It was noon in Beijing when the dozen or so of us left the pub. We squeezed into a tiny van, featuring legroom equivalent of a Little Tikes™ car, and were soon whizzing down the Beijing streets. In our van was a collection of foreigners from all over the world. On my left was Max, a Norwegian who smoked Marlboros like it was his job, and enjoyed ridiculing French stereotypes. On my right, Pablo, a short German-Argentinian whose Italian girlfriend was tagging along. We were all working or studying in Beijing, and were united by one thing: Rugby!

After an hour drive north of Beijing, we reached the pitch, which was hidden between several warehouses and agricultural fields. Two more vans pulled up, and the warriors of the Beijing Aardvarks Rugby Football Club disembarked.

We were an ugly crew, but soon we were warming up in our new uniforms, and I thought that we looked just a little smarter. I was confident that this rag-tag group of alcoholics, over-weight forwards and too-skinny backs would be a force to be reckoned with.

That was, until I saw the other team.

A large bus rolled up and out flowed a seemingly endless stream of 6-foot monsters — The NangDao, an all-Chinese college team. As they took the field, we noticed they were muscular where we were fat, tall where we were short, young where we were old.

At the starting whistle, the faster, thinner men quickly moved the ball to their backs as one took off down the field, leaving our winger with dust and shame, but no tackle. The game carried on like this, with us laboriously claiming a few yards, play after play, with them only to score a try on the outside in a single play, with a single player. It wasn’t long before one of their forwards (like the linemen of American football) slammed one of our teammates hard, and a fight broke out. 30 men rained punches on each other as the whistle blows fell on deaf ears. Some players attempted to make peace by spreading their arms and separating the fighters, only for the peacemakers to throw more punches when the opponents’ heads had turned.

Being completely without any medical staff, I decided I was very possibly the most qualified (with my first-aid training), and so I dashed over from the sidelines to check out the forgotten player. This was a scary thought, considering it had been a long year of memory-depleting activity since I had received my training. When I got there, John, from the UK, lay on the ground with two teammates frowning over him, and complaining of a pain in his neck and a gash on his arm. There was dirt and blood coagulating together at the big abrasion just above his elbow, but besides that he was really fine. Surrounding him were teammates with bloody arms and legs, with blood-splattered white shorts, and with hot red faces which resonated anger.

I spent most of the game on the sidelines, chatting with my Norwegian friend Max as he smoked more cigarettes. Then, finally, near the end of the game, I got to go in to play winger. I fielded a punt, only to be immediately destroyed by one of the Chinese warriors. The next play, I attempted a tackle, only to be stiff armed. All in all, my five minutes on the pitch were a scary, but fun introduction to the game of rugby.

But as the ending whistle blew, my introduction to the world of rugby was only beginning. On the sidelines, the players were all handed a lukewarm can of Tsingtao, and the debauchery of the evening began. A bottle of tequila emerged from the bag of my Mexican-American teammate Marco, and he quickly proceeded to down his sorrow at our loss with big gulps of agave liquor. He began to yell belligerently at our Chinese van driver. “I’m not really that much of an asshole,” he turned to me and said. And despite myself I knew what he meant. We were separated from the locals here by more than just the language barrier. New rules applied. No matter how long we lived here, we would never fit in. We would always be laowai in China.

Back on the vans, we skated down the roads of Beijing. Climbing kilometers, we cut through cars, rickshaws, and scooters which held whole families piled three, four, five to a bike. A fifth of Jagermeister appeared, and the Jager and tequila circulated around the cramped van, as we bellowed rugby hymns at the pedestrians.

Jesus can’t play rugby cause he’s got holes in his hands.

Jesus can’t play rugby cause he’s got holes in his hands.

Jesus can’t play rugby cause he’s got holes in his hands.

Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Jesus Saves!


Jesus can’t play rugby cause he’s only got twelve mates.

Jesus can’t play rugby cause his dad would fix the game.

Jesus can’t play rugby cause he doesn’t fucking exist.


After we got off the bus, we moved to a restaurant were we had “rugby dinner,” which was the most sadistic drinking ritual I have ever been a part of.  The multiple rules were only introduced to me after I had broken them, and it wasn’t long before I was pouring back cup after cup of cheap Chinese beer. There were different levels of punishment for breaking the rules, but the worst two punishments were particularly disgusting. Louis, my french friend, had offered up his sneaker in sacrifice, and this was known as “the boot.” If you had a combination of three errors in a row, you had to drink a mix of rice wine and beer out of Louis disgusting shoe. Even worse was the “anal boot,” which involved drinking the contents of Louis’s shoe after it was filled with liquor filtered through another players butt crack. Needless to say, I had drunk both an anal boot, and puked before the night was over.

What amazes me about my experiences with the rugby team is the universality of fraternity. Here were a group of strangers in a foreign land, who barely knew each other, but were able to bond almost instantly as brothers. We were united not only because of the commonality of the game of rugby, but also as our status as outsiders in the wacky country of police surveillance, rampant capitalism, and gross poverty. Our different languages, cultures, and heritages were all irrelevant. We all played rugby, we all had a liver, and we all liked yodeling perverse songs through Beijing’s sleepy streets at the top of our lungs. What is it about men the world over that made us so willing to perform disgusting and homoerotic acts involving alcohol for fun?

My night ended with a terrific Mario-kart style pedicab race. Foregoing a mile walk, my companions and I hopped into a collection of rickshaws, and began yelling at the drivers to pedal faster. “10 extra kuai if you get there first!” Our driver moved his legs, working the gears of the bike into a furious whirlwind. Hanging off the left side of the rickshaw, kicking one leg into the Beijing night, flipping off my brothers in their competing carts, and hollering into the night’s polluted air, I sacrificed my guts in a pungent acid of orange-yellow-green onto Beijing’s asphalt. God I love Rugby.

Henry de Groot is a high school student studying abroad in Beijing, China. His blog is here.

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