One of the things I was particularly excited about when I signed in Japan was the sights and different places I was going to be able to travel to, as well as the many different cultures I was going to experience.
So when it was time for our team to play against the China Sharks in Beijing, I figured it was going to be an interesting experience.
Before leaving on the trip to Beijing, my teammates and staff warned me about a few things to be prepared for – and to guard against. I have to be honest, before coming to Japan, I had never put much thought into the local culture, which, in turn, meant I certainly gave no thought to the differences between the Japanese and Chinese cultures.
After hearing some stories and then witnessing some of them myself, there seems to be quite a lot, as well as a real animosity between the two. One of the funny things I noticed right off the bat was how loud the Chinese talk, borderline screaming for no reason. It was almost comical.
When our team landed in China, we were going through customs and while standing in line I noticed everyone around me was screaming at one another. Right beside me, two guys were face-to-face yelling, so I immediately backed off thinking I was about to witness a good old-fashioned ass kicking, bar room style.
Smiling, I motioned to our interpreter that there was about to be a scrap and to get ready for the action. But he told me – in an overly loud voice – that the two were just merely having a conversation. Really? I mean, to scream in another’s face to just say hello was plain wrong. Spit was flying everywhere. The two guys needed full-face shields with wipers just to get through the conversation.
We then proceeded to check into our hotel and head to the team meal, which was being set up at a nearby restaurant.
My family and friends know me as being something of a fussy eater. So on this trip to China, I fully prepared myself to basically starve. I pre-packed some power bars and cereal just to get through it with a modicum of nutrition.
Along the way, the bus stopped three times. Some of the boys on the team were sure they spotted Tyson Nash at the side of the roadway nosing through a dumpster. Turns out it wasn’t him. I had to remind them the Chinese had strict international laws set towards animals traveling so he was hidden in the back and disguised.
Fortunately, through our tireless fundraising and the generosity of our organization, we as a group did manage to secure a two-week window with several dental specialists working around the clock to find the lifelong answers to Tyson’s mustard-stained, oversized wooden teeth.
The boys were very excited about the dental prognosis and were looking forward to finding out what miracle was to be preformed to make him seem somewhat normal looking.
As we pulled into the restaurant, I soon realized I was destined for a bowl of cereal and a banana power bar, when I noticed through the window an array of questionable entrees.
Now, I am a bit biased because of my unique eating habits, so when I see anything borderline move on the table, or with eyes staring back at me, I immediately dismiss it. In defense of the meal, I was told it was very solid and the specialty ‘Peking duck’ was outstanding, but this is my blog and if I want to bad mouth it, I will.
My hip was bothering me a bit and we had come off a pretty good weekend, so I was informed I would not be playing on the trip. Also, the Chinese team has struggled this year, so it would be a good chance for my backup to get some playing time.
So after the morning skate, I went off on a sightseeing mission. My first stop was Tiananmen Square, where there was quite a bit of history. The architecture was incredible; the amount of time that must have gone into the details of the square as well as the ‘Forbidden City’ was just awesome.
I took plenty of pictures and even managed to upset a few of the locals. Or so I thought, anyway, the way they were screaming and yelling at me. Apparently, a person is not supposed to take any photographs of the many guards at the ‘Forbidden City.’
And they weren’t very happy with me smiling at them either. For a second, I thought I was going to receive the cross-face, chicken-wing wrestling move, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.
Fortunately, I made it back to the arena in time to catch the warmups, and then watched the game. I want to mention the game a bit for two reasons.
One, although the rink seemed modern, I don’t think the team had a great following of fans. The fans who showed up were a gritty looking crew to say the least. I spent a lot of time people-watching there.
Secondly, in 17 years as a pro hockey player I’d like to claim I’ve had many experiences and would say I’ve seen it all when it came to what this game has to offer. But I broke out laughing in amazement six minutes into the game when I spotted the goal judge behind the net, smoking, with an ashtray on the boards and carrying on like he’s watching the game from his living room couch.
It was awesome. I’m not condoning the smoking issue, but it was a very unique sight to see someone involved in a sport actively lighting a dart while the play is on. There were plumes of smoke everywhere around him, like he’d actually see a goal if it went in. It was so crazy; I thought it was worth mentioning. It was one of those things that if you didn’t see for yourself, you wouldn’t believe.
We ended up winning the game, so the guys felt pretty good.
The second day, it was time to visit the silk market after the morning skate. This is a well-known shopping area and is famous for being able to haggle the best deals on some of the best knock-off merchandise.
Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, you name it, it was for sale and teammate Joel Dyck was determined to show us the ropes, as he was able to browbeat the locals down to borderline insane prices.
We all came away happy with souvenirs and Joel was verbally accosted by a few of the store employees for driving a hard bargain, so all in all it was a great day until it came time to watch the game.
Smoky the goal judge was back at it, puffing away. But the real story was the referee, who at one point gave himself a timeout so he could collect his thoughts on what call he was about to make. That’s never a good thing when you see that. Unfortunately, our team lost that night, so our trip was only somewhat of a success hockey-wise.
But there was a consolation prize. The team got an added bonus afterwards when it was learned the dental specialists had found out the reason for Tyson’s mysterious beard. It appeared his teeth had grown hair that had continued to spill out everywhere.
Despite shaving twice a day, the matted hair continued to appear as if out of nowhere. Now that this was diagnosed, treatment was to commence immediately. Dentists believed several days of using a sandblaster and a forklift would help them regain control of this unfortunate monstrosity that Nasher would only know as his smile.
Born in Edmonton, Jamie McLennan is a former NHL goaltender currently playing for the Nippon Paper Cranes of the ALIH (Asia League Ice Hockey). Nicknamed 'Noodles,' McLennan was drafted by the Islanders in 1991. He played 254 NHL games with the Flames, Rangers, Panthers, Wild, Blues and Isles, compiling a 80-109-33 record.