a husky-looking New York team.
When a thousand or so Chinese-Americans come together for a weekend, some young people find themselves falling in and out of love quickly. Although long-distance relationships are hard to sustain, some find friendships with permanence.
Chris Chu and Sharon Lee have seen each other infrequently since they met at last year's volleyball tournament, but they say they already have a lasting relationship. Chu, a Chung Sing player, met Lee, an Olney resident, through a friend of a friend. They wrote letters for five months before the met again in February.
"It's frustrating to see Chris only three or four times a year," said Lee, who is a Washington player. "But we sure value our time a lot more this way."
"Some of the kids here have never seen so many Chinese together in their whole lives," said Wylie Wong, 26, who grew up in San Francisco and now lives in the area. He met his wife Sophia, a long-time District resident, in 1971 at a New York tournament. "Yes, I have very fond memories of this tournament," Wong said.
Chinese-Americans are particularly interested in finding friends from cities other than their hometowns, according to Sophia Wong. "It's nice to hang out in D.C. Chinatown, but you end up knowing all the guys like brothers," she said.
And Neil Lim, a 22-year-old local resident agreed! "I'm not really interested in D.C. girls. They are like sisters to me.